Recently, I have been undergoing a revolution, both humbling and profound, in my approach to my children and my husband. In short, I have come to realize that much of my marriage and parenting relationships have centered on what I want and my own feelings. So great has been my desire to feel positive emotions as a mom and a wife that I have unintentionally made getting my husband and kids to bring about those feelings the end goal. I’ve done this trying to manipulate (again, unwittingly) them to “be” a certain way so that I can feel proud, happy, or loved. Without realizing my own hypocrisy, this distinctly contrasts with the Theology of the Body* mantra, “Use is the opposite of love,” that I repeated over and over to my fifth grade students last spring. To a sharp student who questioned why hate is not the opposite of love, I explained that “use” is love’s opposite because love, properly defined, is when I order my actions or behavior toward the good of another. The opposite of that is trying to manipulate another person (that is, using someone) to get what I want, so that I can feel good. One flows outward and one flows inward. Pretty simple.
Except it’s not. Because, whoops, via a series of grace-filled revelations over the past months, I have been realizing that much of my marriage and parenting have followed the perverse latter model. Part of what has opened my eyes has been that admitting to being aware of dysfunction in my family of origin does not (sadly) make me immune from modeling the very same behavior myself. They are, after all, the very behaviors that shaped me. Of course, admitting my failings and seeing my selfishness toward those I most love makes my heart ache for past mistakes, but at the same time, that regret pales in comparison to the gratitude I’ve had for being given the grace to see these things now, rather than ten or twenty years from now—or never.
It has been easier than I would have guessed to start changing the tide of how I relate to my family, and, unexpectedly, it’s been truly liberating. Connecting to my children and husband in terms of “How can I help this person thrive? What is his or her need right now?” is so much cleaner and easier than navigating some complicated matrix that relates back to myself. Lastly, and I almost hesitate to admit this for fear of undermining the whole point here (loving means not focusing on me!), but the truth is that, since I’ve realized my errors and stepped away from trying to manipulate others as a means to my own happiness, I have been much happier. Huzzah! God’s way wins.