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In parenting, love is always the answer

Today we are pleased to offer a guest column from our daughter Saydi, who lives in Boston. She posted the following on her blog, bostonshumways.blogspot.com, in early February.

We’ve been snowed in here like nobody’s business. It just keeps coming down —more than 100 inches and eight no-school snow days in three weeks. I’m not sure how we’re going to shovel our walk or driveway tomorrow; we can’t throw the snow up high enough.

Normally, I love snow days. Everything canceled. Lots of time to be together, read, play games, drink hot cocoa. But they’re quickly losing their charm around here. We’re all feeling a bit of cabin fever, and this house is feeling smaller and smaller.

Church was canceled today and so we were all home on top of each other (again). There was a point in the day where I felt like we all might rip each other’s heads off. Everyone was mad at everyone else. The kids couldn’t go for 30 seconds without picking or engaging in a fight. And the ones who weren’t fighting were making crazy, loud, unnecessary noises that made us all feel ready to explode.

We followed all that fighting with a little family church meeting where the topic was love. We talked about how powerful love is and how it really can change everything. About how love can cast out all fear, change people, solve problems, heal us.

And just stopping to think about it changed the feeling in our crowded, snow-covered home. (At least for a few minutes.)

If I step back and analyze what I’m doing with my life, I see that love is the great motivator behind my work as a mom. I rarely stop to acknowledge this, which is dangerous because when I can’t see the engine of love driving things forward, it’s easy to feel like I’m propelled by duty. Duty and obligation seem to drain the joy from motherhood and fill me with resentment for all that is hard and monotonous about it. But when I do those same tasks, acknowledging that I’m doing them out of love, they become much easier to take on. My job becomes more meaningful and joyful.

I guess I first learned this lesson before I was a mom. After I graduated from high school, my courageous and crazy parents packed us up — me and my six siblings who were still living at home — and we flew to Romania to volunteer for one month in an orphanage. Following the reign of Ceauşescu, who banned birth control in hopes of building a bigger and stronger empire, Romania exploded with children. Mothers who were unable to care for their children were forced to hand them over to institutions in the hopes that they would at least get fed. The children did get fed, but because the institutions were so overcrowded and understaffed, they were not held or nurtured.

When we arrived at our little orphanage, we spent the entire day trying to satisfy one desire. The children wanted to be lifted up and held. They screeched “Sus! Sus!” (Romanian for “up! up!”) over and over as they ran up to us. We would pick them up, one by one, squeeze them tight for a second, then put them down, and they’d scramble to the end of the line where they would wait patiently for their turn to be lifted up again.

They were desperate to be held and touched and loved — even for a second. Touch was something most of them had lived their entire lives without. Otherwise healthy children were suffering from developmental and physical delays simply due to a lack of individual attention and love.

Love is critical to child development.

A few summers ago, I was at the end of my rope. I was venting to a friend about how lost I felt and how worried I was that I was destroying my daughter and our relationship by my inability to react the right way.

My friend said something I hope I never forget. She told me there had been many times when she had felt at her wits’ end with one of her children, and her answer was always to just love them more. Instead of strategizing about ways to help them behave, implementing new discipline techniques or finding new ways to react to tense situations, she focused solely on dishing them out an extra large serving of love. She told me this strategy has never failed.

Since then, I’ve tried it. And I have to say that although it’s a simple strategy, it can be extremely hard to implement. I’ve found that when I’m entrenched in a difficult mothering situation, it takes great humility and effort to show forth that extra bit of love. But when I can do it, even if it feels a bit contrived at first, it works like magic. It changes us both. I begin to fill up with real, genuine love, which drastically changes the way I view my children and helps me see clearly what they really need. And as my love miraculously softens them, melting away tension, we build solid ground that makes the rough times ahead easier to navigate.

May we all remember, particularly as moms, that love is always the answer. I’m going to try to remember it here and now — at least until it quits snowing.

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors and founders of JoySchools.com who speak worldwide on marriage and parenting issues. Their new books are “The Turning” and “Life in Full.” For more, see YouTube.com/eyresontheroad.