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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Love Is...

Love Is… Kind (Part 1: Discipline)

After looking at Love Is… Patient, I jumped ahead in the list to Love Is… Not Self-Seeking, which was pretty helpful at the time. But I have to be honest, going out of order from the original list has been eating at me, so today I’m going back to attribute number two:

Love Is… Kind

At first glance, this is an easy one. Simple kindness is one of the first things we teach to our kids: no hitting, share your blocks, remember the Golden Rule, use please and thank you… these are basic concepts for preschoolers, so you would think that, as adults, we would all be pretty good at them by now, right?

And honestly, as a general rule, I don’t find it difficult to be nice to people. Actually, I think it’s quite fun to show more kindness to people than they expect, and it makes me very uncomfortable to see anyone around me being treated rudely; it’s just not that hard to treat people with a basic level of respect.

But nonetheless, I have noticed that when it comes to responding to my kids in a situation that is highly frustrating or stressful because they are misbehaving, I have to make a very concerted effort to discipline with an attitude of kindness.

Don’t Use That Tone Of Voice

A typical discipline failure for me: a condescending or exasperated tone of voice. I catch myself doing this and immediately regret it, because it does not help at all for my kids to know that their current behavior is making me want to jump up and down with my hands clasping my head like a monkey at the zoo. I’ve seen it in action a hundred times: If I remain consistent and calm in both my requests and the consequences of not listening to them, it usually takes some time and attention, but in the end, things are getting done, there’s no fight, there’s no whining less whining, and the next time around it’s just a tiny bit easier.

This really does tend to work:

“It’s time to pick up your blocks.”

“But I’m playing with my pony right now.”

“You may play with your pony after you pick up your blocks.”

“But I want to play with my pony.”

“If you pick up your blocks, you may play with your pony. If you do not pick up your blocks, you will have a time-out and you will not play with your pony.”

Either the blocks are picked up, or there is a short time-out and then the blocks are picked up, or there is a series of short time-outs and eventually the blocks are picked up. But next time, there’s a much better chance of the blocks being picked up at the first or second request, and each subsequent time, the chances are higher and higher. It’s a time committment, but it has rewards down the road.

But if I’m short on sleep, or late to turn something in for work, or haven’t started dinner yet and it’s getting late, or I just tripped over a dozen sharp toy cars left in the middle of the hallway, or the phone is ringing and the kitchen timer is beeping and a diaper needs changed somewhere, it could easily go something like this:

“It’s time to pick up your blocks.”

“But I’m playing with my pony right now.”

“I don’t care if you’re playing with your pony. I told you to pick up your blocks so you are going to pick up your blocks.”

“But I want to play with my pony.”

“If you don’t pick up your blocks right now I’m going to take your pony and you’re not getting it back. Pick up your blocks!”

“But I –“

“I’M NOT GOING TO TELL YOU AGAIN! PICK UP YOUR BLOCKS!”

This might bring about some action in the end — the blocks will probably get picked up — but if I don’t want my children to speak to me or their siblings so abruptly and — let’s be honest, rudely — then I can’t expect to get away with it myself. And although I may have won this little battle, I made absolutely no progress towards averting future battles, and have actually probably managed to encourage them. The exact same scene will play out again and again and again, because instead of setting a reasonable standard with a reasonable consequence (a.k.a. discipline), I only got what I wanted by basically throwing a bigger tantrum than my kid.

Mom Of The Year, right here.

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So why do I find it difficult to maintain kindness in discipline? Often I think I set myself up for failure by making a request that I know will require some follow-through, even though I don’t have the time at that moment to follow through properly.

But it a more general sense, I think we find it easier to speak unkindly in a relationship where we have the rightful authority. Our little peanuts are, after all, supposed to be listening to us! It is part of my job, if I love my children, to teach them to respect and listen to adults,  and to provide structure and standards of behavior, and to follow through with appropriate discipline when necessary. But if all this is truly done in love (instead of, say, hasty exasperation), then it will be done with patience, with kindness, and with selflessness.

We must remember that even though our children are under our authority, as people they are equal to us in dignity and therefore even in discipline deserve to be treated with kindness and respect, the same kindness and respect that you would appreciate if you were in their shoes (that pesky Golden Rule again). And don’t pretend like that would never happen – we’ve all made our share of mistakes, and most of us know exactly what it feels like to be in their shoes.

The short version: Love and kindness in discipline means no raising my voice, no responding to kid tantrums with grown-up tantrums, and no sarcasm. For the record, it does not mean giving into every demand and having a complete lack of boundaries or discipline, but exercising our parental authority can absolutely be done in a way that is true to the kind nature of the love we give our children.

So when I hear my voice headed into the forbidden register, I have a new goal: Rewind. Be Kind.

And enjoy this beautiful Sunday,

Amber

Love Is… Not Self-Seeking

When I started with Love Is… Patient, I had been planning to reflect on each of the attributes of love in the order in which they are spelled out in Corinthians 13. It’s a little odd but I really like (certain) things to be orderly!

Unfortunately for me, for the last couple days I’ve been focused on a character of love that does not follow “patient” in the list, but lands somewhere abouts in the middle. So that is what I’m looking at today, even though the unorderliness of it is making me a little anxious.

Love Is Not Self-Seeking.

I don’t know what you believe about how we came to be where we are, or where we came from, or where we’re going. But I think regardless of this, it’s pretty safe to look at human experience and conclude that we are creatures that desire and thrive in community. We need to share our experiences with one another. We need to take care of each other. We work best when we have someone to love.

Love is not self-seeking. In fact, it is entirely self-giving. When I love someone, I want to meet their needs and desires above all else. And when that person loves me back, they wish to do the same for me. And in this way, each of us is providing for the happiness of the other person and in doing so are also providing for our own happiness in that we are doing what we’re made to do: put someone else ahead of ourselves. Love.

This is why I think the atmosphere of self-help and the prevailing ideas of “independence” and being “free” and “not tied down” and “in control of my own life” are optimistic at best and probably more in the realm of misguided and misleading. I’ve been “free from personal ties” – it’s also known as “lonely.” Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that unhealthy relationships don’t exist and I know there are times and situations where being free of a *specific* tie is exactly what is needed. When you have a relationship where one person is entirely self-giving and the other person is simply taking that for granted and not giving anything back, it is certainly hard to see any happiness coming out of it. Of course, the “other person” by definition is not loving, and therein lies the problem. There are plenty of examples of people getting it wrong, but still we have a need for community that we simply can’t meet for ourselves (ventriloquists included).

So why is it that I often find myself begrudging this self giving that I know to be the best route to both my own happiness and that of those I love? I’ve made a specific committment to love my husband and children, and I know that love is not self-seeking, and I know that in the perceived sacrifice of putting their needs ahead of my own I will in fact be gaining satisfaction and joy.

And yet, selfishness often prevails.

What leads me to spend late evening hours reading useless – totally and completely useless – Internet news instead of organizing that giant mass of paperwork sitting right next to my computer? Selfishness. Why do I grumble when my kids “interrupt” me to ask me for something, even when I know it’s something they require and cannot get for themselves? Selfishness (compounded by sleeplessness, a side effect of previously noted selfishness). Why do I tell my daughter there’s no ice cream left where there might be a last serving tucked away in the freezer? Selfishness. Ok, and possibly a regard for the health of her teeth and overall being, but still, my selfish side benefits.

In little things and big things (and little things that lead to big things), selfishness is the opposite of love. Fortunately, a little bit of discipline and a lot of reminders about why and how much you love the people you love can go a long way towards overcoming the habit of selfishness. Love is a decision of the will. It takes committment, and we don’t always get it right. In a time and generation largely wrapped up in entitlement to all things, anything that is not self-seeking goes against the grain.

And yet, love is not self-seeking.

Love Is… Patient

“Spread love everywhere you go, first of all in your own home.”

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about what this actually looks like, and I found myself rather unmotivated. Uninspired, even. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love my husband and kids. But what can I do to spread love every day?

The practicalities of this might be a little easier with a clear picture of what “love” is. And I’m going to go ahead and guess – and, honestly, hope as well – that it’s not what pop culture / Hollywood culture / common post-modern society makes it out to be. Instead I went looking to the first thing that came to mind: good old Corinthians 13.

And it starts out with a doozy, let me tell you. A real stinker.

Love is patient.

P-A-T-I-E-N-T.

Patient.

Now, I can hem and haw and say I don’t really know what I should do on a practical level to spread love in my home. But patience? I know what that looks like (and what it doesn’t look like, for that matter). No excuses.

Patience means listening with my full attention (no reading text messages on the sly) when my 4-year-old is taking 18 minutes to tell me a 2-minute story that I can easily predict the end of in about 4 seconds. Afterall, it’s not going to be all that long before getting her to tell me about her day is like trying to pull teeth using only the power of my mind.

Patience means allowing both my young girls to help with the cooking, even though it will without a doubt take longer and be messier and even perhaps a bit less perfect with their assistance. My goal in making the meal is caring for them. Am I sending a message of love by shooing them out of the kitchen so I can do it correctly by myself? No, I am not (that answer was for me – I’m pretty sure you could figure it out on your own). I have a feeling that truly being patient also rules out letting exasperated sighs excape when they dump in ingredients nowhere to be seen in the recipe. Help.

Patience means letting her click the top buckle on her car seat all by herself, because she can and it makes her so proud, even when it takes her two minutes longer than it would take me, and we’re running ten minutes late because her little brother had three inhuman diapers in the last 15 minutes. Deep breaths.

Patience means playing their games. Again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And not begrudgingly, either. Because all they want is to spend time with me. Does Facebook love me as much as they do? No, it does not. Do I love Facebook as much as I love them? No, I do not. And most of the time they are more entertaining anyway. Most of the time. (Remember when your group of friends went through the phase of creating and taking “how well do you know me” quizzes? That was fun.)

Patience is answering 428 questions a day that start with “How does…?” or “Why is…?” with the best answers I can come up with. Patience is NOT answering: “Just because.”

Patience is letting her sound it out without jumping in. Just wait… she’ll get it… one more try… almost… you’re so close… Oh, for crying out loud, the answer is… try it one more time… YES!! You did it! The smile is totally worth the wait.

Patience is absolutely, positively, under no circumstances letting my extreme, EXTREME frustration show when I have to get up AGAIN to change a wet bed. She’s young. She is doing her best. She did not wake me up at 4am for no reason. I’ll try that deep breathing thing again.

There are so many moments in my day that could go one way or the other depending on how much patience I bring to the situation that I could go on for pages. And ages. As long as the river rages.

Sorry.

But I get the picture. Having the patience to invite my kids to try more things with me and on their own and to diffuse a potentially tantrum laden situation will not only help those specific moments, but will also teach my kids to use a similar approach. Eventually. I hope.

Love is patient.

I could be working on this one for a while.