Comparative Love and Things I Am Trying Not to Say to My Kids
At the risk of sounding creepy I want to let you know that I watch people pretty closely. I know that I have a lot to learn from almost anyone I encounter. I am grateful for the daily lessons I get from people I watch in loving others, extending grace, taking care of myself, and, when the time is right, letting go…whatever that means. I am indebted to so many. I think about many of you who have taught me so much daily.
I have a friend, Jenn, who is one of these incredible people I have watched. We have raised our babies together and I have watched her do one of the most impressive things to me as a parent.
She loves on OTHER people’s kids.
Including my own.
She does this incredible thing with her own kids watching, looking on, and smiling.
She hugs my girls, tells my son “hi” and finds out what they’ve been doing lately. Then she goes on and at this point she unabashedly and unwaveringly invests in and loves on them. “I just love you, Eloise Stone. You are just awesome. I love talking to you.” or “Lillian! You were amazing up there at bat! You hit that ball so hard!”
Her daughters are still listening, still smiling.
So, of course, it feels good to have your children valued and I am sure I am not immune to feelings of pride. Nothing wrong with that, but there is something else going on here.
I’m pretty sure that Jenn’s daughters don’t worry too much about what Jenn is saying to my kids because they are secure in her love for them. They know that she is their biggest cheerleader. They know that there is enough love to go around.
I am trying really hard not to use certain words and phrases in my parenting. I try not to say things like: “You are the prettiest girl in the world” or “You are the smartest boy in your class.” If one of my children are feeling insecure or seem to need encouragement I try not to compare them to others in order to lift them up.
I don’t want their self worth to come from the source of comparative love. I don’t want them to believe that to be worthy of love they have to be better than anyone.
I want them to learn to celebrate the gifts of others without feeling like it takes away from their own.
For one thing, kids are pretty smart. When we use words like “prettiest”, “smartest”, etc. they soon figure out that maybe this is stretching it a bit. So these words become pretty hollow.
Then there is that idea called “relationship” or “social” skills. If you think your self worth or value comes from one-upping someone constantly it is going to be difficult to get close to people or to get along with them at all. It will not matter how smart you are or how good you are at something…if you can’t work as a team, if you can get along and celebrate with one another…you are less likely to succeed at best…and more likely to end up pretty lonely at worst.
Comparisons can be helpful at times. There are times when we are trying to figure out what one of the children is supposed to do for an assignment in school and I might ask: “What are the other students doing?” in order to give us a frame of reference. Using comparisons in this way is different than using them to make a person feel better about themselves as an individual…or even as motivation to succeed.
From a secular point of view, this idea of not comparing children to others is important for long-term academic success. According to researcher Dr. Carol Dweck, comparisons foster a “fixed” mindset, where intelligence, learning, and success is a “fixed” point. It is threatened by the success of others. A “fixed” mindset struggles with receiving feedback and often results in early “plateaus” without reaching full potential. Whereas a “growth mindset” fosters continual learning…from successes and “failures” without considering where a person might fall in relationship to the “status” of others. Learning is enjoyed rather than conquered.
All of these ideas matter spiritually, too.
I am reading this really great book called Sticky Faith by Dr. Kara E. Powell and Dr. Chap Clark. It is based on their research into what makes faith “stick” for children, adolescents, and young adults. They list several things that make a difference, but one point stood out to me over the others. It is the idea of the 5:1 ratio. It isn’t really a magic number, but it is used to communicate the idea about how important it is for every individual child, adolescent, or young adult to have adults from church (perhaps five) pouring into their lives, loving on them, and investing in their development.
Adults saying: “I just love you, Eloise Stone. You are just awesome. I love talking to you.”
Jenn has been one of my children’s five.
Now that we have moved I am looking around. Who will be my children’s “five” adults here in this new place? In this new community of faith? I don’t think it has to be confined to one church location. Jenn will continue to be one of their “five” (I use this number figuratively…I know my children are blessed to have more than five adults invested in their faith journey).
Then I realized that, perhaps, there is a more important question here for me to ask.
For whom am I one of the “five”?
For whom WILL I be one of the “five” in this new space?
It will be difficult for us to be one of the “five” if we adopt comparative love. It will be difficult for us to be one of the “five” if we stay self absorbed…and let’s face it…even though we ARE to be OUR children’s main support and OUR children will be OUR main priority…it is true that our children are often such an extension of ourselves that when we ONLY invest in them we are still being pretty self-absorbed.
I want you to know that I haven’t always been very good at this. I’m still not. I still have so much to learn about loving others…including my children, both biological and spiritual.
Still…I so want to be one of those figurative “five” for spiritual children in my “house” of faith.
I think Dr. Powell and Dr. Clark hit something crucial here…that this is CRITICAL for us as a Church (big “C” church and smaller “c” church). We HAVE to GET this idea for faith to stick…and for our children to stick AROUND in our “house” of faith.
We have to invest RELATIONALLY in our children…biological and spiritual.
We have to step up and be willing to be one of the “five”.
We talk a lot about teaching the Truth. There are a lot of different kinds of teachings…all sorts of learning. You teachers know this. There is teaching by book, by lecture…and by experience. As much as children, adolescents, and young adults need to HEAR the truth…they also need to be EXPERIENCING it, too. And that happens when we are connecting with them in big and small ways. I’m not necessarily talking about in a class…although those connections can develop in that setting. I am talking about showing up and taking time to stop…in the hallways, at their important school events…just stopping and showing up in their lives.
I also wonder if, in part, this really important thing of loving on people outside of our home starts with how we parent within our own home.
I want my children to be secure in my love for them so that they smile and look on when I love on the children of others.
I don’t want them to be threatened by the success of others. I want them to celebrate it.
I want them to learn that God’s love isn’t like the love of the world…He isn’t ranking us and deciding who is best. He doesn’t use comparative language to make us feel more secure in His love. He just loves.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3.
As we experience His love and kindness may we grow in how we are able to freely, and without comparisons, extend it to our children…both biological and spiritual.