I have the distinct honor of sharing a guest post with you from author, Dr. Susan Forward, whose book “Mothers Who Can’t Love: A healing guide for daughters” I’m currently reading. Dr. Forward allowed me the privilege of reading her book prior to its release, and it’s extremely compelling. While I was fortunate to grow up in a loving, two parent family, I have worked with countless “broken” families as a counselor and juvenile probation officer. I’m a mother of three beautiful daughters, two of whom joined our family through adoption. It’s through my love of reading and learning that I try a little bit harder everyday to be a better mom. I can guarantee you that Dr. Forward’s book reads as interesting and compelling as her following blog post; once you start, you can’t stop reading.
A lot of pressure comes with bringing a child into your family and stepping in as a loving mom for someone who couldn’t stay with one. There’s so much to make up for, so many hurts to heal. I’ve spent much of my career working with the kids who didn’t get away, the ones who grew up with toxic parents and mothers who couldn’t love them. Those children suffer greatly, and the suffering continues far into adulthood because they didn’t get to learn what it feels like and looks like to be valued as an independent person.
Here’s what love really looks like
Here’s what you should know. Love isn’t the product of some happy-happy nirvana where you never get upset, never ask “What have I gotten myself into,” and never say something to your child you regret later. I define real love—the love that your children will carry in their hearts to protect them and give them the courage to be their best—like this: Love is consistent behavior that engenders in your children a belief in their own value. It nourishes their sense of safety, self-respect and confidence. It’s built on everyday acts that keep that goal—I want my child to believe in herself—in mind.
Four great ways to show your child love
How do you do that? There are many, many ways. Here are a few:
- Praise your child for her efforts—without taking credit for them. Let your child have the spotlight without competition from you.
- Give your child room to breathe. You may be tempted to stay close, to fill up your life with your child’s activities. But part of helping your child build confidence is allowing him or her to safely experience life as a separate person. During the “terrible twos,” when children begin trying out the word “No!” they learn that even when they assert themselves and defy you, you don’t stop loving them. When a child sees that, he learns that it’s safe to be his own person. It’s safe to grow, evolve and become a separate individual. This is a huge life lesson that’s relearned throughout childhood, and it’s a hard one for a worried, protective mom.
- Keep an eye on any tendency you have to criticize and control. Your child needs guidance, but not belittling, bullying or manipulation. As your child gets older, remember that your goal as a loving mom is to help your child gain the confidence to act on her own.
- Take care of yourself. Your child will learn by example. When you show yourself kindness and self-care, your child will learn to value herself, too. Please, please take care of any addictions, relationship problems or depression—without involving your child. The more you take the role of adult, the more you free your precious child to have a happy, healthy childhood.
Susan Forward’s latest book, “Mothers Who Can’t Love: A healing guide for daughters” was just published by Harper. It’s full of guidance for people who came from unloving families and for good moms who want to learn from the mistakes of unloving ones.