The Supernatural Motive for Loving Our Children

"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people."~~GK Chesterton

There are a great many Christians who love God for love of themselves, instead of for love of Him, alone. We are the ones who make sacrifices only after considering what we might gain by them. We do good unto others expecting them to return the favor, or so that others will think well of us. We seek to acquire virtue so that it will be easier for us to get along with others here in this life or because we fear the pains of hell, not so much so that, through the practice of virtue we will become pleasing to God, even if our family and neighbors persecute us for it. There are very few of us who would suffer joyfully just for the sake of sharing in Christ’s suffering (or our neighbor’s) without expecting to gain anything in return--not even Heaven. But this is the kind of love we are called to, and the kind of love we learn from our children and which we must also teach to them by our example.

The defining factor between love of God and love of self is fear. A child does not know fear until he learns it—and he learns it from us. He fears nothing until we teach him that he should fear anything. But we, knowing fear, fear the very same thing which we must embrace in order to love selflessly--suffering--by loss, inconvenience, physical pain, humiliation, helplessness. When Jesus said we must become as little children, one of the things He was referring to was the fearlessness of a child. And in order to love fearlessly, we must have total faith and confidence in God, Who is Love. Before we can love God above all, and our neighbor for love of Him, we must have total trust in Him. In order to love God with our whole selves, we must love all whom He loves--everyone. We cannot love some of whom He loves, and not others, for love of Him. We either love everyone for love of God, or we love some, including God, for love of ourselves. There are no halves in God, we cannot have it both ways. It's all or nothing. We love all for love of God, or we love only ourselves, who are nothing without Him. It is the fear of giving and receiving nothing in return that keeps us from loving all our neighbors.

In order to teach our children to love fearlessly, we must earn and preserve their total faith and confidence in us. We do this by loving them as they are, as God has entrusted them to us, and by respecting their free will so that they can use it to learn to love Him. We do not do this by teaching them to fear suffering, either by loss (if you don’t do this you can’t have this), physical pain (if you do this I’ll make you suffer for it), humiliation (get out of my sight/don’t come near me, I’m so ashamed of you). In other words we must make them know and feel that they are loved by us and by God, before we ask them love us or Him.

Why does coercion feel like a lack of love? Man was created to love. The drive to love is in the will--in other words, deep down in his soul he knows that in order to be happy he must learn to love. Love is the desire to share in the joys and the suffering of the beloved, expecting nothing out of it, but to give everything, as Christ gave everything in His Passion and Death. In order to desire suffering we must overcome our own self-love, which is repulsed by suffering. We overcome our own self-love with the love of God (which we learn first from the example of our parents). This is in the will and cannot be forced. When we coerce others we trigger in them the God-given defense of their free will, or "counterwill", inflaming their fear of suffering, which is the consequence of a failure to love freely--we chain them to their self-love. This is the very thing they have to overcome in order to love God. It's as if we keep pushing them down, backwards, instead of lifting them up with the love of God—-with selfless love that expects nothing in return. (God does not expect us to love Him back. He desires for us to love Him back because we must in order to be happy, and He desires our eternal happiness because He loves us. But he does not expect us to love Him back as in, “If you do not love me I will not love you,” for we know that He continues to love even the souls in Hell, who are there because they love no one, not even themselves.) Fear of suffering, i.e. servile fear, is an obstacle to the love of God. Fear of being unable to love is the root of all man's passions. The inability to love results in eternal suffering. Coercion is an assault on man's will, by which he loves. Coercion is an assault on man's eternal happiness. Coercion is not love, because it teaches one to make choices according to the consequences he will have to suffer, rather than helping him to overcome his own self-love and fear of suffering in order to love God. We cannot help someone overcome his fear of suffering by forcing him to suffer. We cannot help someone love by forcing them to love. Love must be free and force destroys love. We may try to coerce a person--his actions, but we can never coerce his will. We can only direct his will to God, by love, or to himself, by fear. We have been putting the cart before the horse.

We Christians who love God for love of ourselves will find it very hard to love our neighbors, whose faults and sinfulness is a stumbling block to our loving them. You see, we know that in order to love God we have to love our neighbor, and since we love God for what we hope to gain by loving Him, our goals are frustrated when our neighbor makes himself so difficult to love. This is why we desire and endeavor with a fierce determination to change him. It is in order to make him more lovable to us, so that we can love him without having to suffer. We make him suffer so that we don’t have to. This is not love of our neighbor for love of God, but for love of ourselves, plain and simple. Sure, it is loving to desire that all men love God, just as God desires that we love Him, but even God does not force us to love Him. God does not desire that we suffer, but He allows that we suffer in order that we learn from the natural consequences of our actions (which He has ordained from all eternity) just as the mother, though she could blow out the flame or move the child, allows him to touch it in order to learn that fire hurts. When she comforts him afterwards he not only learns that fire hurts, but that mother comforts. He learns that in suffering there is love and joy in his mother’s arms. Imagine what he would learn if mother slapped his hand and said, “You naughty boy, I told you not to touch fire! You deserve your pain!” God’s natural order is brought to bear on us without our forcing it. “Vengeance is Mine, saith the Lord.” And to us Christ says, “Love one another as I have loved you,”—unto death on the Cross. Our children will learn from their own mistakes, opportunities which God has prepared especially for them, and they will learn what God knows they need to learn in that particular moment. They are only ours to love and teach by word and example, respectfully, as we also learn best. They are equal to us in dignity. They will learn to love us as we have loved them. They will learn to love God as they have learned of His love through our example. We must stop fooling ourselves for love of ourselves. It isn’t good for us.

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Catholic Attachment Parenting

A philosophy of parenting modeled after the self-donative love exemplified in the relationship between Mary and Jesus.

1 Jn 4:18

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love."

Luke 1:17

" turn the hearts of the parents toward their children..."