Healthy Ways to Give and Get Love




I've resolved to finish both the book studies begun here. I noticed that both of them petered out in the fall, one last year and one the year before. I figure if I start now, I can finish them both before whatever happens in the fall that makes me not able to finish things.

We were on Habit # 7 of The 10 Habits of Healthy Mothers.

Meg Meeker writes:

"We start to dream about her future because we want more. Maybe we want more than we had, whatever that was or wasn't. We want her to be polite because we weren't. We want her to come home during her summers in college because we never wanted to. She'll have a perfect mom. Our daughter will be the lucky one. We'll give her everything we missed.

"Can't you see? Early in our son's life, we lay out our hopes and dreams, not based on who he is, but on who we are. While we say that we will let him be who he wants to be and that we will love him unconditionally, the reality is, none of us mothers can actually do that. When we go to give him our love, our own needs become kneaded into that love and pretty soon, love can feel messy. But it doesn't have to be."

Ah. That collision of hopes and dreams with the reality that pains mothers so much, particularly as their children move through their teens and early twenties. We have talked about that before and you had plenty to say. It's interesting to me that I think I read this chapter differently than I did two years ago, when I first began this study and first read this book. I think that's because I'm more practiced in collision care. Happens all the time: they don't act according to my perfectly scripted daydreams. It doesn't always go as I'd hoped. Actually, it frequently doesn't go as I'd hoped.

"We fear that if we admit that it's going any way other than what we'd hoped, we'll also have to admit that something is broken in our children, or that something is off in our mothering. Neither of these is a fun thing to accept and so when it comes to feeling humbled or hanging on to a slow burn, we opt for the latter. Being angry is safe. It is easier to swallow than admitting that something is cracked. And it protects us from further hurt."

So let's just get that admission  out of the way right now. Let's say it aloud to one another: My kids are broken and so am I. If we can tear down the illusions of perfection and even the expectations of perfection, we can be genuine support to one another. Think about it: how approachable is the perfect woman in the PTO? How eager are you to share a cup of coffee and a heart-to-heart with the lady who has it all together? Let's struggle together. One point that several people spoke to when we listened to the Pat Gohn podcast was the pain caused by competition in friendships. I think we compete with each other and I think we compete with the ideal version of ourselves and our children. Chances are, we learned to do that from our mothers, who had their own ideal versions of themselves and of us, carefully guarded and perpetuated. Depending on how unhealthy this was, those lessons in accepting nothing less than the ideal can be very well ingrained.

It's not too late. We can learn this lesson. Our survival depends on it. If we can give and get love in a healthy manner, we will age beautifully. If we cling to the old paradigm, we will become lonely, embittered shriveled-up old women. I mean that. Nothing will age a woman faster than trying to make her children into something God never inteneded them to be. I promise you that your vision--no matter how lovely--is not God's vision. His is better. It might be really messy getting there. Nothing will make you uglier and more miserable than tightening your controlling grip when love goes awry.

Dr. Meeker suggests four ways to give and get love in a healthy manner.

#1 Take Calculated Risks

This means mom goes first. We tell them first how we feel, we apologize first, and we express our needs aloud. It's a good thing to be vulnerable and to take risks with our love. It's not a good thing to lock our hearts up in a chamber of anger in the hopes we won't be hurt again. With this vocation, comes ample strength and grace to do what we need to do. "If you lay your heart on the table and the person doesn't respond, you handle that. In reality, you can handle far more disappointment than you think you can." What you can't handle--really, truly--is to walk away with your lips pursed and your fist clenched inside your pockets. What you can't handle is anger. It will kill you.

#2 Don't Take Loved Ones So Personally

I think this one is my biggest change since I first started this study. Every time one of my children rejected a component of my Perfect Picture, I took it personally. What was wrong with my ideal? Why deviate from that plan? As they grow, there is great joy in seeing who they are unfold, in seeing the Creator's fingerprints on them. It is somewhat startling, I think, when we begin to recognize that the road to becoming who they truly are is strewn not with rose petals but with all matter of debris. The idyllic path is actually not often trod. Most kids take one of the messier routes and frequently they don't want us along for the ride (or at least they think they don't). They tell us so rather bluntly. Sometimes, "they have temper tantrums directed towards us and try to pull us into their private tornadic whirl."  This can be quite startling, to say the least. Tornados suck mothers in. We believe the anger in the vortex. 

"We can't afford to do this. When we are hurt by loved ones, we must stand back and assess their words as if we were mothers of toddlers. No, they aren't toddlers, but this helps us be more objective about the problem. When a loved one hurts the words as thogh they were driected at a friend, not us. By removing ourselves from the moment [even if the moment is a season long], we can objectify the words [or actions] and try to see if they are reasonable of not."

#3 Learn to Read Loved Ones and Let Them Read You

The best resources on reading a loved on and letting them read you are Gary Chapman's books. I cannot recommend them highly enough:

The 5 Love Languages

The 5 Love Languages of Children

The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers

"Many mothers show love to their kids by cooking their favorite meals, driving them everywhere, or buying them gifts. While our intentions are good, these gestures don't ensure kids feel loved. Certainly kids learn to appreciate the work we do for them as they mature, but in the meantime, it is important to find the small things we can do to let them know that they really are loved by us. While they are growing up in our homes, much of our interaction with our kids is negative because we are correcting them or disciplining them. So find out what makes each child feel loved. When you do this and express it, it will come back to you tenfold.

#4 Express Love Even When You don't Feel Like It

Just be a big girl, already. Quit whining and complaining. Don't stay stuck as an adolescent. Do the hard things. Do them well. And do them gratefully

"Let's not be foolish The best love relationships require rolling up our sleeves again and again and saying a lot of things we really would rather not. Love requires that we take a deep breath and ask loved ones to forgive us for acting like jerks. It requires saying "no" to our kids and then being willing to reinforce the "no" for hours afterward. It means telling daughters that they can't wear teeny tops and skirts to school even when they wail and cry that kids won't like them. And it demands that we have the "talk" with our sons and daughters over and over about sex too soon with too many partners because hurt always follows. We do these things because we love our kids, but nothing is easy about doing any of them. "

~ ~ ~

And it's not just about the kids. One of the greatest predictors of happy mothers is happy marriages. That doesn't mean it's impossible to be a happy single mother with happy kids. It does mean that the path is smoother for women in happy marriages. And by golly, ladies, we have to work at making marriage happy.

"So when a spouse drives us crazy, we must draw on the same internal gift that we use with our kids. Instead of complaining, we need to focus on appreciating him." When we live this model of appreciating over complaining, counting blessings instead of itemizing annoyances, we create a climate of love. Children learn from watching us. Let them learn genuine love in action.

{{This post is the 11th in a series discussing The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers: Reclaiming our Passion, Purpose, and Sanity.}}

The rest of our discussions of  The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers: Reclaiming our Passion, Purpose, and Sanity can be found here. 

Part 1(discussing Habit 1)

Part 2 (still discussing Habit 1)

Part 3 (still more on Habit 1)

Part 4 (Habit 2: key friendships)

Part 5 (Habit 2: your thoughts on friendship_

Part 6 (Habit 3: Value and Practice Faith)

Part 7(Habit 4: Say No to Competition)

Part 8 (Habit 4: Say No to Competition)

Part 9 (Habit 5: Create a Healthier Relationship with Money)

Part 10 (Habit 6: Make Time for Solitude)