There is a phrase parents sometimes use. When I hear it, I feel a small, uneasy twinge in the pit of my stomach. The phrase is floating around out there, so I’m sure you’ve heard it too. You may even have used it before. (Respectful comments welcome below.)
One particular memory I have of this phrase is in an email I received from an upset reader. Years ago, I wrote a humor column for a local parenting publication. In one of my articles I discussed the joys of other people’s babies. Namely that you can cuddle them and smell them and give them back to their parents when they need their diapers changed. So a reader wrote to inform me that perhaps, if I hated children so much, I shouldn’t even be a mother. She didn’t know what was wrong with me, but she adored her children.
There’s the phrase: “I adore my children.” I heard it again a few days ago from an author who was being interviewed on NPR.
I could tell you that the phrase makes me cringe because I worry about what kind of adults these adored children will turn into. Selfish? Irresponsible? Oblivious?
The truth, though, is that the phrase makes me cringe because I do not adore my children. And every time I hear another parent use that phrase I wonder what is wrong with my parenting. Why don’t I adore my children? Is it because my older two kids are adopted? Is it because my son is special needs? Is it because some “mom” part inside of me is broken?
Don’t get me wrong. I find my children adorable at times. (Not so much at other times.) I love my children. I take good care of my children. I often enjoy my children. But ever since I opened the door to see the case worker holding on to two little strangers who were about to become my children, ever since the first wave of pregnancy nausea, my relationship with my children has been much too complicated for me to claim that I adore them.
It’s not the first dictionary definition of adore that I have a problem with: “to regard with utmost esteem, love, and respect;”it’s all the overtones of the second definition: “to worship.”1 Maybe when other parents use the word “adore,” they mean the first definition. I’m pretty sure that’s what the author on NPR was getting at.
Maybe it’s because I’m a pastor that my mind automatically goes to the second definition. When someone says, “I adore my children,” I hear “worship.” I imagine that the parents take in every little thing their children do with awe and joy. I imagine that, in the eyes if these parents, their children can do no wrong. I imagine parents setting aside the entirety of their own selves and lives to serve the whims of their children. That’s not the kind of parent I am.
And so I will not say that I adore my children. I will work on loving and respecting them more deeply each day.
And when someone in our family needs a good dose of adoration—as we all do from time to time– I’ll give them a treat for the dog. There’s nothing quite like that tilted head and those big brown eyes gazing up at you for making you feel adored.