Although I’m not a mother nor a daughter myself, I enjoyed Jordana Horn’s recent review of “The Jewish Daughter Diaries” in her post, “Do Jewish Moms Smother Their Kids With Too Much Love?” While some of the book’s authors’ have their gripes with overbearing, meddlesome mothers, I’d like to repeat Horn’s statement that you can never love a child too much.
My mother says I was a very sensitive child. She guesses that it was because I was gay. That might very well be true, but I do know that my parents’ response to my sensitivity wasn’t right. In their attempt to help me develop thicker skin, they didn’t kiss or hug me, or tell me that they loved me.
And I felt unloved.
I learned to keep my demands, especially the emotional ones, at an absolute minimum in order to stay in their good graces. I sought the refuge of books, since the world around me was silent. I became a bit of a teacher’s pet, seeking the emotional approval from other adults in my life. I still remember how good I felt when Mrs. Stein selected me one month as the most helpful student in our second grade class. I beamed with pride when I was awarded a certificate in front of the entire Santiago Elementary School. It was a rare feeling for me at that age.
After years of therapy as a young adult, I understood myself more and after some extremely difficult conversations with my parents, I understood them better, too. Their aloof approach to parenting was wrong, but it was common among parents from their time. It’s not a dodge to say that they didn’t know any better. And their rationale even sounds intuitive.
Then I became a parent myself, and the one thing I learned fairly quickly was just how much of parenting is counterintuitive. Newborns don’t like too much freedom of movement,; they like to be swaddled in a way that boggles my mind as an adult. Kids are more likely to fall asleep easily at night if they’re well-rested; a sleepy baby paradoxically fights the crib. They don’t get bored by routine; they crave it. And being incredibly affectionate and nurturing towards your child doesn’t make her clingy and needy; it makes her confident and secure.
Our daughter, Zahava, is now rapidly approaching 2 years old. I’ve kissed her dozens of times daily since she was born, and it never, ever gets old. I’ll kiss and squeeze her until she indicates she’s had enough. And there are no words for the feeling that wells up in me when friends and family members remark at how happy, confident, and expressive she is. It takes all my strength to fight back the tears (old habits die hard!).
So it’s clear, I’m not angry at my parents, at least not now. They did what they knew best, and in every other way, they were model parents. The studies that show that kids who are lavished with affection are more confident, more intelligent, and less anxious didn’t exist then; parenting authorities advised the opposite.
Each generation learns from the prior one and can do a better job. I hope Zahava will be a better mother than I am as a father. And I hope kisses flow from her lips to my grandchildren’s cheeks as lovingly and as naturally as I had craved them when I was a young child myself.