Posted: Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Courage To Love: Ourselves & Our Children

We learned to relate to others when we were dependent children, but now we are adults and parents who are responsible for the choices we make. If we often feel distant or frequently find ourselves in painful conflict with our spouse, children or significant others, the best way to learn the reasons for this is by looking within. Making life work is always an inside job. It is the willingness to change that can set us free. If we always do what we have always done – the future will be exactly like the past. However, if we find the courage to ask for help, even though it may be the hardest thing we have ever done, we can heal most of the relationship conflicts we currently experience. In this way, we also learn to truly embrace the forgotten beloved of our lives – the still small child within. Once we learn to do this, we are finally free to love with an open heart!

Many of us, honestly intending to guide children toward a successful life, do not realize that unless we work through our own childhood pain, we are going to pass it on, generation after generation. Isn’t it time to say “ENOUGH !”? As long as we allow fear to dictate our choices, we will continue to address relationship problems with a negative attitude. We are afraid to let go of our beliefs, even when they have not brought us what we really want, because they are familiar and the only thing we understand.

When we do not feel safe as children, we learn not to trust and thus spend our lives with unrealistic expectations. We wind up defensively over-reacting and habitually attempting to control others in order to feel safe.

If we want to get on with our lives, we must make peace with the pain of the past and let it go. It is incredible how much of life can pass by before we realize the clock is ticking. The time to address our problems, past or present, is now. Meanwhile our children are learning from us. We are the model from which they learn how “It” – life, love, relationships, marriage, parenting, honesty and courage is done. We can only teach them what we already understand ourselves.

Being a healthy parent is an incredibly demanding challenge and an awesome responsibility. It is also a sacred obligation!

Insisting on what we already know makes change impossible and the thought of working on ourselves can leave us feeling anxious. We want to know how to handle our lives and want others to see us as responsible and successful. Therefore admitting we don’t have all the answers is hard and requires courage. In addition, our unconscious minds remember many such moments as “not safe.” We avoid interpersonal conflict for this reason and when we cannot, we enter it trying to defeat “the enemy” as if our life is on the line. This is what fear and negativity does to us. In truth, such moments are an opportunity to learn and grow. Making life work always begins with work on ourselves.

Once we become aware that our children are counting on us to provide them with a safe and healthy, love-filled beginning to life, we must override this tendency to avoid or to blame. The next step is to let go of our resentments and reach for humility. Asking for help when we need it, then courageously stepping into the moment with the willingness to do whatever it takes can change our lives! This choice is loaded with dignity, but until we are ready, no one can convince us this is in our best interest. Until we start looking at ourselves in this way, it is hard to recognize that we are hurting our children as we were once hurt, teaching them through our behavior – just as our parents taught us – to be afraid.

I believe nothing defines us more than the choices we make when we are afraid and in pain. Many of us grow up believing that the love and acceptance we need from our parents has to be earned and that nothing we ever do is good enough to get it. Children who learn that a parent’s love is conditional, also know with absolute certainty it can be withdrawn at any time. Once we emerge from childhood, this remains in our memory in the form of an unconscious label that defines us as “not loveable.” We then instinctively seek out others who can relate to us in this way. It is the only way we know. Is it any wonder that approximately 60 percent of marriages end in divorce?

No child deserves to grow up feeling unlovable, emotionally isolated and afraid of their parents, teachers or other adults. All too often, this is the case.

Our children need us to have the courage to look at ourselves so we can be there for them with an open, self-aware, and receptive mind. We also must do this if we ever want to share a healthy relationship with anyone. If we continue to reject everything that threatens our current belief system, learning and growing is impossible. From that place life becomes chronically painful, lonely and full of stress. When we are living our lives that way, it is impossible to avoid passing our pain and confusion on to our children!

Many of us get married and have children before we have done this important work on ourselves, but it is never too late to learn. It is only from our willingness to work through our own pain that any of us become whole and only after working through it, that we willingly surrender to the responsibilities of love.

To love is to give and many acts of genuine love require sacrifice. Our efforts to resolve relationship problems are far more likely to succeed when we are willing to focus on what “we” are responsible for, instead of blaming others. It is the only thing we really get to change anyway. With time and commitment to the process of working on ourselves with a positive attitude, we arrive in a new world of personal freedom. Passing this freedom on to our children is so very important.

The greatest gift parents can give to their children is to learn how to love and respect themselves and each other! Even after a marriage ends in divorce, children are still hurt when their parents continue to disrespect, resent and battle each other.

Genuine intimacy, the kind that leaves us feeling safe, understood and appreciated, always involves risk! So obsessing about past disappointments and doing nothing to work on our problems because we’re afraid to step into the next moment without a guarantee, only keeps us stuck where we are. As long as we continue to make the same choices, we are going to end up the same results. As long as we continue to avoid painful moments, our relationships with everyone as well as our self-esteem suffers. From that place – anticipating disappointment, criticism, rejection or abandonment – our fear grows, resentment builds and most of us will refuse to give up control. When we are trying to prove each other wrong, we invariably find ourselves in a downward spiral from which there seems no return. If we continue to think and behave in this way, the only possibility is the loss of trust and the pain of mutual loneliness. So please learn to forgive, because without it you will continue to suffer. Good relationships are not a given, they are the result of real commitment and always require hard work. Of course we can live our lives without working on our psychological and emotional selves. Many of us do. But the quality of life is so much better when we choose to do this work on ourselves.

We are here to love. Of that I am certain. Let’s honor ourselves and each other by teaching our children how to attract and sustain healthy love in their lives. We can do that by demonstrating what it means to have real courage – The Courage To Love.

The image is from the Flickr photostream of Recycled StarDust under Creative Commons license.

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Jeff Levine

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