“I guess I just loved them too much.” I’ve heard these words before—just recently, by someone talking to me about their child’s rebellion.
But these words just don’t ring true to me. Every time I hear this statement, I think the same thing. How could loving someone too much lead them toward a destructive path?
I’ve wrestled with this long and hard before deciding it’s just not a true statement. We simply cannot love our children too much.
The truth is: we didn't love them enough and we know it. We know it because we remember all the times we should have loved them, even when it was hard for us, or them, or all of us; but we didn't.
Love always does what is best for others, no matter how difficult. But love does not rule our lives because we feel it. It rules our lives when we act on it.
But fear leads us to take the easy way out and do what is best to feed the fear, to make ourselves feel better, without regard for others.
It is fear that causes us to love our children selfishly.
We must not love out of selfishness and fear
When someone says they loved their child too much, what they are really saying is that they couldn't bring themselves to do what was best for the child, because they didn't want to hurt their child’s feelings. That is not pure love, but a selfish love born out of fear.
The reason we don't want to hurt another’s feelings is rarely if ever about the other person. Too many times, parents fear getting hurt themselves by drawing their child’s disfavor. We want to be our child’s good friend instead of the parent they need us to be.
Sometimes, selfishness causes us to do what is most convenient for us, not what’s best for our children.
If we truly do what is best for someone, we don't worry at all about how hard it will be for us. It is selfless love that drives us to do what we know is best for our children, no matter what.
But if we can't bear the feeling of hurting their feelings and we lack the courage to do the right thing for them, then we simply take the easy way out.
Anyone that says “I loved my children too much” is acknowledging they knew all along they were doing the wrong thing, but hoped it would just work out somehow.
Still, the right way is not always cut and dry. It’s more an ever-moving target that is always dependent on the circumstances, the long-term consequences and the heart of the child.
Be consistent; but let them win … sometimes
One of the first things my dad told me when I had my first child was: let your yes be yes and your no be no, most of the time. He said if a child wants something bad enough and it won't hurt them to have it, be careful not to break their spirit. Let them win sometimes, but definitely not all the time.
Indulging and indifference make for unhealthy extremes in parenting.
Just because we can do something for our children does not mean we should. The question we should ask ourselves all the time is the same. What is best for my child in the long run? Parenting decisions that we make that come with immediate gratification and cost us and our children later are almost always fearful and selfish decisions. The decisions we make that have an immediate cost to us and our children but a long-term benefit are almost always actions prompted by courageous and loving decisions.
Indulging is not an act of love. But neither is indifference.
Discipline with love
We should discipline out of love, not anger or frustration.
We must always remember when we have to make hard decisions that we know will hurt our children's feelings, it’s important to explain to them why we are doing what we’re doing. Tell them how much we love them, why we believe our decision is best for them, and that we hate more than they do when our parenting hurts their feelings. Explain that we love them so much we have no choice but to do what is right for them. And then we should love them through the disappointment.
We can destroy our children if we teach them to value their feelings and act in their own interests, no matter what.
But if we want to save a child, we teach him or her to seek the truth at any cost and strive to do what’s right in God’s eyes, no matter how they feel. When we make decisions we know are not best for our children just because we don't want to hurt their feelings, we set them up for destruction.
I want to do everything for my kids
The hardest part of parenting for me is wanting to do everything for my kids instead of making them get their own hands dirty. It’s impossible for our children to grow emotionally or spiritually and to learn, if we do everything for them.
I remember I first learned this when I told my oldest daughter Faith I would pay her $10 if she cleaned up a bunch of palm leaves I was cutting off the palm trees in our yard. It seemed like a good idea and she was excited about it. Then, after watching her drag only one limb at a time across the yard to the burn pile, I found myself thinking I could knock this out in five minutes and a couple drags.
What’s more, I noticed that the limbs were scratching her arms and I saw she was trying so hard, but the job was a struggle for her. I wanted to save her from the pain. That would be easiest for me and her.
But then I remembered my father and that the most valuable lessons he taught me and my brother and sister were gained through allowing us to struggle and learn from those struggles. So, I knew I shouldn't save her from the hard work, or try and spare her.
I also knew, though my role was not to indulge her, it was not to be indifferent toward her. It was to protect her, show her trust and help her to find hope in this challenge and to learn perseverance.
So I got her some gloves and a long-sleeve shirt. I worked around her to make sure I was present and encouraged her the whole time she was working. I brought her something to drink and did everything I could think of to support her, but I let her move all the limbs.
After she finished, I told her how proud I was of her. Funny thing is, since then, she brings me drinks when I'm working hard in the yard now.
What I learned from my dad
So many didn’t grow up with the kind of parents I did. My parents’ role models showed me how to parent.
When Dad gave me my first truck, it was 20 years old, the engine had just thrown a rod and it was a rust bucket. I didn't even want it. Dad told me he would help buy all the supplies and parts, but I would rebuild the engine.
I didn't even know how to change a tire, let alone rebuild an engine. Dad told me he would show me everything I needed to know, but I would do it; and I did.
It took me three months working after school. Before long I was actually enjoying the work and looking forward to completing the project. Dad literally had to show me every move. There were some major sticking points, like the two days I spent just getting the oil pump put back in because the oil pan was in the way, and I needed three hands to get it done.
I remember that I cried those two days working on that part. After doing all I could and crying most of the time, my dad called my uncle Eddie, who was a mechanic. Uncle Eddie got that screw started in for the oil pump in about 10 minutes and worked with me that whole evening. We got a ton done that evening.
Then, when the project was finally finished and the truck was running, I knew the most gratifying feeling in the world of accomplishment. But the struggle and the lessons didn’t end there.
The truck was so rusted out that you could literally almost fall through the floorboard. I remember on my first date, the streets flooded and I was driving the girl home and she started screaming that her purse was floating in the floorboard.
Solving that took me down the same road with Dad. Dad told me the same thing: he would help me and pay for everything, but I would need to do the work. It took six months to transform that truck from rust bucket to bondo bucket. Then six months after that, we painted my truck in my grandfather’s old mechanic shop.
I thought all this was about the truck. What I didn't realize was that I was learning how to persevere, how to look at something I had no idea how to repair and find a way. I learned how to look at problems and challenges in life which completely overwhelmed me and know there was a way. And I learned that when I got inside the problem and found the center, I could find the solution and fix it.
My dad loved me enough to let me cry because my friends were playing chase in the neighborhood while I was building an engine. He never just threw me out there and said go find your way, but he also rarely did my work for me.
He said, “I’m going with you, but you’re doing it.”
That is what love does: what is truly best, not what feels best.
When we don’t have those parental role models to go by, we turn to Scripture; and we always have the example of our Heavenly Father and how he loves us and loves our children.
The Bible tells us about love: 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
God’s example of love
Jesus was God’s only begotten son. I think about God letting Jesus go to the cross as the greatest example of love ever. He could have saved Jesus from the cross, but didn't; and now Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father knowing he gave His all, and that his struggle was the difference that love made … for all eternity.