A reflection for July 25, 2023 by Mary Lou Edgar.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment and the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
—Mark 12: 29-31
Each of us has been well-schooled in the two great commandments: love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself. However, if you are like me, you might be able to recite the commandments by rote, but was there true understanding of what was being said?
One of the first parenting classes I took years ago was taught by Dr. Foster Cline, a psychiatrist who worked primarily in Evergreen, Colorado with parents of children with emotional challenges.
He had developed a curriculum called “Love and Logic.” At times he was sarcastic, other times he was funny. He would make statements such as “People should be able to raise children to behave as well as their dogs. I mean I visit a family and see their well-behaved dogs and ask myself, what happened to those kids.”
He also had strong spiritual beliefs and did not apologize for them. Dr. Cline believed that we should all live by the two great commandments. But he also had a belief that if we all loved our neighbors as ourselves, the world would be in bad shape. He did not believe that most of us loved ourselves or took care of ourselves.
Dr. Cline believed that taking care of yourself meant having a strong relationship with our Creator. He then believed that his family was central to his life. Although he had a very busy practice plus teaching throughout the country, he always knew what was essential for children — caring, supportive parents who took care of themselves and modeled that for their children.
He believed children learned from parents who modeled positive choices together with consequences of their own mistakes. So, if parents modeled taking care of themselves and that made them more available to their kids, it was a good way to teach children. In the beginning I was quite skeptical, but I tried it, I loved it, and I taught it for many years.
One thing I learned was that I had to take care of me. That was difficult. I am always available to say yes to anyone who needs me.
Many times, I have overextended. I need time each day for prayer, for eating, and for sleeping. When I wasn’t getting those things, I was incredibly unpleasant. I was not modeling to my children what a good mom does.
Many times, parents abdicate control of their family and feel too tired to get a shower. Sometimes, doing everything for your kids leaves nothing for you. Many of us are doing what we feel we should be doing when in reality, we are afraid to say no.
I had two friends that I carpooled with when my kids were young and if there was a problem and someone couldn’t drive, we would argue about which one of us could pick up an extra turn. I finally labeled that “The Good Will Olympics” and withdrew without a medal. I decided I could take better care of myself, learning something new or doing something I enjoyed.
Two important things happened to me because of these experiences.
One, I was taking care of me, and I realized it made me value my family and friends more. Because of my positive attitude, I saw God in more people and was able to smile at them rather than resent doing one more thing.
Second, it cleared up more time for me to pray in a quiet space or read something that was inspiring. And I had time to think about it.
One of my children thought Dr. Cline was a “ninny” who ruined our lives. Change is difficult; however, I will always be grateful to Foster Cline for helping me love myself, love my family, and to really enter a relationship with God.
Parenting is the toughest job any of us do. For me, it is impossible to do it well without God’s help.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Lou Edgar, MSS, is a clinical social worker who founded A Better Chance for Our Children, an adoption and foster care agency that works to find permanent homes for children in the foster care system. Mary Lou was the Executive Director of ABCFOC, but she is now retired. She graduated from Neumann University and Bryn Mawr School of Social Work and Social Research. She and her husband joined SsAM in 2021.