Not long ago I said that love was not always about making people happy, that to genuinely love somebody sometimes requires you to make them unhappy, to risk their rejection and hostility because genuine love demands you put their best interests first. Their best interests may be in direct conflict with what they think they want. I used motherhood as an example which led a non believer to declare, “is that what you think you job is, to make your kids as unhappy as possible?”
All in good humor here, but uh, yes! Precisely! I live to make my kids as miserable as possible. That is my very purpose in life. Have you never had teen-agers before? Let me tell you, if they aren’t hating on you, you’re probably doing something wrong.
Okay, all snark aside, but who can ever forget the delighted toddler, naked as a jaybird, having an absolute blast trying to insert a butter knife in an electrical outlet? It is outright painful to see such joy, such curiosity and innocence, and squash it in its tracks. The fruit of my loins, the love of my life, now shrieking in outrage because I was compelled to disarm them, spoil their fun, break their heart. Such grief and outright despair over having one’s whims thwarted.
That is painful stuff for a mother’s heart. To make matters worse, they are so darn cute, you just want to pick-up a butter knife yourself and join them in their exploration of the nature of electricity. That however, would be rather selfish and not a love- based response at all.
It doesn’t get any easier from there on out. Love requires genuine sacrifice, it forces you to constantly ask yourself who’s needs are really being fulfilled here? Happiness, joy, these are things most of us want to see more of in the world and certainly within our own children’s lives, but life does not revolve around delivering those short-term bliss hits, especially not when those little bliss hits are going to create more misery down the road.
So love compels us to say things like, “stop what you’re doing and brush your teeth,” a rather boring task that fills few people with great happiness, and yet not doing it is sure to bring future misery in the way of cavities.
Love also compels us to teach kids how to relate kindly to other people, something I barely have a good grasp on myself. We teach them not to hit people, to share their toys, to use good manners, to be mindful of the feelings of others. Does that make them “happy?” Does it validate what they “feel”? Not so much. In fact, it demands they set aside their own happiness, their own feelings, and take into account the needs of others.
It doesn’t “feel” good at first, but long-term, being self-absorbed will bring a great deal of misery down upon you too, so instead we try to encourage a bit of awareness about how your own self interests should not always take unlimited precedent in all situations. We all have to try to live together, right?
My own mother had some challenges, primarily narcissism. She has a kind of broken love that cannot even conceive of the needs of others, including her own children. I don’t say that to be unkind, it simply is what it is. She did not think about providing us with a place to live, food to eat, sending us to school, staying in her marriages, protecting us from harm. My mother was the kind of mother that did pick up a butter knife and follow us to the electrical outlet…and than blamed us when she got shocked. Her inability to function or to even perceive the world beyond her own “needs and wants” is somewhat startling to this day.
It is not love, in fact, it is the precise opposite of love. On the surface it appears as if she desires “to make everyone happy,” but in truth she is completely incapable of perceiving anyone else as existing separate from her own desires. My mother was always the actual child in our home and we learned very young that we existed solely to fulfill her needs. She has no awareness of long-term consequences or the impact of her behavior on others.
So, genuine love is actually a rather complex and painful thing, that often requires us to risk rejection, hostility, outrage, because to truly love someone is to be able to set yourself aside and look beyond what “feels good,” what makes “people happy,” and to instead to do what is right and true for them, based on their needs rather than your own.
Love also sometimes compels you to say no. If you can’t ever say no and your idea of love is “what ever makes people happy”, than whose needs are really being served there?