Love Is...

Love Is… Not Self-Seeking (Revisited)

I sat down to write out the “Love Is… Kind (Part 2: Simple Acts)” post that I’ve had in my mind and it somehow never got turned around to that subject, so I had to retitle it. Rarely does my brain follow my initial plan when I sit down to write.

Instead I kept returning to the ideas that sprung up in Love Is… Not Self-Seeking. The more I think about what it means to love those around me every day, the more one thing becomes painfully obvious: selfishness runs counter to love in every way. This probably should not be a surprise, but it is easy to forget when we live in the general atmosphere that touts “love of self” as a right, a responsibility, and a perfectly acceptable end in and of itself. We justify it by espousing the idea that we can’t expect to take care of others without first taking care of ourselves; we’re told that we work too hard and the only way to “recharge” is through pursuing luxury and escaping responsibility; we’re convinced that if we’re good enough (although in what way, I’m not sure) then we deserve a dose of “me-time”; and we pride ourselves in clawing our way to the top (again, the top of what, I’m not exactly sure) by using those further down as our hand- and foot-holds.

Ok, sure; I guess some of that on some level is reasonable. It’s a good idea to take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, so that you have something to pass on to those around you. But our idea of what is necessary to “take care of ourselves” is raucously skewed. It turns out that regularly scheduled (and highly expensive) massages, facials, vacations, shopping therapy, television and movie vegging out sessions, long evenings at the bar, and countless hours following blog-to-blog rabbit trails online are not, in fact, requirements for health on any level. They’re not basic human rights, either.

It turns out (for me, at least), that at the end of a day that included

breaking up ten fights
changing nine diapers
reading eight kids’ books
playing seven games of “Simon Says”
folding six loads of laundry
washing five loads of dishes
working four hours (of my non-mom job)
preparing three meals
and schooling two children,

delaying sleep so that I can indulge in my one partridge in a pear tree, the “me” time that is rightfully mine, so I’m told, does not actually help. It doesn’t help me feel more rested, it doesn’t help me prepare for the next day, it doesn’t even help me feel better or happier or whatever it is this coveted “me time” is supposed to make me feel.

What does help is a shift in my own brain. We have somehow been deceived into thinking that we are only “happy” and “truly ourselves” when we are free of responsibilities, which we have come to regard as burdens that detract from who we are or want to be. This, frankly, is a plain old lie. We propagate it in our own minds because it seems like flying carefree our whole lives is the happiest way to go, but it’s not. It’s a well-honed, well-hawked, wide-spread L-I-E.

Right, back to my brain shift. As far as I can tell, it’s “normal” to consider the responsibility of 24/7 care for our children to be inconvenient, constraining, and burdensome. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. I’ve rarely been to a gathering of moms where simple complaining didn’t dominate the conversation – complaining about the kids’ behavior, the kids’ neediness, the kids’ (surprising?) uncanny ability to always be where the mom is, the kids’ (again, surprising?) desire to only be with the mom. (Sorry to pick on moms – I don’t have a lot of experience hanging out with groups of dads.) The moms all daydream and reminisce about the days before children, when they were… yep, you guessed it… FREE!

And this is the general mindset: our children are a jail that we built for ourselves. No wonder caring for them can feel like a sentence!

But if we didn’t have that as a norm around us, would we really feel that way?

Right, back to my brain shift. It’s surprisingly simple. It goes like this:

I love my children –> If I love my children, I want what is good for them (that’s kind of the definition, I think) –> What is good for them includes all of the day-to-day tasks in the list above –> *lightbulb* –>All of those day-to-day tasks are not a burden at all, but a privilege and a joy.

Yes, I said it, and no, this isn’t Stepford Wives: Dishes and laundry and cleaning and cooking and planning and teaching and playing and working are essential to the health and well-being of my family, and it’s up to me whether I consider those things a burden or a joy. It’s as simple as that. So I’m shifting my brain.

And if I manage to shift my brain, and my whole day from ten broken up fights to two lessons checked off in the syllabus is done in true love and I actually learn to enjoy every minute of it, then who wants to sit down and watch an hour of whiny housewives getting it wrong? Who needs to drink away their joyousness or electronically escape a good and beautiful day?

Of course, the reality is that 1) a brain shift takes practice and persistence and 2) actual sacrifices (not the pretend ones like “I had to watch the new episode of ___ on DVR instead of right when it came out because my baby was having trouble going to sleep”) do have to be made sometimes for the people we love. But that brings us back to the first point: love is not self-seeking. Real sacrifices can be counted as joy, and sometimes I think we even have an easier time with that than with the day-to-day.

Think about it: if it was discovered that your kid needed a kidney transplant to live, you would probably be the first one to volunteer. You’re volunteering for major surgery, recovery, pain, and possible life-long consequences, but you do it in a heartbeat.  And you don’t go around complaining to everyone you meet from then on out that you would do this or that but you can’t because you only have one good kidney because your kid stole your other one.

And think about this: the day-to-day tasks, running your home, SPENDING TIME with your kids, and tending to their everyday needs are just as important to their health as a properly functioning kidney. I’m serious! Their character, their heart, their physical strength, their mental health — in effect, their ability to live the rest of their lives — it’s all being formed in each little moment, in hundreds of little moments throughout each day.  

Yes, it’s a big responsibility. But a ball and chain around your ankle? Only if you allow it.

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