Love simply is NOT enough. There, I've said it. I feel better already.
And I really do mean it--if love were enough, we wouldn't have any problems and neither would our kids. We love them. My direct experience, however, tells me I need skills. Skills to get me through the day as a dad, teacher and human, sure. But also, skills to help give kids what they need to live into the best life they can possibly create for themselves.
In some Buddhist thinking there is something called idiot compassion. I think this is love without skill? To gain these needed skills, we seek a heart that isn't just mushy--we must nurture a heart that embraces the most powerful force in the universe: LOVE. Wait, didn't I just say that love isn't enough. Yup, and I stand by it. Healthy relationship appreciates the paradox of loving limits. Healthy relationship takes the heart, courage, and constant work of a warrior's heart.
So here are some basics that seem to help me find a way to a warrior's heart in my life...and my life with kids.
1) Keeping track of the difference between needs and wants.
For me. For kids. Somewhere in the first year of life the line begins a perpetual graying between what humans need vs. what humans want. All humans, maybe especially those from environments without healthy limits, need limits and boundaries to find their way through the life that is. (Note: I'm not talking about kids with early life trauma, different deal, true? Those limits are even MORE important and vital for finding one's way through a reality that can change but does so in different ways over time.)
2) Short-term and long-term choices and consequences.
There are all sorts of things I can do to get kids to behave or listen in the short-term. Many of these work. That doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. Sometimes helping somebody means we allow them to suffer a bit when things are not life or death in their outcome. That's just about most things.
As in the infinitely tiny % of my day I can control beyond the shadow of a doubt AND everything else. There's this Twelve Step prayer that says, "Grant me the serenity..." I used to make fun of that shit. All. the. time. Now I get the grace to live it ;)
4) Let that sh*t go.
See #3. We don't control much. My words and actions are the ground I stand on. Talk is cheap, so when I need to set a limit gentle, loving action always trumps talk. Many of us default to talk--syrupy sweet or pissed-off angry or everything in between--talk doesn't change people. Does this affect me or the child more? If the former, change something through action. If the latter, let the thing play out. (BTW this covers most everything. See #3)
5) What is the choice point of every given situation I face with my kids?
One of the simple things in my life that brings me consistent (maddening??) challenge is my reaction to situations that leave me put out. This happens a lot for me! In that situation I generally lock down and can't see daylight. Little things, big things. Look for even a small choice to bring some light in for you and your kids--"What do you think you're going to do about that?" is a key question for all of us to share with those we love. Which leads to...
6) Empathy as an act of letting go rather than owning, changing, or fixing things for my kids by default.
Most things are beyond my capacity to change and fix for another person (see #3). As such, when I can provide empathy in ways that simply holds time & space for another, I give them the only gift I have--my support. Eventually, I may be able to offer concrete assistance once they've gotten to a point where they can see a point where they might change something through their own action (see #5). Maybe. Sometimes, maybe not (think addiction, chronic victim identity, etc.).
So, there you have it. Love isn't enough. Love is everything. Love must be skillful in setting limits and boundaries to find its full expression and give its full gifts. Finding my way to be a true Warrior of the Open Heart is my life's path. Hope to run into you on your path some day!