One of my grandchildren, Jack, is four years old, and there are few things more delightful than his arrival at our house for a visit. He runs across the kitchen floor and flings himself into the air, four limbs splayed as far apart as he can get them, with no doubt that I'll catch him and hold him.
And then we play. A lot. I push him on a tire suspended from high in a tree. We explore the creek and the woods. We throw rocks. We hammer nails. We splash in puddles.
Jack thoroughly enjoys our time together, but I can't remember the last time he said, "Wow, Grandpa, thanks for making this path through the woods," or "you must have spent a lot of time digging postholes, installing supports, shoveling mud in the rain, and hauling gravel to make this great ramp up the side of the dike to the lake, so we could ride our tricycles and motorized cars there."
In other words, Jack is not big in the gratitude department. He doesn't understand the effort that goes into suspending a chain for a tire swing from a branch more than thirty feet high. And there's nothing wrong with this. At this point it's not his job to be understanding and grateful. He's a kid. It's his job to feel loved and gradually to learn to be more responsible and loving.
I suppose that's one reason I especially enjoy loving grandchildren. When I'm with them, there's no confusion about trading Imitation Love. I give because I want to, knowing that I'll get nothing in return. Sure, I enjoy their smiles and giggles, but those responses don't make me feel more important or valued; I'm just happy for them.
Notice that the title of this blog is about learning to love with a child, not from a child. They don't teach us to love, just give us the opportunities to practice loving. I am not saying that children have no ability to love unconditionally. I am saying, however, that their ability is quite limited. By virtue of their weakness and dependence upon adults–especially their parents–they simply need us too much to have much concern for our happiness that is unconditional.
We need children and other people who can't reward us for our love and service. These people give us invaluable opportunities to practice loving unconditionally. I'm grateful for them.
Want to learn more?
Learn how to love with your children.