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Loving your enemies when your enemies are your kids


If you assume parenting is supposed to be easy, then you won’t be prepared for what is being asked of you.

Every mother has her own last-straw stories. My most recent one involves a newborn, a toddler, and more paint than I thought a kid could dump out in the short amount of time he was alone. I did what I tend to do when I’m overtired and overextended — lectured, yelled, sent him to his room, felt horribly guilty, and spent the rest of the day on lots of one-on-one time to make up for it.

Later that evening, we’d both calmed down, and I was reading my my son books in bed under my big, fluffy comforter. Then a phrase came into my mind that startled me: ”Love your enemies …”

Even when he’s being impossible, I’d never dream of calling my son my enemy. Can you really apply that awful word to your own innocent child, whom you love more than anything? Well, kind of. Actually, I found that seeing my own son included in that command was just what I needed to pull myself together and step up my motherhood act.

I love my son. He’s certainly not my enemy. I’m glad and grateful to devote these next decades of my life to raising him and loving him. But I think it’s fair to say that he often stands in opposition to my time, my job, my sleep, my peace of mind, and lots more. It’s not his fault, but he can legitimately function as an “enemy” to those things.

The minute I found myself using this word, I felt hugely, surprisingly, relieved. It reminded me that although I love the kid, loving him actively and intentionally, can be pretty difficult. We tend to think of our love for our children as a given, something that obviously exists no matter what. And it’s true that we love them no matter what, but our actions don’t necessarily reflect that. But those other people in our life, our peers? We don’t take it for granted that we automatically love them. We might be more vigilant in remembering just how much effort and determination and selflessness it takes to love somebody who’s your enemy in the traditional sense, somebody who might actually hate and persecute you.

Applying that all-important commandment of loving your enemies to even your own children is enough to shake me way out of my ordinary complacency. It reminds me that love always requires self-giving, and that it’s never easy. It reminds me not to fall back on relying on my own natural love for them, but instead, to focus more on that active, daily choice, to let love guide my words and actions. It reminds me of how badly I need grace to live out my vocation.

Just acknowledging that acting with love towards your own children can be quite as difficult as loving a person who actually persecutes you can remind you that if it’s hard, that’s all the more reason not to give up. If you assume it’s supposed to be easy (because what mother doesn’t love her children?), then you won’t be prepared for the heroic sacrifice that is being asked of you.

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