When Judy and I began having children, we were convinced with each one that they were going to be the most loving person in the world. It didn’t take very long with each one to realize, like parents learn about every child, that they were actually quite selfish.
Each child that comes into this world is born completely dependent on others to make living possible, which naturally contributes to their selfish tendencies. It doesn’t take long for them to begin to think the world revolves around them. Looking back on my own childhood, that includes me as well. Parents exist to grant a child’s every wish. Siblings exist for a variety of selfish reasons: to take out their frustration on, to compete with them and win, or to get even with each other for the way they were treated growing up.
Most parents truly love and cherish their children. They sacrificially give to and for their children without the slightest expectation of anything in return. And slowly something can begin to happen in their children.
A parent can go way out of their way to just bring a smile to their child’s face, only to get that smile with an attitude of, “You just did what parents are supposed to do.” No “thank you” or anything of the sort. But if the parents keep showing love, one day they may notice their child handing one of their stuffed animals to a sibling or friend as an act of sacrificial love.
Then at some point a child may actually give their parent a Valentine or a birthday present (that someone else actually paid for, of course) and with a proud face hand it to Mom or Dad. Often they will expect the parent to make big a big deal over their gift, since that selfishness is still lurking beneath the gift giving.
At some later point, they may learn the words, “Thank you” and “I love you.” They may even eventually say those words with some heart behind them, actually meaning them. It seems that by the time children grow into their early teens, they are finally learning a little bit about how much a parent has actually sacrificially loved them, but at this point they are often too shy to acknowledge it out loud. For later teens the shyness may turn into being too “big” to say such words. Some will. Some won’t.
Love is designed to be an acquired way of living, and as children grow and become adults, and start having their own children, some realities start to dawn on them. I can remember one of our adult sons asking me many questions over the phone, including, “Dad, how did you afford those soccer cleats for us each season?” As a parent, he was getting a better picture and clearer perspective that had eluded him in childhood.
Recently, our oldest son drove 11 hours to come and see us, and his grandmother who was in the hospital and then in hospice. I told him how much I appreciated it. I told him how much I loved him and how proud I was of him for the man he had become. He simply said, “Well Nana always loved us so well, always moved with us when we moved. It’s the least I could do.” He didn’t say a bunch of mushy stuff, but his actions were actions of love.
The next weekend, our other son and his whole family came to visit their Nana as well. They loved her and us by just taking the time and putting out the effort to show up. Our daughter also flew out from Little Rock, Arkansas to visit Nana and us. She took a lot of time and spent a lot of money because she loves her grandmother and her parents.
I love each of our children for who they are. I’d give my life for any of them. Love tends to grow where love is shown, and one of the best things in life is seeing our children growing in sacrificial love for their spouses, for their children, for each other, and even for Nana, Judy and me. And I’m extra grateful for their effort in coming to see their Nana one last time before she went to be with Jesus.