Happy Valentine’s Day. Today the world is celebrating love, or dwelling about the absence of it. And as I am always curious about how our own perspective of ideas affect our children’s own approach to life, I woke up asking myself, how can you tell when love is real love. And how do we teach our own children about love. Not attachment. Not possessiveness. Not a needs fulfilling relation. And ironically, I found myself recalling the famous statement of “Whatever love means”.
When Prince Charles and the then-Lady Diana first met the press to announce their engagement, they were asked about if they were in love and the royal groom-to-be gave one of the most awkward answers in history: “Whatever ‘in love’ means.” This answer deserved a million exclamation marks. Same ones I get when I look around on Valentine’s day and see the red roses and finely wrapped gifts. Is this love? Are these people really in love, maybe yes, or also, whatever in love means.
I failed to find an answer to what love is, but I am quite sure of what it’s not. It might sound a bit of a cliche to many, but truly my perspective of love changed after reading The Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak. One of the rules that depicts the true essence of unconditional love says: “It’s easy to love a perfect God, unblemished and infallible that He is. What is far more difficult is to love fellow human being with all their imperfections and defects. Remember, one can only know what one is capable of loving. There is no wisdom without love. Unless we learn to love God’s creation, we can neither truly love nor truly know God”. And, indeed, day after day, my belief that perfectionism is the enemy of love becomes stronger. Seeking perfection, leads to a path of dissatisfaction, guilt, anxiety and depression. But how does this relate to the way we teach children about love?
One of the most surprising aspects I found since becoming a parent is how egoistic parenting can be. It’s competitive. It is full of shaming. People take pride in raising a ‘well-behaved’ and polite child because we live in a society that regards a child’s behaviors as a measurement of their parents’ success in ‘molding them’. Consequently, instead of meeting our children’s individual emotional and psychological needs, we put all our efforts in making them fit with our expectations of how they should be. We hold beliefs and values regarding what we believe is the best for our children. Our expectations of how children should be is directly a result of how we were raised, and in spite of our best intentions, we fail to degrade ourselves from the expectations of what we were taught is ‘perfect’. This whole process of seeking perfection conveys to our children that they are not good enough on their own, that they need to exert effort to gain our love and approval. And this belief can carry on throughout their lives causing an overlap between love and approval. And from here stems the constant need to please others to feel good enough.
Another misconception about love is that it is related to effort as though love is gained or acquired. There is no purest form of love than the love of a mother to her children. It’s instinctive and it is born and grows with the child. A child doesn’t exert effort to be worthy of his mother’s love. Nor should we as adults do an effort to be loved. We can do an effort that arises naturally out of care but not to gain love.
Love is not judgmental. Or as the great Dalai Lama XIV once said, “Love is the absence of judgement.” Sadly, many of us are wired to be judgmental. From an early age we learn strictly that there are ‘good’ people and ‘bad’ ones. People are either kind or evil. Most of children’s cartoons resolve around fighting the ‘bad guys’. Doing a wrong behavior makes you a bad person instantly. We easily frown upon a person for being open about mistakes that sometimes we commit ourselves. And because the opinions of others can shape our own self imagine, we hide our flaws in the fear of judgement. Yet we keep classifying others, we create mental labels for people based on few words we heard about them. We judge others based on their looks, skin color, social or financial standard, religion and all kind of things they never chose. When we judge, we put aside all aspects of empathy as we interpret people’s behaviors with disregard to their emotional states or consequences. Love and judgement cannot coexist. And since children learn most through modeling, we should refrain from expressing our judgements in front of our children to avoid raising another generation of judgmental beings.
Love is not possessive. It annoys me to the core when I hear an expression like ‘He loves her so much that he is always jealous, he made her stop talking to this person or that one ‘. This need to control a person’s behavior should never be misinterpreted as love. It is in fact, lack of self confidence and an exaggerated need for possessiveness. When you love a person, you don’t own them. They are not property. When two people willingly decide to spend their lives together, they are expected to trust and respects each other’s decisions without enforcing their own rules or regulations. And the same applies to parenting. Out of possessiveness, many people regard their own children as an extension of themselves, which results in a need to influence their behaviors in order to fulfill dreams the parents themselves failed to achieve. This always reminds me Khalil Gibran’s words when he said: “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”
Now that we are towards the end of the day, and I see people expressing their ‘love’ on social media and honesty most of this feels rather fake. Love will never be truly celebrated with a red dress, diamonds and roses. Those status based marriages are not love stories. The one hour of massage is not self-love if there is no self-compassion. The toys you buy for your children are not love. Even if you say, ‘I love you to the moon and back ‘ , ‘you are my backbone’ or ‘you are the one and only’, remember that in love, it’s not the fashionable words. It’s the unconditional acceptance, loving people as a package with the flaws, and letting go of judgments and possessiveness. So, as Mother Teresa says, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family”. Unconditionally please.
Happy Valentine’s day.