You Can't Spoil a Kid With Love

Last week, I wrote about a few parenting “cheats”, promising to expand a little in the following weeks. I want to start with probably the most important thing I have learned in my limited experience rearing some children. You can’t spoil a child with love.

I believe fundamentally that as human beings we are born with a few needs and many wants. We need water and food to survive, that much is obvious. We also need love. We are born with a need to feel connected to those around us.

Within that need for love there are categories of need. The easiest way for me to separate true love for your kids and what can just be “coddling” is to think about whether what I’m fulfilling is truly a “want” or a “need”.

We need to be able to feel safe when we are afraid. We don’t want our children to be afraid.

We need to be able to calm down from a fit of anger. We don’t want our children to get angry.

We need empathy and positive emotion to combat our deepest sadness. Of course, we never want our children to be sad.

We need to share joy and fun and play with people we care about.

The more emotional resources a child has, the better they will deal with the inevitable adversity in life. You cannot prevent them from feeling bad, but you can help them to cope with bad feelings.

I often feel a little bit of jealousy for Olivia. She is excited to spend time with Kate and I, almost painfully so. I can confidently say she feels secure in her relationship to both of us. If you ask her who her family is, she can rattle off a long list of aunts and uncles and grandparents that she feels confident love her too.

She hasn’t had the easiest go of it. She lost her grandmother (my mother), the grandparent she had seen more than any other, when she was three years old. She asks about her “farmor” once every few weeks. Last week she turned to me and said:

“I really wish farmor could come back”.

She’s moved across the world, but has proven to be a resilient kid. The most dramatic change that came to her life within the last six months was the arrival of her baby brother.

Again, I had been forewarned that this would bring tumult. And it has, but only a little. 99% of the time, Olivia is thrilled to have a new person in the family. She has even started agitating for another sibling (not going to happen).

She tells her little brother that she loves him, and kisses him goodbye when she goes to school and before he goes to sleep. She might be the best person in the whole family at turning a baby cry into a smile.

As I said, I had heard many times of kids rejecting their new sibling. Honestly, in most of the stories, I don’t blame the kids (or the mom). Overwhelmingly kids were born into families where fathers excused themselves from the emotional and physical work of parenting. Newborn babies are incredibly demanding on newborn mothers in both regards.

No wonder older siblings can often feel dramatically bad about a new arrival. In many cases they have lost their only emotional resource! My mind spins when I think about the amount of world suffering we could mitigate if fathers just broke the cycle and stepped in to truly parent.

It doesn’t matter if no one showed us. Fathers can, and should, provide that need.