Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Unconditionally loving our children

I believe that, in our job as mothers, few things are as important as loving, generous and unconditional acceptance of the uniqueness of our children.

Very early, I've noticed, there's a competition between mothers (and even grandmothers), which puts a lot of unneeded stress on everyone involved – I personally was constantly reminded of the fact that there are many babies younger than Shira who surpass her in weight. Now a mother I know is worried because her child (16 months old) is far shorter than my daughter. There's such a wide variety of normal weight and height for babies as well as adults – in most cases there is truly no reason to worry.

Then there are the milestones of rolling over, sitting, crawling, walking, talking, and later, reading, writing and riding a bicycle. Those, too, are hugely blown out of proportion. Shira just started walking at 15 months. Up until now, in the past couple of months, people would look at me sympathetically and say, "oh, don't worry that she's still crawling. I'm sure she'll start walking soon enough" – even though I never said a word about her not walking yet, or me being uncomfortable about it.

Why should we be in competition about whose child completed such simple, natural milestones first? Will it matter, in the long run, whether a child learned to walk at 12 or 15 months? Or that a certain child was a late talker? I learned to read at 4, but today I can't say that my reading skills are better than of those people who learned to read at 6 or 7. Again, there's a pretty wide range of normal development, and if the child is anywhere near that range, there's probably no reason to fuss. On the other hand, if there is some sort of problem, all the more reason not to measure a child against some standards he or she cannot possibly keep up with.

Part of our job is to promote our children's education and development, yes, but also to accept the diversity and to let them know they are loved and accepted – unconditionally. Otherwise, who knows what deep scars it might leave in the tender soul of a child? Parents sometimes tend to point out the achievements of another child – good grades in school, playing the piano, ballet dancing – in a way that makes their own child feel like an ugly duckling. This doesn't prompt success, and even if it does in some way, it's destructive. Many years down the road, the child who becomes a grown-up may still feel he or she is never good enough.  

Children aren't trophies, or honor badges, or show puppies to jump through hoops. They are unique individuals, and while it is certainly possible to understand a parent's pride over the child's achievements, and to understand disappointment and bewilderment when a child turns away from everything the parents had tried to teach him, it does not change the fact that unconditional love is an irreplaceable component.

Love, devotion, tenderness, patience, time. Lots and lots of time, days and months and years, which is essentially what our life is made of. How I pray every day for God to give me all those gifts so necessary for raising the children He placed, or might place in my arms. How I hope and pray to always see them the way he sees me – knowing and appreciating the true value of a human being, thinking the best, and loving unconditionally. 

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LeAnna said...

Very well said. I find that a lot of times a mothers own insecurities reflect in how they treat their children. My own mother was quite the perfectionist, and as a child there was a lot of hurt from her criticism. We're past that now, but the reminder is there to deal with our own issues inwardly, between us and God, and not make our children part of them.

Lea said...

I totally agree with you!

I actually quit a group for mothers of 0-6-month-olds because it was too competative (who cares if my kid rolled over 2 weeks before yours did!).

My husband works in medicine and is surrounded primarily by women all day. There are about 8 little ones born to those in his department within 6 months of each other. When our twins were roughly 2 years old, they were comparing what their kids can do. One could count to 10, one could say their alphabet, etc. They all got done and looked expectantly at my husband. He smiled and said "My son can quack like a duck." Big pause. Dumbfounded looks. Big grin from my husband! :)

They're now in nursery school and doing just fine - even better than some of those who could count at 2! And in some cases they even have a better imagination.

My children are vastly different from each other and sometimes it is a struggle to make each feel unconditionally loved - especially when others praise one over the other.

Is it worth it? Definately!
Thanks for this post!

FeliciaE said...

What a wonderful post!

Both of my children have always been under weight according to the 'norms' of society. And it gets maddening to explain not only to strangers and friends but to also doctors that this is our genetic makeup. The need to have children confrom to the standard normal range is silly.

Thanks for this it was a refreshing reminder~

Tracy said...

Beautifully written, and oh, so true!

sarah said...

I say Shira is smarter than any of those early walkers - she let you carry her around (aka do all the work) for longer!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Anna, for this good reminder. My 2.5 year old is just starting to form simple sentences, and I have been feeling such stress about it because of him being referred for both speech and hearing. I feel people are constantly also on the lookout for symptoms of autism (of which there are none). The concern brought on by others often pushes us to place pressure on our children which can be so harmful. We have to remember to be gentle when encouraging progress and learning. Thanks again for your inspiring words. Rosemary

Jodi said...

Very well said! You have the right attitude, Anna. I personally think we all need to just *chill out* as moms. Who cares what someone else's kid is doing?

I have also quit a couple of "mommy groups" because of the inherent competition, whether one wanted to participate or not. I was sick of having to watch everything I said in case it was interpreted as some sort of competition.

During a conversation about cleaning, I casually mentioned to a friend that I never thought I'd be the kind of person who vacuumed everyday, but with a little one on the floor I felt like I needed to. She immediately yelled, "She's *crawling* already?" and started making excuses for her child. I honestly just meant I needed to clean more often!

Sometimes it's easier to have friends who either don't have children or have much older/younger children.

And to the previous poster, I *love* the story about the son quacking like a duck! That's a great response!

Stam House said...

Great post!!!

So true, I keep having people comparing our children to theirs or to others etc... Each child is unique and has his/her own development time line.

Sure there is certain concern that could be legitimate like a baby who is not walking at 3 years old should be seen by a professional etc... But sometimes I feel that our society wants kids to be grown up before they are ready!

Another this I might add, the pressure that parent puts on their little one does not stop when they are 6 or 10. I'm 31, married, SAHM, and with our third child to be born soon. And my Mother is still ashamed to tell people that I quite my job to be a wife and mother. Like I'm not good enough anymore because I'm wasting my time at home!!!!!

If she comes to visit and our house is not perfectly clean (with 2 young toddler and being 34 weeks pregnant that happen more often then not)she will complain on how lazy I am and how I can't do it all and how I should stop being silly and having kids!!!

Pressure pressure pressure, it's feels it's coming form all side sometimes!

I have priorities, God, them my husband then our children and the times I have left after that it's cleaning, and who cares if their is dust bunnies behind the stove if your family is well feed has clean clothes and are well love!!!

Luci said...

Thank you for this lovely post! This is all so important. Loving one's children and showing that love takes time - and effort - but such investments are the best we can make, for we're investing in eternal, individual, precious souls.


Mrs. Kes said...

It bothers me when people compare their children. My MIL actually asked if I could take my son to the doctor to find out if there were any pills he could take to help him grow taller (he's a full head shorter than most kids his age, but he has a short mother and a short father). My SIL would say, "Your daughter is such a little china doll! Mine's a submarine (or some other bulky, large structure)." I would gently remind her that her daughter will probably be tall and being so chubby now was probably building up stores for some major growth spurts in her future.

I'm also not fond of the recent "fashion" of showing off toddlers quoting scripture on youtube. While I think it is great that these children are memorizing scripture (and I hope their meanings) but what purpose is there in posting video after video on youtube? Is it inspiring, cute, challenging, or feeding parents' pride?

Your post challenges mothers to stop looking at other's children and simply love their own, obeying what God would have them do as mothers for their children and enjoy the UNIQUE creations God gave them.

Jenny said...

Anna, in my experience the competition never stops. Parents trying to score points through their children, it's sad but it happens. Sometimes though I think the parents are just proud of their child, genuinely happy that their little one can do this or that and choose the wrong way to share their feelings. It is exciting watching your child develop and change as they mature.

Rose said...

Oh Anna, so true. And when the children are older the talk moves to grades at school, earnings etc. How wise you are to recognise the wide span of normal development.

Anonymous said...

Well, like they say, when the doctor pronounces your child "normal", that is the last time that normal will ever suffice again. There is lots of competition among moms. No mom it seems is content with normal for her child. We want our kids to be super kids! Maybe it is natural to feel this way, I don't know.

Mrs. Parunak said...

Amen! Such a lovely post. My littlest one is very, very petite. She is also a year old now and not crawling (she scoots on her bottom). People always ask about whether she's crawling (or even starting to walk!), and when I say, no, they feel sorry for me, or share reasons why I shouldn't worry. But actually, I'm not worried at all!. She's an absolute darling, and I adore her. I'm pretty sure she'll walk eventually. Most people do.

Jana said...

This is a great post. I really love that you put everything into perspective, something all of us need. I was early in almost everything. I said my first words at 4 months. I was walking at 8 months. I was potty trained before my brother was born who is only 17 months younger than me. I was a very determined child and I was always figuring out how to get what I wanted, which was to be just like my parents. But then I went to public school and we also watched some (not more than a half hour per day) TV. These two things changed the whole world. Because my parents were so insistent on letting us develop at our own pace and telling us that we were better than those other kids when we got bullied, I was rather let down because they didn't put me up to someone elses development. I watched TV and saw that so and so was supposed to act more like that person over there. In school I would hear my fellow classmates bemoan the fact that they had to do better in spelling because their parents pointed out another student's ability. I was in the middle of the pack grade wise. I always wondered why my parents didn't want me to do better and have them point out a student I should compete with. Children get funny notions in their heads and I don't think I would have understood my parent's philosophy at that time. Only now do I realize that little things can be very destructive to a child's self-esteem and confuse them. I am no longer an advocate for TV because it has such poor messages in it and I will hopefully be able to homeschool my children. I think I would have developed much faster in the care of my parents educating me than the pace I was given at public school which was keeping up with the slowest among us. Thank-you again for the post!

Rightthinker-Andrea said...

With having five children, and another on the way, I've been blessed to see that God creates each-even within the same family, with uniqueness that can't be compared.

Ranges of normal are so wide for development, intellect and achievement, that we ought to understand that as long as we are mindfully parenting them, God has them just where He wants them to be.

I don't involve myself in much of the "comparative" mothering stuff...such as play groups and joining this or's often so me-centered, both on children, and mothers boasting that it makes no sense to embroil myself in that..besides, with a houseful of homeschooled children of my own, they don't need to be placed up against the very worldly measuring stick I choose to protect them from.

Blessings to you and a great article!


Anonymous said...

So, so true, Anna. I remember feeling annoyed about this when my children were little. It got so that I would feel nervous when I saw certain mothers (out & about, at church, etc.) who had children roughly the same age as my own.

Our children are not pets, prizes to be shown off so that others will drop their mouths open in amazement.


Kittee said...

I could not agree more. Nothing frustrates me more than the mothers I know who are "my child did this first!" "My child was walking at 8 months! My child was speaking at 4 months! My child rode his first bike at 2 years old without training wheels!"

I'm sure you know the type. It's unfortunate because it's almost like in that situation it's the mother herself that is trying to make up for some sort of short coming and most certainly that will translate to the child one day.

Myself? I'm relaxed. My baby girl will develop at her own pace. Besides, I'm not in a hurry to see her grow up!

Joie said...

I can't tell you the stress and anxiety I felt over such things when my Patrick was younger. I wish I could have seen so clearly what you see now. Intellectually, I got it but emotionally, I wasn't there. Thank you.

Kristy said...

Well put!