The Love We Crave Series: Parents

Your parents were once kids who simply grew up and had their own kids.
— Anonymous

This is the first part of a 4-Part Series. 

In my study of Intimacy, I am going to build a small library of articles exploring The Four Loves, based on C.S. Lewis's book, which I touched on in my last post A Note On Intimacy

After writing that article, I have never had more clarity, fulfilment or happiness in the space of a week. A life filled with people you love, and whom love you back in all 4 areas of family, friends, romance and God is the key ingredient for an overflowing life. 

Forget abundant riches, home ownership or fame - without a thriving network of people you reciprocally adore, there will be no one to dance on the mountain of achievement with you. 

So here's my proposition to you: Prioritise people. 

So, first cab off the rank: let me try and convince you to prioritise...

Storge love: Your parents

Pronounced: "store-gay"
Origin: Greek

However you feel about your Mum or Dad now, you cannot argue about the impact they have had on your life. Whether they were absent or present, your primary caregivers formed 'love pillars' in your world. 

They are the centre of your universe, the true north of your compass. They role modelled love, clueing you in on the reason why you find yourself romantically attracted to certain characteristics you weren't consciously aware of.

My Chinese Indonesian parents, while not perfect, loved me the best way they knew how. Bringing their unresolved childhood issues to the fore, it manifested into a tumultuous marriage relationship, where my Father would erupt at the drop of a hat, and my Mother's anxiety was as normal in our household as the rice we ate for dinner. 

As a result, I grew up determined that no male figure would ever challenge my internal security; developing a no-shit-taking, sassy attitude, often duelling in a battle-of-the-wits with these sorts of men. I also retreated to my room often to write poetry, as I never had anyone to confide in.

These days, I am a 28 year old woman, and proud Asian Australian, who sympathises with two young immigrants who had two young children; working their asses off to build a life in a country where they barely understood the language. 

Attachment Theory

Your parents reared you and fed you. However consistently they did this, according to Erikson's theory of psychosocial development, it produced feelings of trust (or mistrust) within yourself, determining how secure you felt about the world.

Were you consciously aware of this? Probably not.

Psychological studies suggest that how securely we became attached to our primary caregivers from age 0-5, set the tone for later success in life, in the further stages of our psychosocial development. 

Here's a definition:

"Attachment is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space."
- Ainsworth 1973 and Bowlby 1969

I would argue that secure attachments are formed between parent and child when met needs are combined with a child being taught their company is enjoyable. Simply by doing nothing except be themselves, the child is loved. Moment to moment interactions are savoured, with attention paid to what is happening at the child's pace

A parent who meets the needs of their children at every turn of corner creates a bond and attachment, however an enduring attachment is created through the parent letting go of their need to engineer every event in their child's life. 

Side note: I am not a parent but I have worked with young babies, children and teenagers for the last 6 years. I have noticed that the more children are consulted for their own opinions, while the parents balance guiding and training them appropriate to their stage of development; the more confident the child grows as a personality in their own right.

Read more about Attachment Theory here.

The Love We Didn't Earn

I long to be a mother one day.

It will consume every ounce of my heart, mind and energy. To love somebody unconditionally implies a degree of their unmerited favour, as if there was so much love in our cups without them, it just spilled forth and stained their T-shirts.

We pointed, shot, and BOOM - they got our love.

Our primary caregivers gave us love before we knew how to earn it. Notice, that with friends or romantic lovers, they must earn our affections, as we must win theirs, but with our parents and blood relatives, we love them simply because we have to. We are stuck with them. Our DNA told us so.

C.S. Lewis calls this Affection. He also quotes the Roman Poet Ovid in his book The Four Loves (which inspired this article series):

"If you would be loved, be loveable."

So herein lies the difficulty: some of our parents were not loveable.

Personality differences caused plate smashing; a mother doesn't pull back so her grown son can become a man; unreasonable expectations became family traditions, and saying no will excommunicate a son from the wider family network.

This brings me to my most pertinent question; about the most enduring, unforgettable and most impacting attachment we will have on our entire identity:

Why are involuntary relationships worth our energy?

For some, it was our biological parents, but for many others it was foster or adopted parents, aunts or uncles, step parents or siblings. For the sake of this article I am going to use primary caregivers and parents interchangeably.

We need to prioritise our parents because for us:

  • Pursuing connection with family we did not choose will give us greater relationship skills for the loves we will choose.
  • Riding on the coat tails of last week's quote from psychologist Lori H. Gordon: "The quality of our closest relationships is often what gives life its primary meaning," this implies that our attachments with our parents are core to our childhood identities, giving us context for where we came from as the love of our primary caregivers was unmerited by us.
  • It is not until we enter adulthood that we are able to see our parents as people who were once children themselves, screwed up human beings who also need love, care and tending to just as much as any other person.
  • Our family context creates a safe landing pad for trial and error, life hardship and inevitable moments of weakness, allowing us to grow into the person we were created to be at our own pace. 
  • It is the closest human example we have to God's sacrificial agape love - the type that endures forever, and will never give up on us. 

And for them:

  • Having spent 20+ years raising you their child, and forfeiting much of their own social life, the least you can do is express your gratitude by spending quality time with them (see The 5 Love Languages) and encourage a re-building of networks.
  • All love is give and take, for that is the paradox of love's pleasurable responsibilities.

So in conclusion, learning to love our parents and family when it doesn't come naturally will improve our ability to do our other relationships well. 

No, we can't change another person. We can only try to communicate on their level, in a language they will comprehend.

(I paid for counselling sessions with my family members, on the bedrock of acceptance that blood-bonds don't often come with pleasure. We must labour towards it.)

We can however, grow a character intertwined with patience, understanding and forgiveness. And the more we can put ourselves in the shoes of others, the more we will come to admire the person they have become.

i wish to eradicate loneliness. 

I KNOW, IT'S AMBITIOUS!

 

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