For our family, love is a challenge, cuddles, painful, fun and definitely unconditional, says Syd Spencer.
The dictionary tells us that love is ‘a strong feeling of affection’ and ‘a great interest and pleasure in something’.
In our house, especially for our daughter, love is, at times, a shield, a barrier and also a weapon. Often when she allows herself to feel safe, loved and wanted, she will quickly dismiss those loving feelings, as they make her feel that she isn’t in control. After all, an emotion we don’t understand or we can’t relate to how we feel about ourselves is a terrifying thing.
So we are nearly five years in as parents to our two kids and ‘love’ is probably the thing that we find the hardest to help the kids to understand, give out, sometimes appropriately and accept.
Our son will accept love and give it out freely, which causes issues around boundaries, keeping himself safe and not making others feel uncomfortable around him. He will tell his friends at school that he loves them and then they will bully him for it, taunting him that he is gay like his Dads etc.
He then gets confused and will usually retreat into himself and become that very quiet little boy that we met back when he was six years old. Questions will then be asked about why can’t his friends love him too? And we try our best to clear up the confusion around friendship love, family love and partner love.
His quietness doesn’t last long though and he soon bounces back and starts telling everyone how fabulous he is.
Our little girl, who is still only 11 years old, thinks she is already a teenager which then means, in her mind, that she’s almost an adult, finds love very confusing and scary.
Our love for her, and our boy, is consistent. Even through the hardest times, the most frustrating and bizarre behaviours, we remind them that they are loved but sadly there is little love inside our girl for herself.
It’s not really surprising as she received little as a young girl from her birth family and the ‘love’ she did get was very dangerous indeed.
“So we are nearly five years in as parents to our two kids and ‘love’ is probably the thing that we find the hardest to help the kids to understand, give out, sometimes appropriately and accept”
So every day we tell them they are loved, at bed times, when dropping them off at school and at random times throughout the day. We show love by being tactile, cuddles when they are not expected, kisses on top of their heads as well as kisses goodnight at bed times.
Kevin and I have always been tactile with each other and the kids see us hug and kiss each other, our aim is to break down our girl’s fear of love and our boy’s manic obsession with love by making the declaration of it a normal part of daily life.
Pretty sickening right? Love, kisses, cuddles every day! It’s enough to make anyone feel queasy; but for us, the Spencer family, it seems to work and for us two Dads it’s an attempt at therapeutic care without the kids realising it is happening.
Trust me though when I say that it isn’t always a love-fest at our house. The fear of love that is so embedded in our daughter leads to major catastrophic meltdowns, slamming of doors, declarations of hatred towards us and screams of how she is unlovable, and its heart-breaking to witness.
We wonder if we will ever be able to help her to see how amazing she is. When she’s out with us or with our family or friends she is polite, engaging and draws everyone’s attention, but when home or safely back in the car that sparkling light in her eyes will fade through the sheer exhaustion of being loving and accepting love.
It’s hard work for this girl to reflect the love she receives from others as it is alien to her to receive so much. She has been our daughter for nearly five years now and her lack of love for herself appears to get worse. On the brink of puberty and now going to a school with thousands of other kids she finds it hard to adjust and absorb her fast-changing world.
It’s hard for us too as she aims her fear our way with hateful statements, that, although we understand their source, hurt us and have a few times over the years succeeded in making me doubt my role as Dad.
Therapists and social workers tell us it’s a good thing because it means she feels safe enough with us to unload her fears etc, that it shows she loves us! It would be nice if she could feel safe enough to show her love through random acts of kindness sometimes or even a cuddle that we didn’t have to ask for, maybe at least a couple of times a month?
For us four, love is challenge, the glue, laughter, cuddles, fearful, fun, painful, neglectful, family, strength and definitely unconditional. That’s not to say consequences for bad behaviour are not a regular thing in our home, because sometimes it almost feels daily, but the punishment is always given lovingly and that is always unconditional.
I think it’s very telling what our daughter feels about love when her favourite line from her favourite Adele song is Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead.