How far can love stretch? Is there a breaking point at which, no matter how hard you try, you will never have enough time, energy, attention, and patience to share with everyone who needs it?
This question has challenged me every time we have added a new child to our growing family. I remember lying awake one night when I was pregnant with our first. I wondered if I would still love my husband the same when our baby arrived. I felt like I might forget him (and forget “us”) once I became consumed by the needs of a newborn. I also wondered if I would love my baby, who was still more of an idea than a reality, even as she kicked my ribs and tossed and turned in my belly.
I was so worried that I couldn’t love them both the same amount and how I wanted to. I worried that at least one of them, and probably both, would feel the absence of my love and attention.
Then our first was born. Having my husband with me during labor and our first sleepless nights in the hospital made me realize that I wasn’t going to forget about loving him. As I watched him grow into his role as a responsible, proud father, there were so many more reasons to love him. As for my daughter, the cliché that you never knew how much you could love someone until you had a child didn’t feel so cliché anymore. Hormones took over, and I cried with the thought that at only two days old, she was already getting “so big.” I realized I didn’t have to worry about whether or not I loved her. I absolutely did. I could spend days just watching her little chest move up and down with each breath while she slept.
Two years later, and pregnant with our second, the same fears began to creep in. How could I not give all my attention to my oldest, with whom I had shared every day of the past two years? Would she be ok? How could I give the new baby the same kind of love and attention I gave our first when I now have a toddler demanding so much of my time and attention?
One day while I was waddling behind my oldest in the yard, my neighbor came over and told me, “You know what’s so amazing about a second child? You worry that your love will be divided in half, but instead, it multiplies by two.” I clung to that idea as my due date neared.
By the time our second arrived home, I saw what she meant by love multiplying. Our new baby had not only the love of his mom and dad but the love of a doting big sister who couldn’t get close enough to her new baby brother. The love was instantly mutual; it was our daughter that our son’s eyes scanned the room for whenever he was awake, and she was the one who got his first sideways smiles.
I realized that I was putting way too much pressure on myself and my capacity to love. Yes, our children needed and relied on my love as their mother. But they also had a wealth of love from their father, their grandparents, and each other.
All the love didn’t have to come from me. There was more than enough to go around.
Since then, a third child has joined our family, and though my attention was divided yet again, I knew that my love would not be. I felt like the scene from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” when the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes in one day. I watched how quickly our third was absorbed into our family as if she had always been there. Life with three has more messes, more fights, and more activities, but it also has more fun, laughter, and adventure.
Now, we await our fourth. When worries start to creep in, I remind myself of the lessons I’ve learned:
1. All the love doesn’t have to come from me. Our children are blessed that they have so many people to love them – including the ways siblings watch out for and love one another. A big family means there’s lots to go around.
2. Everyone receives love in different ways. If you haven’t read The Five Love Languages, I highly recommend it! It is meaningful to use each child’s unique love language rather than trying to treat everyone the same. My oldest loves quality time, our son thrives on words of affirmation, and the baby thrives with physical touch. What love languages do your kids speak?
3. Use the time you already have to connect. If you feel disconnected, it doesn’t take much to touch base with your children. Car rides are great for talking. Including your children in chores opens opportunities to talk and to tell them how helpful they are. You can turn up the music and dance with your kids (be sure to include lots of silly moves, hugs, and kisses). Lying with them at night also lets you listen to their thoughts and stories before bed. You don’t need a ton of time or a special reason to touch base. Just try to do it in little ways throughout your day.