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I love my kids but…

I love my kids butI want to write about my love for my children, but I’m not sure I am up to it. Romantic love, religious love, even love of one’s country are common subjects for verse (good and bad), so how hard can it be to describe how I feel about my kids?

We all love our children, right? Surely there’s nothing else to say on the matter. But when you stop and think about it, what does that love actually feel like and how do we express it?

More often than not I know I love my children because of the other emotions I feel: a chest full of pride when they succeed or excel, a rush of fear when they aren’t there in the place I expected them to be, a nagging anxiety when things just don’t seem quite right, or a surge of anger that shakes me like the primeval roar of a lioness when something threatens them. If I search my day for love, I find mainly proxies: joy, guilt, annoyance, hope.

All these emotions mark my love, but they also mask it. I know that love must be under those feelings somewhere, even causing them, but I can’t honestly say that I feel that love every day. Racking my brain for moments when I feel just love, unadulterated, pure and simple, it seems to be mainly when my children are asleep…

I remember vividly the first time it happened. I was lying down next to my then 17 month old son trying to get him down for a reluctant daytime nap. I was pregnant with my second child and as I watched my son’s sleeping face I was flooded by love, so much love it felt like I couldn’t contain it, it just washed through me. I remember thinking that I hadn’t known it was possible to feel so much love and how his face was the answer to every question in the universe, that he and I were the universe and everything in it.

At the time I was scared that it wouldn’t be possible for me to love a second child that much, but of course I was wrong. And even today, a dozen years later, I still occasionally sneak into my children’s bedrooms to see their sleeping faces and float on that wave.

Perhaps it’s because when they are awake I am just too busy being a parent, assessing the dangers, the risks, the opportunities, responding to their behaviour (correcting and directing), analysing their mood, their wellbeing, or simply rushing around trying to get done all the stuff that accompanies modern parenting. Perhaps it is only when they are sleeping, doing nothing but being, that the pride, guilt, fear, annoyance, watchfulness etc subside enough for the love to flow through.

I also suspect it is no accident that I don’t experience that feeling of pure love too often: I’m not sure it is an emotion that I could handle or enjoy constantly. (Search ‘love children’ on Google and what jumps up are articles about children born outside marriage, nothing about the feelings parents have for their children.) But just thinking about that wave of love has a wonderfully calming effect and makes me realise how often, caught up in the daily grind, I miss the point and focus on the wrong things (the bed not made, the snack packets strewn on the bedroom floor, the forgotten homework). And I promise myself that the next time I find myself tangled up in emotional reactions to my oh-so wide awake children I will try to remember to step back and allow a little more space for the love underneath to peep through.

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