Saturday Blueprint on Parental Love

My perspective on love, particularly parental love, and how it is expressed through actions such as creating traditions for children. There is a tension to explore between having high standards for children and simultaneously showing unconditional love.

Saturday Blueprint on Parental Love
Love begins with a smile, grows with a kiss and ends with a tear

I’ll always remember the birth of my children as moments of purest ecstasy. That moment that new life is brought forth into the world is wondrous. Rarely do moments of pure plain and simple emotion occur, and they should be cherished.
This week I wanted to write about love. I had originally conceived to include love in all its forms but the piece became too long so I’ve split it into two, with this one covering broadly the parental love angle, and in a future Saturday Blueprint I’ll cover romantic love.

🥰 Creating traditions

We always hear talk of the importance of love being unconditional. Well, one of the surest tests of the unconditionality of love is in raising children. As a parent we clearly want the best for our children. The issue with wanting the best is that we often think we know the best. This might then introduce a condition to our love. And it can be a hard line to set standards for them whilst also keeping that unconditionality.

I sometimes wonder if that flash of disappointment when they fail to meet expectations comes across to the child as conditional love. I don’t know of an answer to this conundrum - a dichotomy between having high standards and simultaneously I suppose you could call unconditional love as love with no standards at all. I’ve written about these sorts of dichotomies before in Saturday Blueprint 24 on Contrast and Dichotomy.

Despite this tension in parenting, there are many ways to express, through actions, your love. For example, if I look at how my wife parents our children I am blown away by her organisation and effort in crafting the best childhood for them. She expresses her love by curating childhood experiences and traditions, like how we celebrate ‘happy hearts day’ (Valentine’s day), Easter (when we welcome Egbert into the house), Halloween, or, best of all, Christmas. The preparation and thought that goes into these experiences is huge, and really gives the children memories to savour.

Part of these experiences is in inventing our own family traditions. This has been a great method to bring together our family with shared memories. Each birthday for example we do a present scavenger hunt. Following the present trail from clue to clue. It’s not something I did or my wife did when we were growing up but it’s a new-generation family tradition that we have cultivated and crafted.

As someone who likes to write I also write letters to the children every birthday, and we try to write key milestones which we send to email addresses we’ve set up for the kids, so that when they’re older they’ll be able to look back.

Here’s one letter, written by my wife, to my son about Father Christmas.

Dear Jasper,
Thank you for your Christmas list - I think this might be your 4th or 5th list so far this year!!
I don’t usually manage to reply to letters so close to Christmas as I am very busy but I felt I had to write back this one time.
Jasper I really wish I could give you magic, but it’s just not possible, I know how much you want it as you have asked me before. Sadly magic is not something you can pass to another person, even I don’t have that power.
I wanted you to know though that you already have your own kind of magic. You have so much love and kindness in you, that is very special. You are very thoughtful and generous and your family and friends are lucky to have you. Don’t forget that. You don’t need lots of friends, most people only have a few good friends. What is important is that you are true to yourself, if you are happy in who you are (and you are a wonderful boy) others will see that and want to spend time with you and be your friend. If they don’t notice (maybe because they are too busy playing with other people) it is their loss. You just need to be you and in time you will find your true friends.
A warm Merry Christmas my friend.
Father Christmas

This melts my heart and perhaps gets across in some fashion the power of parental love.

⏳ Reality check

Loving children is at once easy and natural, but there is also the slight nagging urge that you are wishing for a tomorrow when things may be slightly easier. I was pushing my daughter on the swings at a café the other day (Ullacombe Farm) and looked over at the coffee sippers in the cafe, the china clinking, light conversations melding into a  comforting hum. One man caught my eye because he was on his own. It occurred to me, in the mêlée that is a working life with three young kids, that it must be dearly nice to be retired and drinking coffee and just thinking. Maybe even taking a journal and doing some writing. Without the endless tugs on your attention that is so typical of the phase of life I’m currently in where I can barely get a second to myself. I let my imagination wash over me of a future time when my only job for the day is going out to a coffee shop. I breathe in the coffee aromas deeply and let the warmth of the cup warm my hands...

But my daughter said something and the image shattered. Or at least reversed. At that moment as I answered my daughter I made eye contact with the old man and knew that he was deeply and regretfully wishing he had a daughter to push on the swings still. Perhaps he was wishing for his younger days when his hands were still steady, his eyesight still crisp, and his limbs strong. For a time when his children were young and he was their entire universe. Now they have left home and are making their own lives, though they call a few times a month. There is also the sadness of the memory of his deceased wife, and it is in some ways like he’s suffered thrice from death - he’s lost his vitality, he’s lost his dependent children and he’s lost his wife.

At least that is what burns hot through my mind in that flash of eye contact. This moment of swing-pushing then is worth far, far more than that future quiet when the kids have left home and the pension cheques are being cashed. This is a realisation then that I don’t wish for a life of quiet, mute certainty. I wish for a life of meaning, of caring for my children, of doing my damnedest to balance a job, of noise that means life, and ultimately, of love.

It’s a pleasure writing to you. Have a great week. 😊

About the Saturday Blueprint

The Saturday Blueprint is a weekly newsletter every Saturday on health, vitality and philosophy by Nick Stevens.

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