Can Parents Measure Love? Should They?

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The children treated me to a nice evening. Neither of them had any problems to resolve. They did homework, played, and put away their toys while I watched in wonder. I’d even checked their temperature -- just in case; absence of tantrums raises a red flag in my book. But they weren’t sick and so I spread my happy wings and flew down thirty blocks to meet my husband at a concert. Hand-in-hand we smiled widely to acknowledge a date night and sat back in our seats. Leonard Cohen opened with Dance Me to the End of Love.

Though one of my favorite songs in his repertoire, I’ve always found it unsettling. Love shouldn’t end, but if it does, where is that end? And I am not referring to any one love in particular. Rather, the summed total of all of our loves. The complete collection of neurons and heart pumps we have in our arsenal to spend on others. Is there an edge to this sweet and sour paste of happiness and drama?

I ask because adulthood requires us to love so many at once and equally strongly. We go through life adding more and more dear ones to the list. We begin with our parents and siblings and make room for true friends, partners, and children. Some of these latter ones are overwhelming. Just when we realize that loving a child expands our emotional capacity to the brink, another one is on the way. We regroup, we make room. For nine months we struggle as a family to imagine how anyone else can fit into the narrow space between our hearts. But then the curtain lifts, a new character enters the stage and makes us wonder how the show ever went on without him.

Being a mother of two I’m often baffled by the following question: “Do you love one kid more than the other?” I confess that when I had less “loves” under my belt, I’d often posed this question to other moms. Now I know how hard it must have been for them to come up with an answer! Wondering if I can love one more than the other implies that there is a measure by which we can determine the size of love. And if you can measure love then maybe you can reach its end?

Measure Love
Credit: sterlic.

To me, that’s a scary thought. I prefer to think of love as an endless, deep, and internal presence that we feel and express differently, depending on who it’s directed toward. And it doesn’t mean that there is a child or a dear friend that we love less. It means that, for whatever reason, we can only express a portion of our feelings toward them at a given time.

I might be looking ahead too quickly, but there will also be a point when the tables will turn -- our children will become less expressive of their feelings toward us. So be it, as long as we realize that this is not the measure of their love.


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