Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

February 16, 2014

Sticky Notes, Valentine’s Day, and Lessons in Loving

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 2:29 pm
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My father’s health is challenged, and at times his limits make it difficult to remember the strapping, six foot man who built a rocking horse for his grandson, and fixed our plumbing, and our cars.  But despite how he has changed, his love for snappy one-liners is still evident.  When you ask how he’s doing, you are likely to get the response “I make a living”.  During a doctor’s exam, he is sure to remark  “see anything you like down there”.   And you can be certain he will have a witticism for any young nurses who come his way.

This week, Mom told me that as she was helping him get settled in bed, she urged him to use the grab bar to “pull over”.  Without missing a beat, Dad quipped – “Who are you?  The State Trooper?  Was I speeding?”.  Mom shared that she doesn’t know why, but she has begun writing down what she calls dad’s “bon mots” on sticky notes.  She has them on the fridge, on the kitchen table, by the computer.  She is papering her space with reminders of what is lovable in the man she married 59 years ago.

It is much easier to fall out of love than to look for the person we fell in love with, sometimes hidden behind illness, sometimes stressed by life’s challenges.  Adult relationships are, for the most part, a matter of choice. We choose to open ourselves and love another, and we sometimes choose to move on.  Parent-child relationships are different.  Children and parents do not choose each other, but luckily, most of the time, they fall into mutual love anyway.  Love between parent and child is assumed to be unremitting and eternal.  Yet my Mom’s sticky notes reminded me that what we assume is not always what happens.

In my clinical practice I see children with significant struggles, and I see how their struggles often stress and strain their parents’ love for them.   I hear in parents’ voices, in my office, when speaking at schools and other venues, the almost exclusive focus on what their children do wrong – how terrible they have become.

Uri Bronfenbrenner, a renowned psychologist said that every child should have someone who is head over heels in love with them.  But parents know, as Selma Fraiberg wrote in The Magic Years, that we do not love our children just the same when they bring us a birthday card as when they draw with permanent markers on the newly painted walls.

Educators are not expected to love their charges in the same way as parents do.  Yet they too can fall into the habit of seeing the bad in their students, noting their faults and failings.

It is so important for children to see, when they look into their parents’ eyes, love at who they are and who they will be, reflected back at them.  And when they look in their teacher’s eyes, if it is not love they see, at least it should be belief, hope and care.  If children do not experience adults’ love and commitment, a terrible cycle is set in motion.  Love heals, hope promotes growth.  In their absence, children often cannot lift themselves beyond their struggles.

So I would like to suggest every adult with children in their life get themselves a sticky note pad (literal or figurative).  Look deep and hard at the children who grace your days and fall back in love with them.  Find and celebrate all that you love in your child.  Is it the look he gets when he plays the drums?  His hair bouncing just like it did when he was five?  Is it her smile?  Shy and engaging, at the same time.  Whatever it is that makes our children, our students, loveable (and I believe all children have something to love), let’s find it.  No matter if it is buried amidst tantrums and bad behavior, let’s find it.  Even if it is hidden behind adolescent snarls and struggles, let’s find it.  In the depths of their damage and despair, let’s find it.  And let’s let them know, we see it, we see the lovable in them.  We are putting it on sticky notes and we are sticking with them, because that is what love and caring is about. 

We are not big on celebrating Valentine’s day in my family.  But this week, Mom gave me a gift sweeter than chocolate and longer lasting than roses.  Thanks, Mom, for your sticky notes strategy and your life lessons in loving.

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