Perceptions of love (and parenting)

An experiment for parents: go and tell your child that you love them. Then ask them why do they think you love them? Don’t prompt an answer. Don’t make any suggestions. Just ask them why — and then wait for the response.

I did this recently with my 5 year old daughter and was surprised and shocked by her response.

Backing up a little bit…I have three children and I tell them that I love them all the time. I praise them when they do well; I encourage them; we laugh together; we play tricks on each other; we hug and kiss; we read stories together; we eat together; we watch movies together and so on. Simply put, they know they are loved.

I was prompted to have this conversation with my daughter after speaking to a good friend of mine called Tim who talked to me about the unintentional expectations that parents place on their children. He explained that many children grow up believing sub-consciously that they are loved only in response to their achievements. Put another way, they believe they are loved because of what they do not who they are. Think about it: as a parent, when do you most often show love to your child and when do you give them praise? The answer is probably when they have done something notable. Something praiseworthy.

Three years ago, Harvard University undertook a survey of 10,000 students who were asked what they believed their parents cared about most for their life. The students were given three options to pick from:

  1. your parents care most that you achieve highly;
  2. your parents care most that you are happy;
  3. your parents care most that you are kind to others.

The results make for depressing reading: more than half (54%) of students picked ‘achieve highly’ as the thing they thought was most important to their parents. 27% said that their parents cared most about their happiness. Only 19% said the thing their parents cared about most was them being kind.

The findings are sad and troubling and they confirm that modern society tends to prioritise what David Brooks calls resume virtues as opposed to eulogy virtues. But what’s equally troubling is that parents don’t even realise what they are doing; they are conveying these values completely unintentionally (as my friend Tim had said). The findings of the Harvard survey explained that parents think they prioritise kindness but clearly this is not what their children are hearing. The survey concluded that there is a “troubling gap between what adults say and what students perceive about the importance of caring, kindness, and respect”.

Back to my conversation with my daughter. When I asked her why she thought I loved her, her first guess was “because I’m beautiful?” No, I said, have another try. “Because I’m clever?” Nope, try again. “Because I’m funny?” I stopped her after her third guess, more to end my own misery than hers.

Thankfully, my earlier conversation with Tim had pre-warned me that these answers were likely and so I was pre-armed with a response.

I told my daughter that those things about her were true – that she is beautiful and clever and funny. But, they are not the reason I love her. The reason I love you, I explained, is because you’re my daughter and I’m your daddy.

She looked confused but I carried on.

This is a fact that can never change; I will always be your daddy and you will always be my daughter and that means that I will always love you no matter how clever you are, how funny you are, or how beautiful you are. I just love you because you are you.

I kissed her good night and that was the end of our conversation. However, I’ve started deliberately replaying this conversation with my children from time to time so that as they grow up they are consciously aware that they are loved simply for who they are not what they do.

I share all of this for two reasons. Firstly, because this whole concept took me by surprise and, as a result, it has been playing on my mind for a while. I wanted to get it off my chest! Secondly, I am writing in the hope that parents who read it will go and tell their children that they love them, for no reason other than because they do.

I guess sometimes we all need a little prompt to tell the ones closest to us how we feel. And if that happens, if just one parent does that because of this post, then every single one of these 769 words were completely and utterly worth it!

Advertisements

Film: In Memory

Earlier today I stumbled upon the trailer for this short movie. At first it looks like a classic love story: romantic, atmospheric, beautifully shot, soppy script, etc. But the final 5 seconds of the trailer deliver a little twist…

Looks like it could strike a similar chord to other films about dementia such as The Notebook or Away From Her. What I liked about the trailer was its focus on the love story of the young couple rather than the older couple – making it a story about life and love rather than about dementia.

Anyway, I liked it so wanted to share.

The release date for the full (13 minute film) is February 11th. IMDb has more information as well as a behind the scenes ‘making of’ video: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5136522/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

And the website for the media company behind the movie has further details here: http://bedrock-health.com/healthcare-feature-films/

 

Review: Us, by David Nicholls

I had no intention of reading this book. Fourteen days ago I’d never heard of it – or the author. My planned holiday reading consisted of Great Speeches of the 20th Century, a John Grisham, and a book about The Book. But on my first night on holiday I noticed its bright red cover on the bookshelf and casually picked it up to read the first few pages. It grabbed me immediately.

Us - David NichollsActually, I was persuaded before I got to page one. The quotes from newspaper critics on the front/back cover were extraordinary: ‘I honestly can’t imagine loving a novel much more’ The Sunday Times; ‘A sad, funny, soulful joy’ Observer; ‘I was having to ration myself for fear of coming to the end too soon’ Daily Mail. With recommendations like that, I dived in…

The story is about Douglas Petersen, a middle-aged scientist struggling to cling on to his wife of nearly 25 years, the beautiful Connie, an artist, and his teenage son, Albie, a sulky, spoiled teenager. After Connie informs Douglas that she wants a divorce, Douglas convinces himself that the upcoming summer family holiday – a cultural tour of European cities that he has researched and planned meticulously – is his opportunity to win them both back.

The story is split between the present day as the Petersen family move across Europe – starting in London, then on to Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Venice, Florence, Siena, Madrid and finally Barcelona – and various key moments from Douglas and Connie’s life over the past 25 years (how they met, fell in love, got married etc.).

Douglas is naive, optimistic, dull, predictable, old-fashioned – all the things that Connie is not. She is beautiful, artistic, free-spirited, with a wild side and a colourful history. I wanted to love Douglas – and at various points through the book I did. He’s charming, funny, very warm, affectionate and he loves Connie. But as the story continues, it becomes apparent that Douglas is one of life’s losers. Socially awkward, uncomfortable, an unnatural father, a difficult husband and particularly ill-suited to Connie, which becomes increasingly obvious as the story progresses.

This presents a dilemma for the reader: should we be rooting for love to win the day and for Connie to stay with Douglas, or should we accept that they were not well-matched in the first place and that an amicable separation is the right course…?

At different points in the story I found myself wanting different outcomes. In roughly the first third of the book I desperately wanted Douglas to succeed but somewhere around halfway through I found myself thinking, ‘maybe they’re not right for each other after all…maybe they should separate’ which felt a bit odd.

On the face of it, a novel told by a man trying to resuscitate his failing marriage doesn’t sound like a page turner…but it really is. The tour through Europe provides plenty of twists and turns to keep the pages turning. But what keeps this book really interesting is the wonderfully understated, perfectly timed wit that laces each and every page. The humour is subtle, clever often very dry, and written perfectly.

Despite the humour and the wonderfully described European cities, the undercurrent to the whole book is the question of whether Douglas and Connie will stay together; will the ‘Grand Tour’ be enough to convince Connie to stay? Will Douglass win back the love of his life and redeem himself in the eyes of his son?

Without giving away the ending, I will say that I was left slightly disappointed. Not necessarily with the outcome of the story but, surprisingly, with the writing itself. After 416 pages of exquisite writing, the final 30 pages seemed rushed and lacking in detail, as if the author had a word limit he was working towards which arrived too soon.

Don’t get me wrong, the book is superb – including the final third in which Connie heads back to London leaving Douglas alone to navigate various European cities. But when I finally put it down (on the final night of my holiday) it was with some disappointment that the final few pages hadn’t been a little more nuanced and drawn-out. I wanted more (perhaps that’s a good thing?). But I guess this is a minor niggle after what was an incredibly enjoyable read.

I enjoyed this book immensely and would recommend it highly. I’m not a regular reader of fiction (see my planned reading list above!) but I’m very pleased to have stumbled across this one. I think I’ll take a look at Nicholls’ other books