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I was at the park with Henry this week and a grandmother was there with her granddaughter, who was about 4 years old.
I overheard the grandmother say “what does Nanna do with you? I bet she doesn’t bring you to the park. I bet she just puts on a DVD for you. She does, doesn’t she?” The granddaughter said that sometimes she goes to the park with her Nanna. She then went off to continue playing. Good diversion, kid!
A few similar comments were made during the remainder of their park visit, with the grandmother even saying “I’m the most fun to play with though, aren’t I.” It wasn’t a question. It was a statement.
I wanted to strangle this woman and scream “what is wrong with you?!” There are so many reasons for that. Here are a few.
Love shouldn’t be obtained at the expense of another person who is significant to the child
The tactic this grandmother was using to win the love of the child was to make the other grandmother seem lazy, boring and disinterested. She was putting the other person down in attempt to raise herself up.
This tactic isn’t a fair one. It’s damaging to the child as well as the person copping the lashing.
This child would have heard the message “Nanna doesn’t love you as much as I do” instead of “I need you to tell me that you love me" which is possibly what the grandmother was trying to communicate. Children are impressionable. They haven’t developed the ability for rational thinking yet. They don’t understand that sometimes people say one thing but mean another.
As for the other grandmother, she’s now having to make up ground that she doesn’t even know she’s lost.
A child shouldn’t be forced to express their affections
Whether it’s praise, love or otherwise, a child shouldn’t be forced to express something that they don’t want to and/or don’t feel.
The grandmother almost gave the child no choice but to agree with her that she’s the most fun.
This kind of pressure isn’t just a burden to a child in the moment. It’s one they carry with them every time they see each grandparent, when they speak about them, and when they think about them.
It also impacts self-esteem and self-worth. After all, would there be as many ‘people pleasers’ in the world if affections were seen as something that didn’t need to be competed for?
When children are forced to do and say things that don’t reflect their actual thoughts and feelings, it makes them feel the same things that adults do in these situations – stress, fear, anxiety and guilt. I love when the little people in my life tell me they love me and give me compliments, but I’d be happier not hearing these things if I knew this is how they felt afterwards.
A child shouldn’t be raised to think of love in terms of ‘more’
If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say (and said myself) “I love you more” when someone has said “I love you,” I’d be sailing off into the sunset on my super yacht right now.
Until this park visit, I saw nothing wrong with saying this. Now I feel a little differently.
I don’t want Henry hearing me say things to him like “Mummy loves you more” or “Mummy loves you most.” When I’ve said this to him before, the message I’ve tried to communicate is “I just love you SO much!” but perhaps what he’ll hear as he gets older is that I love him more than Sam does, as well as a whole range of other people who simply adore him.
I don’t want Henry to ever feel that giving or receiving love is a competition. I don’t want him to feel that he has to ‘earn’ the love of others by being untrue to himself.
I want to raise him to know that the capacity that humans have for giving and receiving love is limitless. I want him to know that he’s surrounded by people that love him dearly, just in different ways. I want him to remember that love is a feeling, and not a measure that needs to be quantified.
So, I think I might simplify love for my little man, who’ll grow up to be a big one. Here’s what I’ll say:
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“They love you also.”
Have a great weekend!
I'm married to Sam and I'm a mother to Henry.