Thursday, September 10, 2009

I Couldn't Have Known

I didn't understand that I would feel a certain kind of love as a parent that I have never felt before.

When I was a teenager, I was playing a game at a friend's house, and my mom called and told me to come home. When I got home, I asked her why she wanted me there, and she didn't have an answer. "I just want you here," she said.

I was bored at home, and clearly my mom was being unreasonable, since she had no reason to want me at home. So I waited for a while, then sneaked back to my friend's house.

I didn't understand then that a person could love someone so much that would just want to be near them. I didn't understand that maybe my mom just wanted to gather her children around under her own roof for a day. I didn't understand that my mom may have been happy just listening to us kids goof around or just watching us watch TV.

I could only understand what I wanted (playing with friends) and that my mom's irrational request was interfering with what I wanted.

I've always hated when people have told me, "As soon as you experience X, then you'll understand." But this time it's true. With Mari and Des away for a couple of weeks, I feel a keen desire to be near them, to sit and snuggle, take a nap with my family nearby. We don't have to be doing anything special. I'd be perfectly happy just watching Des play on his own, or to hear him driving his toys around the house.

Maybe I understand now, Mom. I'm sorry I ran away that day. But I don't think I could have understood that you might just want to be near a stinky, selfish (and self-conscious), moody teenager just because you loved him. I could not have understood how you felt until I had a child of my own to love with my whole soul.


  1. So, so true. There's something wonderful about having the family in the nest, and no doubt at the time you snuck away, mom was all too aware how quickly each child grows up and moves out. Everyone says these days when our children are with us go by too fast, and it's TRUE!

  2. I don't always agree with Caitlin Flanagan, but this is her money quote: "I had never loved anyone yet, because I was years away from having a child of my own, and until you've done that you're just guessing about love, gesturing toward it, assuming that it's the right name for a feeling you've had."

  3. I also don't always agree with Caitlin Flanagan, mostly because I do not know who she is. But I like that quote. I would qualify it by stating the potentially-obvious that husband/wife love is real, but my love for my wife is definitely different than my love for my son.

    Is it different because h/w love requires work to keep it strong while parent/child love is (for me) involuntary and automatic? I'm not sure.

  4. In my (only) experience, husband/wife love is equal parts decision, commitment, and feeling. The feeling is there, but it's woven through with will. Paternal love is reflexive and marvelously involuntary.

    Flanagan also doesn't have the highest view of marriage, which might explain her wholehearted endorsement of paternal love:

  5. Thanks, Ben, for your thoughts. I appreciate them a lot. I never thought of myself as one to muse over the meaning of "love," but I think this is something I will be stewing over for a while.