I recently had the privilege of spending some time with both my daughters, Laura and Sarah, on a little road trip. The older I get, as my kids venture out blazing their own trails through life, the more I appreciate the time I’m able to spend with them as not just my daughters, but my friends.
As we were driving, while Laura snoozed in the back seat, I had an opportunity to talk with Sarah about some hurt feelings that have been experienced by several of her loved ones. A few months ago Sarah went off to college. She moved into the dormitory and most of us expected her to be busy with school and friends and didn’t really anticipate hearing from her much. I was actually surprised to hear from her more often than I thought I would and I enjoyed her calls asking me for advice about a paper she was writing or something similar. Laura was pleased that she spent quite a bit of time face-timing with her during the semester although she was able to admit that she thought it was probably due to Sarah’s lack of social life in college.
Unfortunately, going to college in a new state during a pandemic was not very fun for Sarah. All but one of her classes was moved to Zoom and campus activities were all shut down so she spent the majority of time alone in her dorm room. Because of this, she decided to stay with her Dad for the next semester while she does her Zoom classes. She wants to be able to spend time with her old friends and have the fun, young-adult social life that she anticipated having as a college student. I can completely understand this and would probably feel the same way in her shoes.
The problem came about, though, when Sarah returned to her Dad’s house. She started getting together with a couple of her friends and spending her time with them. She didn’t answer phone calls or text messages and acted put out to have to take the time to respond to messages from family. I actually reached a point where I told her that I understood she was busy but felt that my messages should at least me able to be answered within a day and if she didn’t feel like she could do that, she would need to look into paying for her own phone plan. When she opened up the topic last week, I appreciated the opportunity to discuss this situation with her face to face. She was telling me that her Dad would say it was ok for her to go be with her best friend instead of being home but then get upset when she was gone. She said something to this effect (imagine this in the voice of a 19 year old girl) “I ask him if we’re doing anything tonight and he says No so then I ask if he minds if I leave and he says he doesn’t mind but then he gets all butthurt”. I had to explain to her that we don’t want to need to tell her to spend time with us. We want her to WANT to spend time with us.
This situation has me thinking about what we really want and need from our relationships with others. A relationship cannot be one sided. If one person is continually giving, while another is taking, resentments are going to develop. If one person is continually pursuing the other, and never feeling their love being reciprocated, eventually they are going to grow weary and decide it’s too much work. This happens within marriages and romantic relationships, friendships, and even among family members.
I don’t believe there is anything in this world that my children could do to make me not love them and I will continue to pursue a parent/adult child friendship with them but there have certainly been other relationships in my life that I have decided were just not worth the work. Human connection is so important to our emotional well-being and I pray for the ability to teach my children how to have healthy relationships with others.
I think we all really need that true connection with others. We need to feel loved and accepted for who we are. We need to know that we can be vulnerable and real with each other and that as much love as we give, we will also receive. From those we care most about, we want to know that our love is reciprocal. We want to feel valued and appreciated. I don’t want to tell you to love me. I want my love for you to be enough to inspire you to return that love to me instinctively.