Last night, after getting busted for doing something unacceptable (let's just leave it at that), Noah got very upset and angry with me. He looked at me with sharp eyes at some point, looking both wounded and retaliatory simultaneously, and I realized how those eyes with that look can pierce through me like a deadly dagger. But what was to follow was far worse. I then called him to his bathroom for his night time bath and as I was soaping him in his tub, he kept saying, "I wanna sleep with Daddy". He then proceeded saying that he wants me to sleep in his bedroom instead and that he just wanted to be with Daddy. I then asked him if he was mad at me and he said yes. After such questions, we normally proceed with, "Don't you love Mommy anymore?" and so I stuck to the routine and asked away with the knowledge that of course, he will say that he does love me. How wrong can a mother be? He actually responded with a shake of the head. Since I found it quite vague, I clarified with "You don't love me?" and he nodded. He even added that he wants a new mommy and that I can go ahead and get myself a new baby. (Of course the thinking here is that a baby is something you just get from Target.)
I knew I was just talking to an almost 3-year old and that he really didn't know what he was saying. But still, it hurt. It was at that moment when all those times when I screamed back in anger at my own mother as a child and especially as a teenager flashed before my eyes and made me both hurt even more and feel ashamed. At that moment I understood how children have so much power over their parents and that most of them (us) don't realize how much power that is and that we can be so reckless at times in wielding that power.
When I got over the hurt, as Noah got over his anger, I ended up wondering about the idea of love and childhood. More specifically, I wondered about children's capacity to love. We've always known how wrong it is for some couples to say that they want children because they want someone to love them unconditionally or love them for the rest of their lives. I'd say get a puppy if that's what you want. First of all, there's never a guarantee that someone can and will love you unconditionally for the rest of their lives. Second, if you know what love means then you should also know that there is a deep flaw in the thought that children, especially young children, are capable of it.
I believe that love is a choice. There is no such thing as someone just automatically loving someone even if that person nurtured you inside and outside her womb and sacrificed everything unimaginable for your well-being and happiness. Young children have affection for their parents. They are attached because of familiarity and most of all, because of a relationship based on dependency. Being emotionally and intellectually immature, young children do not have the capacity for real choice, for that requires true rationality. The fact that young children are so incapable to be on their own and are still needing much socialization from so many different social institutions to adequately equip them for the challenges of life, means that the strongest force (if not the only driving force) that fuels their relationship with their parents is just one of need. And 'need' is antithetical to real love. To truly, genuinely love someone is to choose that person freely and not out of need, desperation or lack of choice. To love someone is to also do so not because of convention or mere social mores.
So for as long as children need their parents for their survival (food, shelter, clothing) and whatever perks and other 'needs' there may be, or as long as we live in this same social set-up and norms and moral standards remain the same, where human beings are expected to love their parents and not doing so is frowned upon, then I would hold off on believing that my own child is capable of truly invoking love as the reason for our relationship. Respect, much affection, care and concern, yes. But love, maybe not...yet.
This is why parents with adult children who love them (in the truest, concrete sense) are indeed, undoubtedly successful parents. It is not an easy feat to both be a guide, mentor, enforcer of rules, as well as a 'love-able' person. If you have children who are now rational and free enough to make choices and they choose to love you, then you have achieved greatness. I congratulate you! And if you are an adult child who freely loves your parents, then I urge you to make it known to them any way you can. They deserve it.
As a parent, I would have to wait and see for about, maybe, 13 or 15 years more before I give myself a pat on the back. The good news is, at least I know that Noah didn't really withhold his love from me last night!