Rivalry for attention
When you have more than one child, inevitably, rivalry for attention and affection occurs. Who gets to sit next to Daddy at dinner, who gets to sit on Mama's lap for story time, or who gets goodnight kisses first, become all important.
A parent's attention and approval become synonymous for love, in a child's eyes. Often, this leads them to wonder just exactly who is loved the most. The truth of the matter is that we don't love our children in the same way. As children are unique, so is a parent's love for them.
After the birth of my oldest son, for example, I thought it impossible that my heart could ever contain greater feelings of love for anyone. The arrival of my second son proved me wrong, yet my sons, in many ways, are as different as night and day. I love my oldest son's unlimited capacity for empathy and insight. I am awed by the voraciousness with which he explores and questions the world around him. I am inspired by his tenacity.
My youngest son's imagination and linguistic skills dumbfound me. His impish sense of humor, blinding intelligence and sense of wonder are treasures to me. Each has unique characteristics that I love. Their very individuality makes it impossible to measure feelings I have towards one against the other.
I love you the purplest
One of the best illustrations I have seen of this phenomenon appears in "I Love You the Purplest" by Barbara M. Joosse. Rather than compare her two sons, the mother in this story recognizes and praises each child's strengths. Who they are, not what they do or how they do it is reason enough to gain this mother's love.
This is a wonderful lesson. Behavior is not reason enough to love someone. People are imperfect, and make mistakes. When a child makes a mistake, say by knocking over a juice cup after being told not to play ball in the house, are they any less deserving of love? No. We may be disappointed or angry at the behavior, but love for the child remains constant.
Love and respect build self-esteem
How can such a distinction benefit the child over a lifetime? By knowing they are worthy and deserving of love and respect, a child grows with strong sense of self-esteem and pride. They realize mistakes are part of the learning process. They look for lessons from which to grow, rather than opportunities for self-criticism and loathing.
One of the best gifts we can give our children is to do away with labels such as 'good', 'bad', 'naughty' and 'nice'. Whether they are climbing into bed for good morning snuggles, or screaming 'NO' at the top of their lungs in the middle of the mall, all children are deserving of love simply for being who they are. Behavior changes from day to day and situation to situation. It is no basis for showing love. Letting our children know they are enough, just as they are, is as important a lesson for them as it is for parents.
We may all be at different stages in our life journeys, but we are all enough.
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