I knew that I was having a son far before the anatomy scan blinked black and white squiggles across the hospital monitor. At night, I dreamed about him early into my pregnancy, seeing him as a handsome adult, shaking his warm hand, and feeling, for perhaps the first time, the gravity of maternal love. I felt like I could wrap the maroon walls of my heart around him like a jacket, just to keep him safe from anything that might come his way. Now that he’s here, toddling his way into messes and mischief, the weight of that responsibility feels enormous and unrelenting. Now, parenthood and anxiety twist around themselves like gnarled tree roots. Here’s the thing: I don’t often allow myself to worry about what might harm him. Honestly, that’s a road ending at a cliff, dropping off to oblivion. But, I do wonder about the person that he’ll become and how I might prepare him to face life with bravery, empathy, and love. Curious to learn more? Keep reading for the three essential lessons I’m teaching my son about love.
From the minute he was born, my son found safety in the warmth of my embrace. He knows, without knowing, that I will always, always be there for him. When he cries, I respond, and when he celebrates, I share his joy. Even at such a young age, he’s learning my empathic response. Empathy is the ability to recognize others’ feelings — their joy, their pain, and all shades in between. To demonstrate real empathy, you must put aside your priorities and beliefs to understand another’s. And why does empathy matter? Because empathy is a critical ingredient of love. Kind of like sugar in a pie, it’s not the same without it.
At his age, my son doesn’t quite yet have the ability to put aside his feelings. So I’m modeling for him what it means to be empathetic. When he’s angry, sad, or frustrated, I acknowledge and validate his feelings. I hear his joyful babble and respond. Because that’s the first of the three lessons that I want him to understand: love listens. Love does not bulldoze or bully. Love seeks to understand.
Love Lives Everywhere
As many psychologists assert, only two emotions drive all actions: love and fear. Either people act from a place of love, or they act from a place of fear. And where love lives, fear does not. The two cannot coexist. Everything that lights us up — laughter, joy, enthusiasm, kindness, compassion, empathy, courage — these all come from love.
I want my son to understand that love lives everywhere. Love lives in the kindness and compassion we show our dog, Maggie. “Gentle!” I coach him, as he rubs Maggie’s white head. Love lives in the laughter of our neighbor’s children playing football down the street. Love lives in the Bulgarian nursery rhymes that his grandmother sings to him. Love lives in the care his teachers show him as they teach him and his friends every day. All of this is love. And while the relationships might all look differently and span ages, class, race, and gender, these relationships are all based on love. Genuine, pure, safe, nurturing love. Because love lives everywhere.
Love Does Not Hurt
This last lesson is perhaps the most important and certainly the one that took the longest for me to learn. What I’ve come to learn — what I want my son to know — is that love does not hurt. It does not cause pain. It only strengthens, encourages, bolsters, and protects. Love is the safest, strongest, most enduring force in the universe.
For my child to develop self-efficacy, confidence, body autonomy, and self-direction, he must recognize that love does not hurt. And when it does? He needs to know how to walk away. I read an article the other day that questioned if perhaps we have it all wrong as parents. Maybe, the article suggested, our end goal isn’t to keep our kids safe. Maybe our job is to prepare them to face what lies ahead.
Not keep my son safe? I don’t think so. But I do agree that, in addition to protecting him, I need to teach him to protect himself. And to do so, he’ll need to learn what love is …and what it isn’t. Learning to decipher between love and noise? That will probably take a whole lot longer than his formative years. But for now, he’ll learn that, above all, love does not hurt. And I’ll show him that every day.
These beautiful shirts are from Zany Du Designs. Everything in Zany Du’s shop is printed by hand, with love and care. I was so excited to review these shirts because of their positive message (and also because I have a little crush on her designs!) Pop over to her shop to check out this and other designs in her collection!
As always, lots of love, from my house to yours!