him safe. She feels that. He doesn’t understand that, but I’ve talked to her enough to know that she does feel that tension. And there is always that tension in relationships with children. I keep trying to implant the terms in both their minds – fair and reasonable – when it comes to rules and boundaries, and also the concept of negotiation.
We’ll talk more about parental love soon, so I’m not going to discuss that more. Let’s just move on to the next form of human love, which is self love. Some people think that self love is selfishness. In the community where I work we call that narcisism. And that’s not the same thing as self love. Biologically we need to love ourselves so that we take care of ourselves and maintain ourselves. For Christians, this kind of love can be troublesome when taking care of ourself gets in the way of taking care of others, because there’s that tension there in relationships. Who comes first? Others or self. And it can be a complex question, especially in marriage, where two people are in close relationship, and each one has different and distinct needs.
An example to show what I mean by the need for self love: I have a client who tells me that four years ago she stopped painting her nails, fixing her hair, dressing up, cleaning the house. She just let everything go, including herself. If her elementary school-age son is away, which he is sometimes – at grandparents – she stays in bed all day, whether she needs to go to work or not. He’s the only reason she does anything anymore. All of us, I suppose, could recognize that as depression. But the reason why she’s depressed becomes important. She says that it feels to her like she’s losing the battle to believe in herself. That actually started in her early childhood, but so often the seeds that are sown in childhood don’t germinate and grow to full strength until we’re older. And that’s what’s happened with her. This woman never learned that she was worth taking care of, because she was told that all her life as a child. Now that notion prevents her from serving her son as well as she could, because she doesn’t take care of herself. If she were a Christian, it would impede her ability to serve God, too. She wouldn’t be able to come to church. There would be a lot of things she couldn’t do.
So, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. There’s another scripture you can look up. And we’re to take care of it. So we have to love ourselves enough to do that. I’m working with this lady to make sense of what happened to her in her childhood so that she can move beyond that. And start feeling like she’s worth taking care of.
The third kind of love is sibling and friendship love. These are kind of lumped together. This kind of love is more important as children start going to school, and even more important when they’re teenagers, because that’s practice for adult life, isn’t it? We have to learn how to do these things when we’re adults, and we need to practice that when we’re younger. So we have to learn how to be friends, how to share, how to be loyal, how to recognize and respect other people’s boundaries, how to move away from destructive people. All those things are very important for us to learn. We’re wired to start learning that when we’re young. It really becomes important when we start becoming teenagers.
This little twelve-year-old girl…the worst thing her mother can do to her is take her cell phone away from her, because that’s how she connects with her friends after school. And the second worst thing is to not let her go out in the evenings in the neighborhood and be with the neighbor kids, because she’s biologically wired to get to know other people at that age. We all went through that, didn’t we? We remember what it was like and how important it was – for some more than others. Then we go past that, don’t we? I know, for me, it was like a switch flipped in my brain. At seventeen it was really important to be with and do the same things other kids were doing, and a year later, I really didn’t care whether I did what they did or not. In fact, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to do what a lot of them were doing. Autonomy became more important at that point. After I learned how to fit in, then it became important to differentiate myself from them. And we see that pattern early on in life, don’t we? When children are infants, they’re job is to attach to parents. Then at two, they start telling us, “No,” and “I can do it myself,” because they’re differentiating from them. That happens again in teenage and early adolescence.