this is love

April 20th, 2017

There is a certain attitude, perhaps unavoidable, that most of us seem to adopt as we grow up. It is a kind of self-satisfied conclusion that our parents didn’t love us. Oh, they might have loved us, but they didn’t love us enough. They didn’t love us the right way. They didn’t love us just so. Have your own child and you will penetrate into the utter absurdity of that idea.

About six weeks ago I heard from someone trying to find a passage I’d written that she called “one of the most compassionate and eye-opening pieces of writing I have ever read.” It was about forgiving your parents for all the ways they failed you, and she wanted to share it with a friend as soon as possible. I told her that every book I’d written was more or less about that very thing, but having long since tired of reading or remembering my own words, nothing in particular came to mind. A few hours later she wrote back, having easily found what she was looking for at the beginning of Momma Zen.

Babies seem to be coming back into my world these days—babies and grandbabies of friends, family, and readers. It’s quite a joy. Meanwhile, I am feeling the cumulative weight of my own selfish errors and oversteps as a parent. It seems like the right time to remember how easy it is to find love, and how easy it is to give.

Just go back to the beginning.

It strikes me as best to begin with love. The word will never again mean so much.

Of course you love your spouse. You love your parents and brothers and sisters. You love your friends. You love your home, and perhaps your hometown. You love your dog. You may love your work. You might attest to loving your alma mater, mashed potatoes or reading on a rainy day.

But this is love. The feeling you have for your child is so indescribably deep and consuming that it must qualify as one of the few transcendent experiences in your plain old ordinary life. It occurs spontaneously as part of afterbirth. It is miraculous and supreme and irrevocable. It makes all things possible.

There is a certain attitude, perhaps unavoidable, that most of us seem to adopt as we grow up. It is a kind of self-satisfied conclusion that our parents didn’t love us. Oh, they might have loved us, but they didn’t love us enough. They didn’t love us the right way. They didn’t love us just so. Have your own child and you will penetrate into the utter absurdity of that idea. You will love your child as your parents loved you and their parents loved them. With a love that is humbling and uncontrived, immense and indestructible. Parents err, of course, and badly. They can be ignorant, foolish, mean and far worse, in ways that you can come to forgive in them and try to prevent in yourself. But this wholesale shortage of parental love at the crux of everyone’s story must be the product of shabby and self-serving recollections. Now that you are a mother, set that story aside, forgetting everything you thought you knew about love.

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3 Comments »

  1. Beautiful.

    We have had a fosterchild in our house in the past and that taught me that while her parents were not good at parenting at all, they did love her, with all their heart. And that that is OK and can be respected. And what was beautiful about that was that it created room for us both to have our own kind of love for each other, without her having to fit into the concept of being “ours” and having to forsake her own parents (or me my own children).
    We all do the best we can, but sometimes our best is just pretty bad.

    Comment by Simone — April 21, 2017 @ 12:32 am

  2. Maezen, I am now in my 60s and my son is in his late 20s. I read Momma Zen not too long ago and found it incredibly helpful in my new role as primary caregiver for my 88 yr old mother. It turns out that good parenting is not so different from good daughtering.

    From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your wisdom, your honesty, and your clarity. XOXOClare

    Comment by Clare — April 22, 2017 @ 6:08 pm

  3. so good to see and read you here. i was directed here by hare in the moon astrology. my comment would be about parents love. i was raised in a household of physical and mental brutality. i have survived it to become a more harmonious being at age 66. but there is no quality of love that was given by the father of mine who was addicted to alcohol, codeine, violence and brutality. may be prevail!

    Comment by david — May 1, 2017 @ 6:25 am

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