When Love Is Enough

No discussion of parenting would be complete without an article on love. All parents love their children. However, as they get caught up in doing the right things such as setting limits, establishing parental power, setting up family communication, organizing family activities, preparing their children to go to good schools, and so on, they sometimes forget about the importance of love.

Love Is Listening

What is love? Sometimes it is the ability to listen. For example, an 11-year-old girl told her therapist that she had been stealing money from both her parents. When the parents and daughter met with the therapist together to talk about it, the parents both felt angry and frustrated by their daughter's behavior. They wanted her to stop stealing and were busy devising a method to prevent a recurrence of the undesired behavior. The therapist suggested to the upset and agitated parents that they talk with their daughter and try to find out WHY she was stealing. There is no doubt that these parents love their daughter very much. There is also no doubt that she needs to learn not to steal. However, if these parents don't LISTEN to their daughter, the probability is that nothing will change. They will lose an opportunity to get to know their daughter better and the reason for the stealing will remain unknown.

Love Is Understanding

Sometimes love is the ability to put yourself in the other person's place. A family was referred for therapy because their six year old son was unable to adjust to school. He was not following the school rules and had become quite disruptive. The parents were at a loss as to what to do with him. As the parents discussed their home life they said that no rules were broken at home basically because they believed in democracy and have very few rules. In family therapy, this scenario represents a perfect scenario in which to enact change in the family. It was not difficult to help this family re-organize itself so that control was placed in the hands of the parents where it belongs. However, the child's behavior at school did not improve substantially. So the parents were asked, with their son present, what they were like as children. It turns out that they too were rebellious. Subsequently, both parents were asked to put themselves in the place of their son. When each spoke of their own experiences as a child, they were able to recognize the mixed messages they were transmitting to their son. Essentially, they were both telling him to "do as I say, not as I do." The boy's face changed as he listened to his parents speak. Although he might have felt loved before, for the first time he felt UNDERSTOOD.

Love Is Acceptance

Love is about acceptance. A nine-year-old boy was brought to therapy because he was getting into fights at school with his classmates and at home with his siblings. The reason for the fights was not apparent. However, the boy acted more like a six year old than a nine year old. After several discussions with the parents, they told the therapist somewhat reluctantly that their son had been tested and found to be mildly retarded. They also said that his siblings were extremely intelligent, high achieving students. Both these parents loved their son. However, for a variety of reasons, they had trouble accepting the child's limitations. Therefore, they established expectations for him that he could not meet. This, of course, created frustration for the child, who felt like a terrible failure. It was the parents' belief that he should not be made into a "special case." They wanted him to pull his own weight like the other children. Well, parents and therapist discussed expectations and "weight pulling" until it was resolved that establishing expectations that are greater than a person can meet is upsetting, whether retarded or not. As the atmosphere in the home changed from one of judgment to one of ACCEPTANCE, the boy stopped fighting.

Stopping to listen, being empathic, or simply accepting who their children are communicate love and often go further than any strategy of parenting that one can devise.