(inscription on a statue to motherhood in Mexico City)
I have always loved this motto and have tried to apply it to all love relationships; to love anyone is to learn from him/her. To me, this means that I will try to learn something about this person’s uniqueness, personal needs, and how to best love him or her. This is what every child needs and what so few children get. A few weeks ago, in a therapy session, a man who feels unworthy of love allowed his heart to be symbolically held while he experienced the vulnerability of being undefended and deeply understood. He got in touch with the insight that his mother did not “put herself aside” to learn who he was and what he needed. He realized that she nurtured her own ego by teaching him to play a role for her gratification.
“Putting oneself aside” in order to love another is much harder than it sounds. All of us have insecurities and defenses that get in the way of truly loving another person. We think we want the other person’s “good,” and we mean well, but our own needs block our efforts. Learning to identify our needs and to separate them from our loved one’s needs is hard work. An athletic father might have to recognize that his dreams of having a star quarterback son must be given up in order to love a son whose passions run more toward artistic pursuits. I remember going through this process as a father. One of my sons finally convinced me that he felt oppressed by my efforts to “motivate” him to make higher grades. I surrendered, leading to a more relaxed parent-child relationship in his junior and senior years and, for whatever reasons, his grades soared in time for college. I loved and learned.
Now, I do not endorse a “child-centered home” where children suffer no disappointments. Children need boundaries and the knowledge and pain that many “wants” will go unsatisfied. But all children need their basic identity and needs to be understood and respected and their hearts to be lovingly held.