What do you see when your child walks in a room? In my three, I see all kinds of things: I see bright eyes, ideas so impossible to contain that they’re on the brink of bursting out in a loud voice. I see freckles and their expressions, so much like their father’s. I see care and concern, questions and answers. Sometimes I also see wild hair, shirts buttoned incorrectly, chocolate at the corners of mouths. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
What does your child see when they walk in that room?
I was confronted with this question in the most unexpected place: The Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah was interviewing author Toni Morrison, and this moment smacked me right in the forehead:
I’ve never forgotten it. The longing of every human is to be truly seen, but are we communicating how we really feel when someone we love walks into a room? Like Toni, I’ve been guilty of the assessing; the motherly urge to straighten and adjust and smooth. Sure, I know that I’m absolutely thrilled to see them come through that door…but do they?
It can take a little flexing, to break the habit of the immediate scan. Of course we are happy to see them, but as the keepers of everything, we are prone to checking on first sight for what needs keeping.
But…can it wait? Can our eyes meet theirs first? Can we make sure our body language communicates what we assume they already know — that they are wildly loved and widely welcomed? I wonder how many times I’ve missed an opportunity for a talk, for a connection by scanning rather than seeing…or worse, not even looking up (something I’m extra guilty of when writing, if I’m not careful). For a child, knowing can’t compare to feeling, especially when it comes to relationships. Think back to your own childhood and you’ll find the truth in it; is “knowing” the same as feeling? Have you ever been around someone whose love you could just feel radiating out of them? On the flip side, have you felt the sinking feeling of being in the presence of someone who says all the right things, but you can’t feel an ounce of warmth?
When it comes to loving and delighting in our people, knowing doesn’t hold a candle to feeling.
Life is short, and although some days it sure doesn’t feel like it, the biggest part of raising our babies is just a fraction of it. It flies. My oldest was just learning to walk, and somehow we only have 170 weeks left with him until he graduates (thanks, evil and wonderful Parent Cue app). I don’t have time to leave any room for doubt — as much as I adore him, see him, and believe in him is exactly as much as he needs to leave the nest feeling and believing it himself.
We don’t have to love perfectly; that’s impossible. But we can’t leave a bit of that imperfect, river-deep, mountain-wide, undeniable love contained. We’ve got to put it all out there.