“Love me when I least deserve it, because that is when I really need it.” – Swedish proverb
“Watch what I can do,” four-year-old Ezra says as he pushes his bike to the top of a grassy hill near our house.
He gets on his bike and grips the handlebars. I open my mouth to warn him to be careful. The grass is wet; the leaves at the bottom might be slippery; a different route could be wiser. Instead I smile.
Ezra stares at me. “Isn’t there anything you’re concerned about?”
I shake my head, and he speeds down the hill with a huge grin on his face. It’s one of the many parenting lessons in store for me this day.
I’d planned to work all day. In the morning, I sat down to write a blog post about parenting. Recently I read about a mom’s commitment to parent without punishment, rewards, and bribes, which got me thinking about how often parenting can feel like a Zen koan – paradoxical, non-intuitive, riddle-like. Like when all of my instincts tell me to yell or chastise or hide in the closet, even though I really should do just the opposite.
Like a Zen koan, parenting also enlightens us in that way that something that challenges, frustrates, and makes you nearly crazy forces you to grow. As I pondered all of this, I happened upon an article about love bombing children via the blog Little Eco Footprints.
The idea, formulated by psychologist Oliver James, is that paradoxically when a kid is behaving badly, and our instincts say that we should enforce limits and insist on obedience, it’s often more effective to something radically different. James advises designating a set time — a day or weekend — to let the kid be in control of where you go and what you do while showering him with love.
James explains, “You may be thinking: Is he mad? My child is a tyrant – rewarding him like that is just going to make it even worse! This is understandable. Love bombing seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, which often recommends more control, not less, when a child is not complying, and stricter, firmer reactions to undesirable behavior.” James insists he’s seen dramatic results from love bombing, that it’s transformed his young patients who are struggling with violent aggression, anxiety problems, ADHD, and other issues.
James’ idea resonated with me. You see, I’ve been thinking about parenting quite a bit, not just because I am one, but also because I lost one of mine this year. My dad’s birthday is today. He would be 62, but he passed away in June.
I’m fairly certain my dad never read a parenting article or book, and he didn’t seem to carry around the angst about raising kids that my generation seems to specialize in. But my dad had his own version of the love bomb. During the fall months, he pulled my sister and me out of school on Friday afternoons, so we could hike as a family amongst the changing aspen leaves. He loved helping us with homework, and playing board games with us, and he was just plain interested in who we were. He was one of the best listeners I’ve ever met. Since he died in June, I think about him nearly every moment of every day, and I miss him terribly.
So when I read about love bombing and remembered all of the times my dad – a busy, self-employed writer — abandoned a day of work to hang out with me, I knew just what I should do in honor of his birthday: pay forward some of that love to my four-year-old son.
“It’s super special Ezra and Mama Day,” I told Ezra. “We can do whatever you want.” His face lit up.
We headed to the coffee shop to drink juice and eat donuts. Then we went to the stream, made a boat out of sticks and rope, and watched it float down. Then we rode our bikes to the park and played.
Not surprisingly, when I let my son do all of the leading, all the deciding, all of the telling, we had a lot more fun than if I’d been in charge. I also learned a lot. Yes, it’s important to eat healthy food. But sometimes it’s better just to eat whatever you want and enjoy it. Yes, it’s good to get places. But sometimes it’s better to just ride your bike in circles. Yes, it’s important to work. But sometimes it’s better just to spend a day connecting with the people you love. Because really, why not?Is your child misbehaving? It may be time for a love bomb.Click To Tweet
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