Recently, I started something new with William and Ava. Instead of simply saying, "I love you", as I try to do multiple times a day and certainly at bedtime, I say, "I love you exactly as you are." Something subtle seems to change in my kids, particularly William, and he feels accepted in a way that he didn't before.
I have to admit that it is often challenging to say that phrase truthfully. I've written a lot here about my up and down relationship with my son, and we have made great strides in the last few months, but that doesn't mean that I don't still become irritated by many things he says and does. I struggle with my own fear that some of his quirks reflect badly on me somehow. Unconditional love is a tall mountain to climb, and I'm pretty sure it takes a lifetime to get near the top. When I phrase my acceptance in this way to my son, he stands a little taller within our relationship, and I look a bit closer to find the qualities that I do respect and admire within him.
For so long I was focused on the negative, trying to raise him to be something else that I found more acceptable than the personality qualities he was showing to me, and now I understand clearly that my negative approach was hurting both of us. It's so much healthier to approach people from a positive standpoint. It makes me feel more hopeful, and helps the other party grow into who they really are in a fresh, new way.
We did a self confidence morning at our mom's group this week, and part of our table discussion was focused on supporting other moms instead of judging. It's easy to judge and much harder to support, especially when another person is different from us. We brainstormed a few of the areas that divide us (physical attractiveness, pre-conceived ideas, religion, money, parenting/childbirth) and the list went on and on. These areas divide us for one reason only: we allow them to.
In thinking about this after, I realized that I separate myself from my kids in much the same way. I pull away because there is something about them that I don't like, and then I wonder why they are not changing to suit my demands. I could bully them into change, by punishing them in some way or withholding my love from them, but I don't want to do it that way. I want them to feel supported and loved, and explore the world from that position of strength and confidence. I don't have to like every behaviour, but if I like their character, I can believe in them to make the right choices going forward in their lives.
I want to extend that positive belief and support to everyone in my life, from family to friends. It's hard when it's not reciprocated. I'm tired of playing games that involve giving up something I want or some part of myself in order to be accepted and loved. I don't find life or growth in those kinds of relationships. Now I know that there is a new way to approach my relationships, and I won't go back to the old habits when there is still so much ground to cover in terms of positive forward motion.
The only way I know to change is by small, incremental steps. It doesn't happen overnight. Changing the phrasing for how I express love to my kids is a very small thing, but in time I pray it will pay big dividends in their self confidence, and in the way I learn to love them without as many strings attached. Every single time I say, "I love you exactly as you are", I stop and think about all that I do love about each one of them, and it helps me move ever so slowly closer to the kind of love I want to genuinely express to those in my life.