That’s a double-edged sword. In raising kids from hard places, love is not enough to get them through all the trauma they need to work through and come to a place of healing. They need experts, trauma experts, attachment experts, support outside the home, they need parents who can love them through the bad stuff – and the parents need more than just “love” from the community around them. They need respite, relief, real life stuff to get them through it all as well. They need understanding teachers, qualified professionals to work with them to help this child. Love is definitely NOT enough.
Earlier I wrote about love being an action, and that by taking care of our children in the hard times, even if we don’t feel like we “love” them, we are indeed loving them. I am adamant in saying that it’s ok to not always have fuzzy warm feelings towards children who treat you like crap. By providing for them, you are showing them love. But what about when that’s all you have left? When that’s all there is and there’s no appearance in sight of any warm feelings at all?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Growing up, in a very German “show no feelings, spare the rod – spoil the child” family, I love you was not heard. Hugs were not given. Pats of affection were unheard of. Slaps of correction were frequent, however! I once overheard my father tell someone “Of course my kids know I love them. I feed them every day, don’t I?” As a kid, I was shocked. I actually DIDN’T know that he loved us. I thought the “feeding every day” was kind of required…. by law…. I did not see it as an expression of love.
Of course the differences between my upbringing and my children’s traumas are very, very different, the differences were cultural and generational from my father’s generation, and our children have suffered the break in bonding. So for me, as a fairly-normal-well-adapted-kid, the words, and a pat now and then or a “well done” or a “I love you” would have been enough. For our kids, probably not. But then again…. whether we feel it or not, maybe we should throw those in there anyway. A hug for no reason, if tolerated by the child. A nightly “I love you”. Even pointing out the things we do for them because we love them – because they sure as heck won’t notice it on their own – “Hey look, I bought you your favorite flavor of juice because I was thinking of you!” The words might matter to them even when they don’t seem to. To me, as a kid, the difference would have been obvious that they mattered – or so I think. To our kids, it’s not going to seem to matter. But deep in those damaged, traumatized brains – those words are going to take hold, take root – and eventually, with luck, Hail Mary and a rain dance, sprout.
So while we’re going through the motions when we don’t feel lovey-dovey, while we’re showing the love in action by providing for them, by giving them what they need, by not throwing them out the door when we feel like we’ve had enough… let’s also tell them. Let’s also touch them softly, gently. We may not feel the emotions that we want to feel – but we are still SHOWING THE LOVE.