I want to share a story from my own life to emphasize this point.
My wonderful mother is an extremely compassionate, caring and loving woman who always puts us kids first.
I was so blessed as a child to be safely nestled in her love and care. She is an extremely devoted and loving caretaker.
She has rarely missed a special moment in my life and even crafted detailed, endearing baby photo scrap books that recorded every interesting or even seemingly mundane detail of our journey together. These old-fashioned scrap books are adorned with chronological photos, cards that were saved from loved ones, handwritten stories and adoring words. Just looking at these scrap books is enough to be certain that the depths of my mom’s love for us was never ending.
She is originally from Greece and certainly lives up to the stereotype that is often said about Greek mothers being very devoted to their kids and family.
She is an excellent cook and often would make us traditional Greek meals. I still recall hearing what was my favorite sound to awake to as a kid—my mom quietly rustling about in the kitchen and the sound of silverware gently clinking. My room was near the kitchen so I would often happily awake to this sound. It filled me with a deep sense of security that I have not known since. My heart swelled with the sense of knowing I was deeply loved and watched out for. Knowing that she was up before the rest of our family and already thinking about our well-being warmed my heart.
I often loved to sit on the kitchen floor next to my ghetto blaster, when I was still quite small, and play my favorite music from that time period, which was often Tina Turner, Paula Abdul, or music from the Jem TV show, while my mama cooked us dinner.
I loved this time we had together, and as I got a little older (though still only probably about five), I was beginning to learn from her and naturally take interest in wanting to help cook with her in little ways. She would always remind us to brush our teeth and make sure we went to bed on time. Now that I am a Nutrition Consultant as an adult, I can even more clearly see the great value that my mom provided us all by making sure we ate well by preparing traditional meals for us.
She demonstrated compassion toward all beings by always escorting bugs out of the house instead of killing them, and she always cared for and nurtured any wounded bird that may have been wounded by a cat or flew into a window.
We were fortunate to live in a lovely wooden home that my father built in North Boulder, Colorado back when it was affordable to live there. Our home was on a large plot of undeveloped land that made it feel almost as though we lived in the country. We planted a garden, my brother and I watched the garter snakes meander through the native plants in the field with great interest, we built snowmen together and loved to play with the neighborhood kids as well.
I became familiar with several wild plants that grew on our property and loved living close to untamed nature. This influence in my early upbringing likely influenced my future interest in studying herbalism and environmentalism.
Although we had a cozy and lovely home, largely thanks to the fact that my father was a talented carpenter, we had very little other material possessions growing up. My parents did not shower us with lots of gifts and luxuries. We certainly got some gifts for special occasions like Christmas and birthdays, but we were never “spoiled,” in that sense of the word.
Instead we were showered with love, affection and attentive care.
With a song in her heart, my mom would happily and willingly do our laundry, keep our home uplifted and clean, and make us wholesome meals. She would always lend us a listening ear and allow us to share any emotions or thoughts that may have come up for us without making us feel like we needed to stifle such things. She certainly was available and present, which resulted in me feeling quite secure. She was resourceful, too, and actually got much of what we needed at thrift stores. We never had very much money and she was skilled at finding ways to make sure we always had what we needed, but never went above and beyond this.
We were not given luxuries, gifts or fancy clothes in place of love and care.
Sadly, my safe, warm and enveloping haven dissolved before I was ready for it to disappear.
When I turned seven, my father decided to divorce my mom and I was catapulted into a very different life. My father immediately began a new romance with a woman he had been seeing prior to my parent’s divorce. He quickly moved in with her, her daughter and her mom.
I was told by members of this new extended family that my mom had been spoiling us. I began to gradually “learn” that I didn’t deserve that kind of love and care. I was told that that was the definition of spoiling, and that things were going to be very different.
I am, finally, gradually unlearning this as an adult.
I deserve love and care and they are not the definition of spoiling. They are instead the definition of nurturing, which we all need and deserve from ourselves and from others. Children, especially, are thirsty for and benefit from the kind of love and care I have described. I always did have a sense that this statement about me being spoiled didn’t seem accurate, but as a kid I couldn’t come up with a skilled counterpoint, and mostly deferred to adults in authority positions.
This is why, when I stumbled upon the above meme, my heart immediately sighed in relief. Sometimes we are fortunate to stumble upon a quote, book or movie that fully understands us. Seeing that quote was one of those moments for me.
I share this story out of hope that others don’t confuse the difference between nurturing and spoiling.
Personally, realizing this limiting belief that I had is an important step in my journey toward loving myself more, offering myself better self-care and accepting more love into my present-day life as well.
As Stephen Chbosky wrote, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”
Additionally, I want to say to my mother that I am truly sorry that I entertained this idea that she spoiled us and began to question her innate mothering tendencies. She was and is still amazing, and deserves more recognition than I can ever fully give back.
She is the embodiment of the painting that she gave me when I was little of Tara, the goddess of compassion. In honor of her, I want to share the mantra that she taught me when I was little (my mama became a Buddhist back in the 80s, in Boulder). It is Tara’s mantra and goes like this:
Om Tare Tuttare Ture Svaha.
If you are so inspired may you also say it, like my mama taught me to, when you wish to bring motherly compassion into a situation or into your heart.
And may we never forget, as Leonard Cohen said in his song Suzanne, that “there are children in the morning. They are leaning out for love and they will lean that way forever.”
In closing, my revised definition of spoiling children is believing that you can fill a child’s heart with gifts, and material possessions as a substitute for love and care. I now prefer to replace what I began to incorrectly believe was spoiling, when I was a kid, with the word nurturing.
When I think of nurturing children, I think of being an attentive, present, adoring caretaker who makes their children’s needs (not necessarily wants) a top priority.
And may these nurturing caretakers remember that whether they are caring for babies, children, animals, loved ones or others that they must not forget to offer themselves and be open to receive the same love and care that they provide for others.
Author: Melina Powers
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: elephant journal