Love Them Right Now

Your teenager rolls her eyes for the umpteenth time today and walks out of the room while you are talking in mid-sentence. Your son has enough toys all over the living room floor to prevent you from finding a path to the door—which you realize after you hear the doorbell ringing. That last report card just about sent everyone to their corner as the school year gets closer and closer to the end. Events like this cause your heart to hurt. You love your children but on some days, it is really hard.


Every parent loves a cooperative child. The times when your son smiles at you make time stand still. The help in the kitchen that comes even without asking makes the work seem smaller. Bedtime can be a precious time as their little hearts open like a flower to spill their innermost thoughts and dreams. That’s the stuff great parenting moments are made of but those moments can seem few and far between when eyes roll or toys crunch underfoot.


I was with Dr. Charles Fay of Love and Logic during a one-day conference for parents and teachers when I wrote down one of the most significant statements I ever heard him make. The subject was grades. He spoke of our need to focus on our child’s strengths. “Love him for who he is right now; not just for who he will become,” Dr. Fay said. Wow. I just hoped I could remember each word long enough to get it written in my notes.


My worst days as a parent were recalled. That was exactly my problem. I wanted my child to be something different than the behavior I was seeing on that particular day. My eyes were on the future that I imagined rather than on the child that was actually in the room. I was dreaming of what I hoped for instead of dealing with the reality I was experiencing. Those were not good days.


Part of our problem might be the way we define love. If love can only be sweet and gentle and never firm or having expectations, our options are limited indeed. If a grade card can only bring smiles and compliments to a loving parent’s face we might have a problem. Our hearts rarely think smiles when they hurt the way they can hurt. If allowing the consequences that might bring pain to our child’s life is a sign that we don’t love them, we might have an issue.


Love is patient and kind. It is also tied to reality. Our children need intelligence and skills in order to make it in the world. It is not loving or kind to do all their chores so that they can watch more television or keep playing their video game. Love can still expect cooperation and obedience.


But love can also be truly unconditional. I love them even when I cannot love their bad grades. I love them even when their face is angry and defiant. If I can overcome the feeling of threat long enough to smile and use the one-liner, “No problem,” I can hold onto that love. I don’t have to react and have my own adult temper tantrum. I can move on and let the consequence do the teaching. Doing extra work today that my son refuses to do might just drain my energy this weekend to the point that I don’t feel like cooking or doing laundry at all. He might not have clean clothes to wear as a result.


I used to think the one-liner, “I love you too much to argue,” was cheesy. But it’s true. I choose not to argue with a child who is defiant but not in control. I control this household and defiance won’t derail its function or my love for my child. I expect a certain amount of resistance when chores are unpleasant. It’s part of life.


Love them for who they are right now. Right now is the best moment for our focus anyway.

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.