One night my three-year-old son asked to be excused from the dinner table not long after the meal had begun. He is generally permitted to leave the table when he has finished his meal, but not before the family has been able to spend some time together. I said that he could not yet be excused.
“We’d like you to stay with us at the table a little longer,” I said. “We enjoy your company.”
This statement delighted my son, and he soon made a game of it. “Who enjoys my company?” he’d ask whenever we were at the table, and he’d laugh when my husband and I raised our hands and said, “I do!”
Though I gladly played along, the game irritated me at first. Why did my son need to court our affection in this way?
At the time, however, my husband and I were making our way through a rough patch in our relationship with him. We had just welcomed a baby to our family, and as we adjusted to life as a family of four, everyone but the baby himself, it seemed, was having tantrums, none more than my older son. In my search for ways to connect with him, I was devouring my favorite parenting books — including Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn.
One evening while playing my son’s game, some words from Kohn’s book came to mind (emphasis mine):
We ought to love them, as my friend Deborah says, ‘for no good reason.’ Furthermore, what counts is not just that we believe we love them unconditionally, but that they feel loved in that way.
With these words, my irritation with my son’s game faded. In fact, I started to enjoy the game along with him.
A recurring theme in my classes at Teachers College was that what the teacher believes he or she has taught isn’t what matters; it’s what the students actually learn. Similarly — and Kohn makes this analogy, too — the love we hold for our children does not matter so much as the love they feel they have received from us.
Am I willing to play the goofball to get my son’s giggles going?
Am I willing to get down on the floor to enter his imagination in play with him?
Am I willing to squeeze over to make room for cuddling with him on the rocker while I nurse the baby?
Am I willing to pledge, night after night, that yes, I do enjoy his company?
Of course — yes, yes, yes, and yes!
After all, love has no limit; the more I give, the more there is to give and give and give….
In what ways do you share your love for your children with them?
Rachael is the work-at-home mother of a vivacious two-year-old boy. As a freelancer, she edits and writes educational materials for K–12 students and teaches online creative writing classes through The Writers Studio. She is also a poet who was foolish enough to have married an artist. Though Rachael never planned to do anything other than attachment parenting, her pre-motherhood self probably would be surprised to see her happily nursing a toddler — and in a family bed! She is grateful to have found an online community of others doing much the same. Rachael writes about making her way toward work-life balance in a family of artists at The Variegated Life.