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Jan Cloninger and Rosemary Strembicki, LCSW Headshot

All You Need Is Love?

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Written by Rosemary Strembicki

When I was a new mom with all the questions and insecurities that come with parenthood, I would calm myself with the thought that all I had to do was love my child and everything would turn out fine. When I think about that now, I wonder if I was completely naïve or wise beyond my years. I'm still not sure. These are the questions that roll around in my head: What does it mean, "to love"? How do we demonstrate our love? When is love not enough?

It's so easy to love a newborn. They're tiny and cuddly and smell so good. They're very forgiving if you're not quite sure what you're doing and even if they're demanding, they're irresistible when they're peacefully asleep, which is the majority of the time.

When they become toddlers they're active, curious, always exploring and changing every day. They're so much fun in their excitement of new discoveries and their attempt to master language. Every day is an adventure with a toddler even during that challenging third year.

And then their personalities emerge. They have thoughts of their own and often seem to have an agenda that just doesn't mesh with our plans. We may find that they're very different than we had imagined and some days it's hard to like them when they're behaving like little tyrants. Sometimes as they grow they become more challenging. We feel at a loss and we withdraw from them. We still "love them," but it's hard to be around them and we realize that the idealization of parenthood was just a dream. We think that maybe we should just start over with another baby and get it right the second time. Or maybe we so love our first child that it's hard to imagine loving another child as much. There are so many ambiguous feelings that come with parenting that it's hard to know what we feel even when we know we love our children.

But what stops us from feeling and exhibiting that love? Maybe we're so fearful of doing the wrong things that we get paralyzed. There are countless theories and answers for every question we might have that we're not sure what to do and it takes the joy out of just being with our children and learning from them. Maybe we're so busy with our own lives that the needs and demands of our children become just one more annoyance in days filled with anxiety. Or maybe watching our children grow brings back thoughts and feelings from our own childhoods that are painful to relive. No matter the reason, it's important to explore those feelings in order to understand what is generating them. We're all programmed to love our children, but sometimes, life gets in the way and presents us with challenges we never imagined.

What's most important is that our children feel loved. We are their mirrors; they look to us to define who they are and what they want to be. They grow best in an atmosphere of acceptance where they're expected to do their best and applauded for who they are. They need guidance when questions arise and a defined set of values to bump up against but most of all they need the security of a safe place to explore, learn and grow. If we find that we can't provide that, for whatever reason, then it's time to reach out and get help. That's when our love for our children isn't enough.

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