I’ve been noticing how often I associate love with enabling, or allowing an unnecessary (and quite possibly unhealthy) dependency.
For instance, my son has always had trouble sleeping. When it is time for him to go to sleep, I feel like showing him my love means that I need to…
stay with him
talk with him
lay beside him
give him one more hug
one more cup of water
Clearly I believe deep down that when you love someone, you make exceptions to the rules for them. Rules are (of course) cold and don’t take into consideration individual needs and special circumstances! The problem is that these unique considerations come up daily, and can last for hours. When I finally get fed up and draw the line, it gets downright ugly.
When I finally get to the point of expecting my son to go to go to sleep, a wall of coldness springs up inside me. This happens below my level of awareness, but if I pay attention, I can tell it is there. It is as if I am preparing for a battle. I’m putting on my armor and taking a defensive stance. “No exceptions – show no mercy!” a little voice says in my head.
Does being strict have to equate to being mean?
Obviously my son senses this change in my demeanor and it has probably affected him all his life. Recently, he has started to panic when I start to hold him to an expectation.
He cries and screams in a strained and fearful voice, “Do you still love me?!”
For him to have confidence that I love him, even when I’m holding him to an expectation, I have to change my belief. I have to show him that my love is not conditional, nor are my expectations of him.
I want to associate love with having expectations, rather than making exceptions.
The other day I imagined an old wise guru answering my son by saying calmly and knowingly, “It is because I love you that I expect great things of you.” That made me think of all the ways that I belittle my son by not expecting great things of him. Sure, it is challenging for him to go to sleep, but he is a very capable little fellow.
I would rather teach him to believe in himself than to be desperately dependent on others.
I’ve started telling him that I love him and expect great things of him. It’s almost like a mantra for me to say this to him. I’ve been amazed at the changes I’m already seeing in myself and him. Now, he often goes to sleep on his own in about a half hour, after coming to his door perhaps one or two times, as opposed to the five or more times he would come out before, drawing bedtime out to two, three, or even four hours!
Our pattern is clearly changing for the better and it is a welcome change in so many ways! One small step towards learning to love unconditionally = one great leap toward a healthy, well-rested family.