Do you love me? : Every child’s question

Almost a year ago, our family was in a state of desperation. The arrival of our sweetest little bundle of joy, Judah, had apparently upset the balance of our happy home. Four months later, Ryan and I were sleep deprived and Jeremiah was having daily temper tantrums. (I started writing this when Jeremiah was still 4; He is now 5)

I knew something HAD to change after Jeremiah punched Ryan in the face and stomped on my IPad.

After I recovered from my initial shock and disbelief, I geared myself up and flew into action. I spoke with trusted people and asked others for prayer.

Eventually, I remembered a book that a few CHA moms had been raving about… “How to Really Love your Child” by Dr. Ross Campbell. When I looked it up on Amazon, I realized THIS was the book that Park Community Church had gifted to us at Jeremiah’s baby dedication!!

And then sheepishly I also remembered I actually had tossed the book aside and thinking, “Why would I ever need this?? I know how to love my child!”

Oh the pride of a new parent!

Parenting has a way of humbling the most stubborn pride.

The truth is: I need this book (probably to re-read it often!); we all need this book.

While I strongly encourage you to read this book (whether or not you have children), I will share the journey God lead me on through this book. And I do believe this book was an answer to prayer and a God-send. It is true that within a week of reading this book, Jeremiah’s temper tantrums not only stopped, but he was answering us, “Yes, Mom”, and “Yes, Dad”, all on his own! It felt like a miracle! I can’t even describe the relief it brought my heart to have peace and joy return to our home!

  1. The Wrong Question

First, I realized I had been asking the wrong question: “How can I correct Jeremiah’s behavior?”

I’ll admit I was sick and tired of the tantrums. I simply wanted them to stop. And I was angry. I was fed up and ticked off about the disruption in our home. I felt like I was being robbed of peaceful mornings and enjoyable dinners.

Dr. Campbell writes (p. 104): “The tendency is for parents to ask, “What can I do to correct this child’s behavior? Unfortunately, all too often this question leads initially to punishment. It is then difficult to consider the real needs of children, and we may end up spanking or sending children off to their rooms. Children will not feel loved if we approach handling misbehavior this way.

“We should always begin by asking ourselves, “What does this child need?” 

In other words, where is there a breakdown in the experience of love? Has the child been receiving loving eye contact, loving touch, focused attention and loving instruction?

The basic tenant of Dr. Campbell’s book is that children are constantly asking, “Do you love me?”

They don’t ask directly with words, but instead with their behavior. The more rebellious and disruptive their behavior is, the more desperate the question: “Do You Love Me?”

  1. The Essential Needs of a Child

Dr. Campbell opens the book with the story of “Tommy”, a 14 year old who had been a “good kid” and whose parents are now bewildered by the troubled road he’s traveling. Tommy’s parents feel like they’ve loved him and given their best into raising him the right way. However, when Dr. Campbell talks to the boy one –on-one, he finds that Tommy’s experience is quite different. He does not experience the love of his parents, and doesn’t feel like they’re concerned about him either.

“Tom Smith’s parents do love him deeply. They have done their best in rearing him, but something is missing. Did you notice what it was? No, not love; his parents do love him. The basic problem is that Tom does not feel loved… Like most parents they believed they were meeting Tom’s needs: food, shelter, clothes, education, guidance, etc. In the process of meeting all those needs, they overlooked his need for love- unconditional love. Although love is within the heart of almost all parents, the challenge is to convey this love.”

The thought shattered my anger and broke my heart: When Jeremiah was having a temper tantrum he was actually pleading with me, “Do you love me??”

The hard truth is that we often unwittingly answer with a “no” through OUR behavior…. And consequently our children feel unloved.

In his book, Dr. Campbell has a chapter on each of 4 essentials children need from their parents in order to experience love: 1) Eye contact; 2) Physical Touch; 3) Focused Attention, and 4) Loving Discipline or guidance.

Once I had the insight that Jeremiah’s outbursts were an understandable reaction of anger to his experience of feeling unloved, I had to determine where the gaps were. How had I changed since Judah was born?

I realized that eye contact had taken a sharp decline and so had focused attention. I was letting him watch quite a bit of TV or movies while I was caring for Judah.

Dr. Campbell defines focused attention as “giving a child full, undivided attention in such a way that the child feels without doubt completely loved; that the child is valuable enough in his or her own right to warrant the parent’s undistracted watchfulness, appreciation, and uncompromising regard. In short, focused attention makes a child feel like the most important person in the world in his or her parents’ eyes.” (pg 57)

He goes on to give the example of the priority that Jesus gave to children: “And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; and [He] said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; … for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’… And He took them in his arms and began to bless them, laying His hands upon them,” (Mark 10:13-16, NASB)

  1. Hollow Substitutes for Real Love

Dr. Campbell says that in his experience, “focused attention is the most demanding need a child has, because we parents have extreme difficulty in recognizing it, much less fulfilling it. We do not recognize this particular need for many reasons. One of the main reasons is that other things we do for a child seem to suffice. For example, special favors (ice cream or candy), gifts and granting unusual requests seem to substitute for focused attention at the time. These kindnesses are good, but it is a serious mistake to use them as a stand-in for genuine focused attention… Focused attention is not something that is nice to give children only if time permits; it is a critical need each child has. How children view themselves and how they are accepted by their world is determined by the way in which this need is met. Without focused attention, a child experiences increased anxiety… He or she is consequently less secure and is impaired in emotional and psychological growth. Such a child can be identified in the nursery or classroom.”

  1. We must answer with our Presence

Dr. Campbell asks hard questions of parents in his book:

“What are the priorities in your life? Where does your child fit in? Does your child take first priority? Second? Third? Fourth? You must determine this! … No one else can do this for you. A spouse cannot determine your child’s priority in your life… Only you can do this. So what is it fellow parent? What and who gets priority in your life? Job? Church? Spouse? House? Hobby? Children? Television? Social life? Career?”

As I read these words, I recalled that after Judah was born I had bought Jeremiah new toys and a batman shirt… I would let him watch batman shows on TV… or how I had continually pass Jeremiah off to Ryan while I cared for Judah. I was dismayed as I evaluated the sum picture.

Even though I am a stay at home mom, I realized that with the little time I had when I wasn’t caring for a newborn baby, I was not actually making Jeremiah a priority. I was exercising to lose weight. I was cooking healthy meals. I was organizing our home. All good things. But I wasn’t face to face with Jeremiah, simply enjoying his presence with me.

I decided to make changes… immediately. In the chapter on focused attention, Dr. Campbell instructs that “Careful Planning Pays Off.” I considered and planned how I could rework my days and weeks to have one-on-one time with Jeremiah. I know that Jeremiah loves to bake or work with food, loves his Boys Life and Ranger Rick magazines, and doing our Bible devotional book. So I made sure they were available and ready for when Judah was napping or content with tummy time. Instead of seizing this time to exercise or clean, I would seize these moments for Jeremiah.

  1. God is the ONLY Perfect Parent

The idea that your child might not feel and actually experience your love may cause an initial guttural reaction of defensiveness… “Of course my child knows that I love him (or her)! I tell him that I love him every day!”

We must realize that our *unspoken* language actually speaks louder than our words. Words are meaningless if we do not show love FIRST by our presence.

Think this through with me: how does a child learn the meaning of language? Of a word? It is by an embodied experience of the word… such as “hot” or “cold. They must feel it with their bodies to know the meaning of the word. Similarly, how does a child even come to understand the meaning of the word “love”? It is not through hearing the words “I love you” only… but through delighted eye contact, gentle touches and holding, and it is through the time spent enjoying each other.

This is the model given to us by God- the Father of His people. God shows love for his children time and time again *through his Presence*.  His very purpose in the creation of mankind was for intimate fellowship with them. Before the entrance of Evil, God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day… enjoying each other’s presence. And now God is working all of history toward the supreme goal of restoring His intimate presence with us… The highest desire of God’s heart is to be *with us*.

It was this desire that lead him to come to earth as a Man (equally God and equally man) to reconcile mankind to Himself. As the God-man he became “Emmanuel” meaning “God with us.”  And as Emmanuel, He could fully empathize with us (Hebrews 5:2). To empathize is to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)  This is empathy: what you see and hear and feel in your body reverberates in mine. It is to see another fully; to see with body, emotions and mind.

How can this happen between two people without undistracted, face-to-face, eye-to-eye presence? This is essential to love. Sadly, I fear that many people have never experienced this… instead only a hollow, empty shell of what we call “love.”  Because we can never give away what we haven’t received.

The good news is that regardless of the failings of our earthly father and mother, God always stands with his arms open for the prodigal child, wanting to be our Perfect Parent. We can receive His perfect love, and His Presence.

God receives his first personal name in the Bible by a woman who has been abused and traumatized… she runs away, isolated… only to find she is not alone. God meets her and says: “I see you.” … Therefore, the woman names Him: “The God who sees”; which is “El Roi.”  (Genesis 16:13)

Through receiving the perfect love of “El Roi” in more fullness day by day, we can in turn continually grow in loving others including our children.

We must meet our children with our full presence and see them with the eyes of our heart and soul.  Yet, you cannot give away what you have not received. Therefore, go to God… continually. Each day we must make the journey from being “elder brother” to become the “prodigal son”… Is it ONLY the prodigal child that can *receive* the Father’s unconditional love (the only TRUE unconditional love in the world).

(for more on the Prodigal Son: https://delightofmylife.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/dangerous-waters/ )

(for more on Face to Face with God: https://delightofmylife.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/a-slap-in-the-face/ )

6. Know Your Own Story: Personal road blocks to Love

Have you ever seen the “self-awareness” grid? It’s called the Johari Window. (click below)

johariwindowmodeldiagram

I still remember my bewildered feeling when my first counselor, Cyndi Mesmer, showed me this diagram. It was frightening to realize there were things about me that others could see that I couldn’t see. The point is we need to be open to others in order to grow. Without their feedback we will never enlarge the “open and free” window.

Part of this willingness to receive feedback is the humility to admit that we don’t love our children perfectly. There is room to grow.

The journey goes like this:

  1. We realize that we don’t love our children perfectly. We have road blocks.
  2. We consider our particular road blocks- do you struggle with focused attention? With eye contact? With physical touch? or with loving discipline? (discussed more in the book than in this blog post)
  3. Consider how these roadblocks fit into your childhood story? How did your parents give (or not give) these essential love ingredients?
  4. Seek healing and growth by bringing these struggles into relationship- with a counselor, your spouse, and even your children. Most importantly, bring your struggles to Jesus- ask Him for insight, healing, and growth.

For Mother’s Day this year I asked Jeremiah for feedback. I asked, “What makes Mommy a good mommy?” Jeremiah said, “You give hugs and kisses.” I asked further, “Do I give enough hugs, or do I need to do it more?”  He replied, “You need to do it more.”

I was glad I asked! I never would have considered myself to be a parent that struggled with physical contact… never in a million years!! But in Jeremiah’s experience he needed more.

A wonderful resource for this journey is the “How We Love” book series by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. As professional counselors, they look attachment styles that they call “love imprints.” We all have “love wounds” from our primary relationships that cause us to give and receive love out of insecurity. The five types they look at are “Avoiders”; “Pleasers”; “Vascilators”; “Controllers” and “Victims.”

In their book “How we Love Our Kids” they look at how a parent’s love style impacts their children. For example, how does a child experience a parent who is a “Pleaser” or an “Avoider”?  They also look at children: How does a child become a “Vascilator” or a “Controller?

Perhaps this will be my next book review!

 

What a prostitution survivor taught me about joy ~ by Jay Stringer

What a Prostitution Survivor Taught Me About Joy, Part One

By Jay Stringer · November 5, 2015 What a Prostitution Survivor Taught Me about Joy

For the next two weeks, we’re featuring an article from Jay Stringer, an alumnus of The Seattle School (MDiv and MA in Counseling Psychology ‘09) who works as both a licensed mental health counselor and an ordained minister. Here, Jay writes about the devastating, paradigm-shifting stories he encountered working at a community mental health clinic, and about what the people there—including a prostitution survivortaught him about trauma, addiction, healing, and, somehow, joy. This post originally appeared in The Other Journal.

http://theallendercenter.org/2015/11/prostitution-and-joy-1/

 

I hope you take the time to read the full article, both parts. It’s *so* good!! But here are some salient excerpts: 

Without exception, each client had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and some type of chemical dependency diagnosis for cocaine, heroin, alcohol, or meth at some point in their life. For the first time that I can recall, addiction made sense. My paradigm for drug users shifted from a posture of condemnation to a hybrid of relief and lament that they found a substance capable of giving them a brief intermission from all the brutality they had undergone. Those who are traumatized do not choose drugs because they want to be rebellious teenagers or irresponsible adults; they are choosing a chemical that is powerful enough to address the powers of evil that have been unleashed against them and within them. How is it that we have become so judgmental of drug use and so blind to their trauma? **The tragedy, far more than the drug use, is the trauma. Woe to us who forget this.** ….

The angel of the Lord finds Hagar here in this unexpected place and asks her the best questions any friend, spouse, therapist, or pastor could ever ask someone about their life: Where do you come from? Where are you going? The voice of God is curious, and the ears of God incline to hear her trauma…

Hagar is so moved by this encounter and blessing that she is compelled to say, “El Roi,” meaning “the God who sees me.” This is remarkable. It is a stranger, a foreigner, who is the first person to name God in the Scriptures. Although her knowledge of Yahweh is exceedingly limited, Hagar recognizes that this God is concerned with her trauma and will move with compassion toward her.

What a Prostitution Survivor Taught Me About Joy, Part Two

By Jay Stringer · November 12, 2015 What a Prostitution Survivor Taught Me about Joy

In part one of this article, Jay Stringer, an alumnus of The Seattle School (MDiv and MA in Counseling Psychology ‘09), began writing about the devastating, paradigm-shifting stories he encountered working at a community mental health clinic:

“The absurdity and oddness I observed in these men and women were, I realized, not only characteristics of their trauma. They were also estranged because they did not have the access, ability, or desire to bow to our modern idols of capitalism, denial, and power. These gods allow most of us to maneuver our lives away from pain as we settle for surrogate sources of comfort. In spending time with this population, I began to get a sense of something out of a Twilight Zone episode—I began to think that maybe we, the stable ones, are actually the most troubled.”

 

http://theallendercenter.org/2015/11/prostitution-and-joy-2/

Again, some salient excerpts:

One Friday afternoon, I was covering the front desk after our receptionist went home sick when the most unusual woman came through the doors. Her walk, her clothes, and her face—they were all ancient in a futuristic, Star Wars sort of way. She leaned her arms over the reception counter and carefully examined my face for a good ten or fifteen seconds as she chewed gum with the tenacity of an iconic 1980s aerobic instructor.

She stopped chewing and said, “You must be new here. I don’t believe our eyes have met.”

I nodded with a smile and said, “You are correct. This is my third week. What can I do for you?”

She glanced at the clock. “Well I know you are about to close for the weekend. I just need to know where my party is and I will be on my way.”

I told her I had no idea what she was talking about. She looked at me with a bit of irritation. “Oh, of course you don’t know yet—but the city of Seattle throws me a party every Friday night.”

At this point, I was thinking almost exclusively about the appropriate clinical diagnosis for the woman. My internal dialogue went something like this: “Schizophrenia? Possibly, but not enough disorganization. Narcissistic personality disorder? More than likely—who in the world says something like that?”

I chose instead to be playful with my incredulity and asked, “Now why would a whole city throw you a party?”

Delighted, she stood straight up with a strong and playful dignity and proclaimed, “Well, I used to be a heroin whore, but now I’m clean, I’m sober, and I’m beautiful. Every weekend the city throws me a party to celebrate my life. You should come; it’s the best dancing in the city.”

I googled clean and sober parties in Seattle, and sure enough they existed. I wrote the address of her party on a card and she thanked me, spun around, and danced out of the clinic…

After declining another dance party invitation, I retrieved Stacey’s chart to write a progress note from our session. When I opened her file, chills ran through my body. I had read her file before. This was the woman who was sold into prostitution by her mother on her ninth birthday and had remained in that life for over fifteen years.

Stacey’s life and presence remain completely astonishing to me because I’ve come to recognize that she understands more about the nature of trauma, addiction, and healing than I could ever hope to learn. She knows that her lifetime of trauma and decades of addiction were not grounds for condemnation or alienation; she knows that they were the very events that formed her beauty and invited her to dance in the delight of God…

The mission many churches faithfully commit to year after year is one of service to a broken and hurting world. The complexity of this mission is that it often sets us up to believe that brokenness and sin reside mostly out there in the world and not in us. The result is a patronizing engagement with the people we make the focus of our mission or outreach. We refuse to see ourselves as the sick ones, and we therefore live as if we need no physician. A litmus test for whether or not your ministry falls into this trap is to discern whether you understand yourself to be more troubled and in need of the gospel than those you serve…

Christianity is fundamentally a faith in the trauma and resurrection of Jesus. The powers of evil believed their weapons of torture could defeat God, but paradoxically it is the trauma and death of Jesus that liberates the world. If we want to reveal the story of Jesus, we will be asked to confront the traumas that surround us…

But there are other seasons in which the trauma we confront is of our own doingthe recognition that our control has fractured the relationships with our spouse and children; the reality that we have hated ourselves for decades and it now contaminates everything, from our eating to our buying and the very theologies we embrace; of a gender that is responsible for so much of the degradation and violation of women…

The wonder and wisdom of the gospel is that God’s trauma addresses both these story lines. The atonement Jesus procures for us is the announcement that we are sinners who struggle with lust and anger but also the good news that this sin is {no longer} grounds for separation {because Jesus was our substitute in bearing God’s wrath for us, in our place} ; it is the very soil in which the work of redemption will grow forth.