Parental love is that unconditional love like no other. Fierce and tender, steadfast and amazingly self-sacrificing, this boundless beneficence gets us up early, to ready the family for the day, despite our flu symptoms, and keeps us up all night with feverish children—just a few of all manner of hellish conditions it sees us through.
Parental love keeps us upright in chaos; it’s our north star in confusion, and often assumes the role of our very own comforting teddy bear.
We rely heavily on this rarified gift because without it we would be raving maniacs. Parental love feeds us as much as it nurtures our kids.
Occasionally, though, because we are human, we break. So exhausted, so completely overwhelmed, by our kids’ on-going negative behaviors we look into our hearts and can’t find enough love energy to say one more time, “Of course, I’ll take you________” or “Sure, I’ll help you with your homework tonight.”
Five toddler tantrums before lunchtime, or a steady stream of disrespect from a teenager, would be challenging even for the Dali Lama. It’s no wonder sometimes our parental love cowers in a corner, needing convincing it’s safe to come out. This is entirely normal and even to be expected.
Since parental love is an endless well, you will soon tap back into it. Promise.
Here are two ways that I have suggested to the parents I work with for reconnecting to their parental love. Over the years I have found they work unusually well. You may want to give one or both a try.
Look to the Future
I think the unease that comes over most of us when we fall “out of like” with our kids is that we start un-liking ourselves, as well. Looking to the future can be a reality check because it helps put today’s stresses in perspective—your kids will grow up and become adults. So whatever is happening now, it will pass. Relief often re-instates confidence and competence.
(And for those of us with kids who are now adults, we can assure you these trying moments pass all too quickly. Although you can’t possibly believe that now, try to hang on to the fact that the current time is a privileged time where you get to influence your future adult.)
So imagine your child as an adult—when he or she is about 28 years old and sitting across from you over a nice lunch. It’s just the two of you. Who is this person you are looking at? Do you respect him/her? Are you having fun together? Why? What goals, dreams, and aspirations does your son/daughter tell you about? Is s/he a compassionate person? How do you know? What values and priorities do you notice as being important to him/her?
These are just a few of the questions you could ask yourself as you talk with this now terrific adult you raised through good times and hard times. I encourage you to make up other questions and reflect on them as you have this fun future lunch with your adult child.
After you have answered all your questions, imagine yourself swelling with pride, your heart overflowing with love for this amazing person—as you both laugh about the time __________________ (when you fought over her messy room; when her tantrums in the grocery store embarrassed you; when he played too many video games, you thought he would never do anything else—fill in your current challenge.)
Often during this visualization, parents will have an immediate a-ha about how to approach the current reality that has been causing them so much angst.
It seems tapping into parent love re-directs our hearts to consider creative ideas.
Look To the Past
I stumbled upon this technique when coaching a mom whose teen daughter was acting out so much; she had lost the will to bond with her. With too many slammed doors in her face, this mom was clean out of parental love—or so she thought. Describing how much of a “problem” her daughter was, I realized that it might help if she could see her daughter in a different light.
I asked her, “Do you have a photo of your daughter as a little girl—during a time you were in connection with her?”
This brought a smile to her face, as she knew where I was heading. She didn’t have any past photos she could look at during her day that conjured up positive feelings of being with her daughter in the past. However, she thought it was an interesting idea and assured me she would try it.
Connecting with her daughter—sans identifying with her daughter as a “problem,” helped this wonderful mother re-connect to her own parental love, as well to her daughter.
Over time, she became sincerely curious, asking the girl more questions and enjoying conversations. In one she found out that losing a friend was very difficult for the girl—new important information for Mom. This helped her begin a process of recovering her authentic relationship with her daughter, with more understanding and empathy.
As you told me, she said, “Just by looking at those old photos of how cute and loveable she was back then, helped me realize how much I loved her. I started enjoying being with her again.”
The bottom line:
It’s normal for us to fall “out of like” with our kids. Our parental love will return and when it does it helps us realize: Most of the time our kids act up because they have fallen “out of like” with themselves.
So, by re-connecting to our parental love, we help them re-connect to their own self-love.
Now…that’s some love!