The Greatest Love of All

Continuing my mission of providing gratuitous advice to younger parents, I was recently inspired by the song “The Greatest Love of All,” written by Linda Creed and Michael Masser, and most famously recorded by Whitney Houston.

It’s an amazingly complex song, with valuable lessons throughout.

I believe the children are our future
Teach them well
And let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty
They possess inside
Give them a sense of pride
To make it easier
Let the children’s laughter
Remind us how we used to be

Do you need any other information to raise your kids? I don’t think so. Letting them lead the way is a challenge, but necessary if they are to develop confidence and a sense of their own identity. One of the most interesting things about parenting is watching your kids’ personalities begin to emerge. They become interested in different things that shape them forever. My older son is obsessed with the movie “Back to the Future.” He was born in 1981; the movie came out in 1985. I don’t think I took him to see it in the theater, so he probably saw it on TV a few years later, but certainly before the age of 10. And here we are, 22 years later, with BTTF still such a big deal to him that he took my 1-year-old grandson to watch it being shown on the Hamden Green this past summer, like a rite of passage.

Everybody’s searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone
Who fulfilled my needs
A lonely place to be
And so I learned to depend on me

This is my favorite verse. I have had mentors and there are some people I admired, but I can’t say I have had a hero or a role model. It IS a lonely place to be, but on the other hand, it’s freeing to be able to make your own way in the world. I am not sure how I came to be this way – probably the DNA of some ancient Russian relative who stood up to the Bolsheviks – but I always found a way to follow my own path. I was able to get a fine education, visit Europe numerous times and have enriching cultural experiences without help from my parents and without having any discernible funds. It never crossed my mind that I shouldn’t be able to do whatever I wanted to do. It is only lately that I have begun to face that there are limits, most of them having to do with the reality of what my body can’t do.

I decided long ago
Never to walk in anyone’s shadow
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I lived as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity

Another great lesson for our kids. HONESTY was a big thing in our family. I told my kids that if they always told the truth, they wouldn’t get into trouble with me. There may be some consequences to the particular behavior, but the honesty was the most important thing. Looking back, I think this created a safety zone for them. Don’t misunderstand – I think they “feared” me, in the sense that they didn’t want to do something that would disappoint me. But I think knowing that being honest was kind of a “Get Out of Jail Free” card allowed them to be open with me. I can count on the fingers of one hand things I found out after the fact that would have upset me (most of them having to do with substances). I also told them there were certain things they SHOULDN’T tell me! My older son asked me when he was in 6th grade, “Mom, can I curse?” Oy! I don’t need to know everything! Just go have fun, but stay safe and don’t do anything stupid and DON’T get arrested.

Having dignity is a harder concept to understand and to teach. My older son always had an unassailable sense of who he was, and refused to deviate in order to fit in with the popular crowd (even when I begged him, in a misguided attempt to help him make friends). I think that is a good definition of dignity. My younger son struggled more with wanting to be liked by everyone, so it took him a while to define what mattered to him and what was unacceptable. He wasn’t a great judge of character – not because he didn’t know right from wrong, but because he was very forgiving of other people’s evil deeds. It was so hard to watch him go through the process of forging a personal creed, but ultimately he seems to have gotten there.

Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all

The first time I heard this verse, I thought it was religious – that God was “the greatest love of all.” That was a turn-off for me. It took a lot of listening for me to realize what the words were really saying, and this is now my main message to the younger moms and dads out there.

However, it is NOT easy to achieve.  It is so freaking hard to learn to love yourself, because it requires a series of enormous efforts:

• to learn who you really are and what matters to you;

• to have the courage to stand up for what you believe;

• to gain the strength to jettison those who would stand in your way;

• to accept and forgive yourself for mistakes and for imperfections.

The last one is the hardest. Perhaps that is why it really is the greatest love of all – because it’s so difficult. But even though it’s still an ongoing process for me, I can tell you it’s worth it. Learning to love yourself makes you and everyone around you so much happier!



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