The other day I was drudging Twitter, as writers do when they’re supposed to be writing, and I came across a tweet from a new mother who said she was still waiting for that rush of overwhelming love and connection. I was quick to respond that I have a seven and a four-year-old, and I’ve never felt it.
I wonder how many women have felt that rush of bliss and love we see in movies and read about in books. Did it come at the moment of birth? Perhaps a remnant of adrenaline and oxytocin? Did it come later as hormones dripped and stabilized? Was it meaningful? Did it mean something that we’ve never felt it.
I love my kids. I don’t doubt that. I have spent more time examining what love is and what it means to me than most people. Beginning back in my church-going-days.
Love is patient, love is kind
Like many church kids, one of the first verses I memorized was 1 Corinthians 13:4-6.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.1 Corinthians 13:4-6, New International Version
I am grateful for this introduction to love as a verb. Love as more than a vague feeling, but something that can be defined through our action. I am also grateful for my pastor that examined the different types of love such as godlike love vs. parental love vs. carnal love. This gave me a solid concept of love.
However, my education was lacking. For starters, this verse defines more of what love isn’t than what it is. We can extrapolate the inverse of each not, but I wanted a more active definition. Also, this speaks to the qualities of love but doesn’t give concrete actions.
Eventually I left the church, but I kept this concept of love as something more tangible.
The Triangular Theory of Love
When I was a young adult, I moved to Robert J. Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love, which separates love into blends of intimacy, passion, and commitment. For most of my life I have only applied this model to friendship and romantic love. However, I am now beginning to think of how it would apply in a parent-child relationship.
Passion, for most people is a carnal desire. The want of sex. But when we stop thinking about people… we have passion for a lot of topics and activities. A passion for writing. Reading. Cycling. Working. We have many types of passion. Why can’t we have passion for our kids? Why can’t our kids thrill and excite us?
And that’s when we get to that melty, overwhelming, fierce love, right?
Kids Without Passion
The problem is, I’m not an overly passionate person. I revel in intimacy and commitment. Those are my sides of the triangle. Passion comes and goes. With lovers. With projects. Dare I say, with my kids?
I feel like of all the facets of love, passion is the piece we have the least control over. We cannot just wake up today and decide to be passionate. Heck, in 37 years I haven’t really learned how to cultivate passion. (Perhaps I need a self-help book?) But when it comes to love, passion is what is portrayed most often.
In books and movies, we always see the initial moments of passion between lovers. We rarely see their lifetime of commitment and only get glimpses of their intimacy. I feel like it is the same way with children. We portray that moment of passion in the hospital as a shortcut to parental love. It’s easy to portray. It’s visible. Eventually we begin to think it is the most important aspect of love. Why else would it be emphasized so much? This added importance means we portray it more. Then we begin to equate it as love.
But I’m here to tell you: Love is much more than passion.
Some of us will feel only glimpses of that rush of love towards our children. It glimmers in me occasionally, usually while watching them play from a distance. But it is not strong and overwhelming. It is subtle, and I have to search for it. And that’s okay. Because you can choose commitment and you can cultivate intimacy.
And you can remember, love is patient, love is kind.