Last week I posted this picture and described the week I had with my daughter, celebrating our time together and the woman she is. A reader wondered whether or not this declaration would offend or isolate any of my other children. As I was contemplating her question and forming my reply, I received a text from Hannah’s sister remembering and acknowledging the unconditional love we all have for each other. That’s it. That was the answer. I had created a purposeful and intentional plan as a parent to cultivate a climate of unconditional love rather than “special love” with very different children (some biological, some adopted) and so the answer was no, the celebration of one did not take away from the other. Since this is not a condition that lives in all families, I was inspired to share my strategies.
Spit in their Soup
The first tool (that I continue to use in all aspects of my life) is Adler’s famous “spit in their soup” technique. Gross isn’t it? Well, that is exactly why it is such a powerful tool for exposing all kinds of mischief when it comes to kids and wanting the “special” love from a parent. In this case, it was the “you love him more than me” song and dance. Instead of trying to convince this child that I did indeed love him (and not his brother more than him) and naming all the ways I attempt to show him and all the reasons I love him, I avoided the trap all together by agreeing that I did indeed love his brother more. I said it in a matter-of-fact kind of way. I said it seriously with just a hint of mischief behind my eyes. The child was stunned, and then he was forced to tell me the truth, “noooooo you don’t.” And I agreed, “No, I don’t.”
Favorite in the Moment
The second technique was applied whenever I was connecting with one of my munchkins. I would look into their eyes and say, “You are my most favorite child and I love you more than all the others — in this moment.” What I didn’t have to say was, and when your sibling walks in and I am talking directly to him, he will be my most favorite child and I will love him more than all the others, in that moment. Over the course of many years my children came to understand that they each owned a part of my heart that could never be compromised or diminished and that in-fact love is limitless.
Having a limited amount of love is an idea that springs from the idea of “special love”, or different love for different people. I don’t happen to subscribe to that notion, quite frankly it is too complicated and cumbersome. The goal for me is to love. Just love. I can’t be bothered with different kinds of love. There is love and there is not love.
Now, don’t confuse this with the different kinds of relationships I have with my kids, my spouse or my friends. Those are different, but love – love is. My kids heard these words from me from the time they were infants, and they knew that my love is endless and unconditional. It is not based on their behavior, my mood, which child was most like me and which one the most mysterious. Love is a fact. Because of this environment, each child developed a deep sense of self-worth and “lovability.”
This deep sense of self-worth provides the people I had the pleasure of parenting, an enormous capacity to love. They are not stingy with their love. They are not jealous of love. They do not fear that there is only so much love to go around.
I encourage parents to avoid the “you love him more than me trap” by stepping right into it and spitting, rather than trying to explain to a young child with limited reasoning skills all the nuances of love. They are clever these kids and they will make lifelong decisions based on your ideas about love.
No doubt someone will challenge that my kids worried I DIDN’T love them if they weren’t right in front of me, but that is an adult fear, not a child’s. A child quickly figures out that the love is there, always, at 100 percent whether they are in front of you or not, and that was my goal.
What’s your goal when it comes to teaching your kids about love?