We love our kids, but what kind of love we give our kids matters.
“We can love in peace or we can love in torment. Loving in peace means you associate love with deep states of wellbeing. The loved one brings to your life security, comfort, and meaning. Loving in torment means peaks of excitement marred with jealousy, rage, and fears of dependency and abandonment. Whether your child will love in peace or love in torment will be influenced by the way you love your child now, and the brain chemistries activated as a result. (Sunderland, Margot, 2006, P. 184)
I admit never opening most of the baby books and parenting books given to me when my first kid was born because the idea of reading a two-inch book about feeding, or potty training felt silly, plus I was too tired to read when the kids were young! Lately though, I can’t stop paging through The Science of Parenting by Margot Sunderland. The book is perfect for me—a guy who loves science, and one who would never read a parenting book cover to cover. It’s an ideal book to put near the potty.
I’ve bought the book for friends and family and keep giving my copies away. The book has prompted deep examination of my upbringing and how the kind of love I received affects me as a parent now.
When I look back at my childhood, I remember running into the arms of my Dad as he came home from work. I can feel him wrestling with me during our homemade haunted houses on Halloween. I remember sitting with him looking at directions while building a remote control car, his guiding voice only instructing me when I needed it. I can still smell the sizzle of ginger as my Mom allowed me to gently stir in the ingredients of our stir-fried dinners, and her light kiss before bedtime.
I can hear their stern yet caring voices concerned about my grades, “Ryan, you don’t have to get A’s like your brother and sister,” they assured, “We just want to know you are trying your best, and we can get you help if you need it.”
My parents were also old school in many ways and being hit with various objects was part of my discipline for a few years. It’s important to note that these were not beatings. In retrospect, I think I cried more because of the disappointment my parents exuded more than any of the physical pain caused by the cardboard hanger used by my Mom to whack my behind. Mom now admits it was a mistake to hit me.
That honesty and example of admitting fault is a good model for me and aided me in finding a balance between being a Dad with high expectations as opposed to being an authoritarian. There must be respect, however, I don’t want my kids to fear me.
I’ve examined my childhood deeply looking to find things that affected my actions or inaction during my failed marriage. I need to know as I move forward into new relationships. Did I have a good model of Loving in Peace? Am I loving my children in Peace? The answer is a resounding yes.
I had physical love and support systems that encouraged me to be my best without oppressive comparison, or my parents being overly critical. Like most kids, I didn’t want to disappoint them, but there was never massive fear of failure, or not living up to their expectations. They provided me with a steady supply of love chemicals (Opiods and Oxytocin), and I always look forward to seeing them.
Becoming parents did not come easy for my ex-wife and me. After learning of our second miscarriage, the very first person I called was my Mom to grieve. The simple sound of her voice gave me comfort. When I lay crumbled by the emotions of divorce swaddling myself like an infant with a tightly cinched hoodie, a call from my Dad made me rise to get the day started.
This is Loving in Peace. This is the model of love I can now achieve for my kids free from the frustrations of trying to make my marriage work.
Sunderland, Margot, (2006). The Science of Parenting.