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Jewish World Review
Jan. 2, 2014/ 1 Shevat, 5774
What parental love trumps
I've recently had several conversations with young friends with very young children, or children on the way. Most have the same fear: that they somehow aren't getting it "right" or won't get it "right" when it comes to parenting.
The little-kept secret is that all parents blow it. We lose our patience, yell, get angry or even wonder, "I had these kids because WHY?"
And then we turn around and say, "Oh, good grief, I really am my parents!"
Well, I think I've learned a lot in my time as a mom to four kids, the oldest one now starting college. Good grief, I even had the temerity to write a book on the subject.
Looking back, I can share a list of things my own parents did "wrong." My parents did not, for instance, tolerate the sharing of negative feelings about anything, or apologize when they blew it in small or big ways (a common experience for kids who grew up in my era).
Meanwhile, my dad and I were not close at all when I was young. And my mom? I knew from my youngest days, thanks to my four very typical older siblings who naturally enjoyed teasing me, that I was an "unwanted" pregnancy. Truly, it was common knowledge in our home that when my mother found out she was expecting me, she cried for days she was so unhappy about it.
But here's the amazing thing: My knowing that was completely overwhelmed by the fact of my mother's love for me once I actually arrived. You see, my mother loved my siblings and me so fiercely, so unconditionally, so totally that I simply grew up convinced of her rock-solid devotion, no matter her initial response to the news of my arrival. More than that, I also I believed that I was loveable. That is so critically important to a healthy self-image, successful relationships and simple happiness.
The totality of my mother's love dwarfed for me whatever negatives there were in our family's life. It wasn't just in what she said or did, though those things were important. It was part of who she was, it was clear loving us made her happy. It was palpable.
Her love even overwhelmed anything I didn't get from my dad at the time, so that when I became an adult my father and I could grow closer and come to enjoy each other.
I know that my mother's fierce love for me has shaped how I love my children. And they will tell you, as they have told me, that they feel my overwhelming love for them has sustained us all through some really rocky times in our lives, including our single-mom years.
Of course, I don't think my mother loved me more than other moms have loved their kids through the ages, and maybe I don't love my kids more than other parents love theirs (though I think it's a healthy tendency for a parent to suspect she does!).
But, I increasingly recognize the value of parental love. Both in what it did for me and in how it is shaping my children for the good -- in spite of my many parenting mistakes.
So that's what I want to impart to my young friends just starting out on this journey. You may agonize over getting things "right," whatever that is to you: connecting emotionally with your kids, or training them well when it comes to manners, or instilling good moral lessons, or spending enough time with them, and our endless lists go on. All those desires are important.
But letting your kids know, and taste, and feel and rest in your incredible, crazy, sacrificial love for them is going to be the thing that shapes them more than anything else, and often in spite of everything else, that you do.
In other words, I want my young friends to find rest in the gracious truth that real love from a mom or dad (and preferably both!) covers a host of parenting sins.
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