Too Much Love

by Nancy Monson

I recently watched "The Miracle Worker," the original version of the movie about Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan. I have seen that movie 10 times, and I always learn something new about what it means to be a teacher. I HIGHLY recommend it to all parents and teachers. Annie Sullivan tells Helen’s parents that the real problem is their love. They have spoiled her, and she will only be what they expect of her. It is a long battle for Annie to win their respect and understanding of what it means to teach Helen, and put her in touch with her abilities and capacities. If parents watched this movie, they could get a very good idea of what spoiling does to a child. Helen Keller is really no different than many children I see who have been "over" loved. What do I mean by this?

Children need space to feel and be their own persons. They do not need adults constantly telling them they love them, doing things to prove it, and having the child tell them back they love them. Love is an energy that does not need many words. It is a feeling, and no amount of talking or giving of material possessions will make a child believe it or not believe it. In fact, the more we say it, put words on it, the more we create the situations where as adults it has to be proved to us with words and gifts. We simply undermine the true sensitivity to feeling love. We create insecurity by the very ways in which we try to have our children feel secure!

And who’s insecurity are we really dealing with anyhow? If our children don’t say goodbye, don’t say they love us, don’t give us a hug, who is insecure? Not the child! The child is telling us that they feel strong enough as a person to be on their own, and we have done a good job of helping them feel secure within themselves.
Helen Keller said, "Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing."

This problem of children being "over" loved starts in infancy. As I stated in my article, "The Attention Addiction Syndrome," we do not need to give children as much attention as we think we do. They need time, every day, to feel content in their own being, in their aloneness, in feeling and experiencing life from themselves. If we are always there, coming at every cry or noise, children soon lose the innate ability to be in touch with their own inner riches. Instead, there is created a constant need for something external, whether it is attention, food, possessions or entertainment.

When children get older the problem becomes extended into doing things for children that they can do for themselves. We carry the child instead of letting them walk, we put their clothes on instead of letting them, and helping them learn to dress themselves. We clean their rooms, give in to their tantrums when they want something, we rush to them every time they fall, and we praise every little thing they do. What are we doing? We are prolonging their dependency on our help, but worse than that, we are not giving them experiences of learning and living and struggling that is so much a part of developing and growing. Children can do so much! They often have their parents fooled. At our daycare we see children eat foods, care for themselves, do chores and engage in activities that their parents can barely believe when we tell them. The parent walks in and the child expects things to be done for her or given to her because THE PARENTS WILL DO IT!

Every child is different. You don’t want to create overwhelming frustration for your child by expecting more than is realistic. What I see is more of the opposite. Not enough is expected. Then they get older and have no confidence in being able to do something hard or new. Where did this come from? It doesn’t just pop out of the blue. We live in a soft culture filled with easy entertainment, fast foods, and advertising mania that makes us think that happiness is about what we look like, what we own and what we can buy. But why are children so bored, more children unhappy, and more children committing suicide? A middle school teacher recently told me he has been learning to push his students harder. At first they don’t like it, they might feel scared, or angry, or incapable, but with his support, enthusiasm, modeling and insistence, they are learning to like being challenged and pushed. Because life feels best when we are learning and growing, and being asked to do more than we already think we can.

I don’t think that we want children to lose their love of learning and that song of "I want to try that!" We have to stop smothering them, demanding their love when what we think we are doing is just asking them to tell us they love us or asking them to hug us every single time we leave them. We need to let go a little bit more and let them wobble off on unsteady feet. Because the reality is there is no external security. But the other reality is that love is part of existence, it is a permanent force in life, it cannot be made more or less. We can only be more or less in contact with it, but it does not change. If we live more from this certainty then we don’t have to be constantly proving to our children that we love them. They already know that, because children live more in touch with the reality of love. Watch how they kiss everything: toys, people, trees, animals. The other part of loving our children is to let them struggle, let them walk, help them use what they have and stop trying to make them happy or secure by doing too much for them. Give them their strength and confidence by letting them engage all the little things in life that lead up to the bigger things. If you take care of them too long, indulge them too long, make them too special, they may never fully stand on their own two feet.

Watch "The Miracle Worker," the one with Patty Duke and Ann Bancroft. If you have children in fourth grade or older, have them watch it too. What can you learn about yourself? Do we have the courage to be more like Annie Sullivan?


© Nancy Monson, 2005. All rights reserved.

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