Understanding a Parent's Love
A Valentine's Day tribute to children and parents
Valentine’s day is a celebration of love, and while it is more often focused on romantic love, I’m taking the opportunity to celebrate the love between parent and child… and well, it’s romantic love that made that all happen in the first place!
A few times in the past year, I was profoundly moved by experiences where I saw myself as both my parent and myself as the child. It was with the perspective now of a parent that I was able to more fully embrace what my parent's actions were.
"I can appreciate where he was great and showed us love and affection."
Some of those moments weren’t the most positive, but they led to a meaningful understanding. The other night I was tired from a long day, and had asked my two youngest kids to clean their room several times with escalating frustration. And then the loud stomp as one of them jumped off a bed, as they were goofing around in their room, rattled the floorboards and my sanity. My blood pressure and temper spiked and through the heat in my skin I saw myself. One of the core memories I have as a kid is my dad coming into our room and asking my brother and me to clean our room… and then coming back in only a minute or two later to yell at us, throw everything out of our drawers and make us clean even more up. I remember thinking of that moment as an example of my father’s temper and how mean he was… But what I realized now as the parent, was that it probably wasn’t only a minute or so before he came back into our room… and it probably wasn’t the first or second time he’d asked us to clean it that day… it was probably the 11th and I bet one of us had just jumped off a bed and shook the ceiling as we were goofing off and not cleaning. I don’t excuse my father’s temper, or the times he used excessive discipline on us, but I can better understand some of his failures now, what kind of headspace he might’ve been in, and I can appreciate where he was great and showed us love and affection.
"Your love for your partner isn’t reduced; your ability to love, your understanding of love transforms."
I think when you find your partner, you find a way to love with your whole heart completely… and then something magical happens when you have a child. Your heart is completely full, and yet it’s able to double in capacity. Your love for your partner isn’t reduced; your ability to love, your understanding of love transforms. And this happens with each child and you unlock another dimension of love you’re capable of.
But two of those times the experiences led to a deep understanding of love.
The first is when my mother told me she loved me as much as I love my own kids. This makes sense, but without really thinking about it before, it was a bit shocking. I ADORE my kids. My mom loves me THAT much!? To be the parent, and understand the love a parent has for a child… AND to be that child, understanding that love in order to experience it. Blew me away. I know for some this realization of a parent’s love can feel like a wound if it wasn’t something they had/have from their parent, but hope and joy can still come from knowing that their child may someday be able to understand their love for them.
"I think in some way, every child wants their parent’s approval, appreciation, love..."
The most recent moment of understanding a parent’s love came when I had some old tapes from my childhood converted to digital. The tape was an hour-plus long recording of a soccer tournament from when I was 10, mostly filmed in the low-quality, shakey way that was expected from the camcorders of the time. I don’t remember any details of any of the games from this tournament, but I do remember a general sense of feeling not good enough. This was an all-star team and I think I felt I wasn’t good enough to keep up. At the end of the tape, there was a moment where we were all walking off the field at the end of the game and I can see my dad, who is easy to pick out because despite living in Hawaii, is dressed in dress slacks and dress boots instead of the typical shorts and sneakers. He’s walking off the field too and talks to another boy and then walks with me for a moment and rubs my head. It was just a second but I was emotionally wrecked for a good 15 minutes after watching it. I saw my dad rub my head, but in the same way I rub my own kid’s head… as a way to say, I adore you, I’m proud of you and Daddy’s here. I think in some way, every child wants their parent’s approval, appreciation, love… and I saw my 10 year old self, who REALLY wanted his father’s approval, get it. And as a father, I fully understood it.
I hope today brings you more understanding about the love you have, the love you're capable of and the love you give to others.