Earlier this summer, I was putting my two-year-old Maya into her car seat when she hastily and forcefully pushed open the car door and scraped the door of our other car in the garage. This frustrated me.  I was like, “Maya! You’ve got to be careful, you can’t push the door open so hard because it hit and messed up the door of our other car!!” I was stern and upset, but I also stayed somewhat calm and measured each of my words. Whenever Maya or Ravi does something wrong and I begin to convey my displeasure, I always have vivid flashbacks to that scene at the beginning of Home Alone where Uncle Frank goes off on little Kevin McCallister after he causes a scene in the kitchen. The words he uses sting so sharply and still haunt me: “Look what you did, you little jerk!” I don’t ever want my words to wound like that, but I have to remember that it’s not just what we say – but how we say it.

When I was done with my little speech, she looked up at me from her car seat with her sad little eyes and broken spirit, and asked a question that I will never forget:

But do you still love me?

Immediately, I was softened. And I expressed to her that even when she makes mistakes, Rachel’s and my love for Maya never changes. No matter what. It’s always as big as the most distance my hands can create between them as my arms stretch out sideways. And it’s just like God’s love for us – it never changes, it’s always the same, it’s always humongous and gigantic and more massive than we can imagine. And Maya softened too, and smiled. And things were better.

My love for Maya is always as big as the most distance my hands can create between them as my arms stretch out sideways.

Our kids equate love from us as never getting upset or angry with them, even when they mess up. Right now, Maya often storms off screaming her head off, and hides behind our grey recliner after we correct her for disobeying or otherwise hurting us or her brother with her words or actions. But somewhere along the line I’m hoping she starts to understand that we just want her to grow up to be a decent human being. And that helping her learn wrong from right is actually the most loving thing we can do.

That said, I’m particularly sensitive to what Maya’s poignant question betrays: that she has made a link between performance and love. I feel like this is specific to Maya’s relationship with me, and not Rachel. I know I’ve believed in the past that the love, affection, and attention of others will recede or even disappear if I’m not accomplishing or fixing or improving certain things. I’ve made a lot of progress in this area, but sometimes I still feel like I need to keep tangibly proving my worth and value in order to feel okay, in order to fill a hole in my heart that can only be filled by God.

I know I’ve believed in the past that the love, affection, and attention of others will recede or even disappear if I’m not accomplishing or fixing or improving certain things.

I want Maya to turn out like the best parts of me, but not become anything like the worst parts of me. Unintentionally and indirectly, it seems that I’ve conveyed to Maya that I might take away my love for her if she isn’t perfect – if she doesn’t do everything right. I promise I haven’t meant to do this, but I guess it’s a byproduct of the fact that I sort of take away my love for myself if I don’t do everything right.

This is very not good. This signals a major issue, and it’s rearing its ugly head despite my best efforts. And I know I have to keep working through it before it causes some serious collateral damage.

Maya just turned three. This stage of her life is so critical to her future emotional and psychological health. And she needs to feel safe to make mistakes. It’s disturbing when the demons we’ve personally wrestled with all our lives attempt to get a toehold in the lives of our children.

It’s disturbing when the demons we’ve personally wrestled with all our lives attempt to get a toehold in the lives of our children.

But there is hope. There is always hope.

God can continue to help me, as can the support of others. I can be super intentional about how I interact with my daughter, and stay hyper vigilant not just about how I treat her when she messes up, but how I treat myself (because she’s always watching). Aaaahhhh, parenting! So tough. Aaahhhh, life!!! So brutal. One day at a time, though. If Maya knows that she is loved unconditionally, she will feel safe. And that has to be my preeminent goal right now.

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