Query received through our web site ...
We come round to this issue every so often in
our staff meetings. Some co-workers insist that care staff must love kids
because this is what they missed from their own parents. Some of us think
different, that we cannot give the same kind of love which we can only
honestly give to our own children. Some staff say that kids can tell when
people don't really love them and therefore relate only like class teachers.
Do other staff get to talk about this and how do they feel about it?
We are very clear that love is the healing element of our work. There are lots of types of things called love, action in the best interests of all involved (holistic) is a good start as a definition of the sort of love that we work with. We can act lovingly to people who aren't our families and friends. Young people we work with connect well with us and know that it is about respect, caring, knowing inner beauty, etc. Clear boundaries and honesty are essential and so is self examination (of what in us leads us to react and feel how we do in our work) .
The resilience/connectedness models fit well here with people getting a sense of self by connecting to others in a healthy way. We've seen amazing transformations and healing just by making a loving connection with people. Once this is established then all the information and skills training become useful, once people trust that we are being true to ourselves and acting faithfully (even if they don't like some of our rules. etc).
Someone once said something along the lines of "the only meaningful choice is between love and fear" – Gerald Jampolsky, I think.
Is there a concept in the world on which there is less agreement than love? While I don't disagree that the kids we care for need love, without knowing what you have in mind when you use the word, its hard to know what to say about the question you pose.
One thing that comes to mind is that however you
describe or define 'love', there is a lot of territory between love and
relating "like class teachers" (which is another term which I expect brings
to mind a huge range of images for people). If you make this question into a
choice between only two boxes, it really limits the ranges of possibilities
that you might consider.
Love means so many different things to different people and in different cultures... and there are a variety of perspectives on whether or not one "should" love their clients. I have often felt that I loved someone I worked with – especially after an intensive period in a residential environment... but I have never felt that I loved them as much as/in the same way as I would my own children, or even other children in my extended family.
Other staff that I have worked with would never consider using the word love to describe their feelings about a client and some might even say that there were boundary violations in saying one "loves" a child one works with. I don't believe there is a right or wrong to all this – especially if a worker is very very clear about their boundaries and about knowing whose needs are being met in the relationship.
I also think that there are feelings/behaviours more important than specifically expressing love in the healing environment; things like showing respect, genuine affection, being honest, setting reasonable limits, contributing to keeping a safe, clean, nurturing environment for the kids, preparing meals that show care was taken, honouring a child's cultural and racial experience, respecting private time and private space, giving well-timed hugs if it is appropriate in your work environment and you are working with a child that welcomes physical affection, inviting a child to speak their truth, to have a part in planning for their treatment and future, nurturing their spiritual and creative needs... and so much more.
If most of these things are happening – children and adolescents will know they are valued, respected, cared about, taken seriously... some of them will experience that as love; others will know that it is something else – but still thrive because of it.
P.S. any adult can approach their work with and relationships to children in this way – including classroom teachers!
You're right in that the love we offer will not adequately compensate for the parents' love—- but then again, that's not to say that we should not love them. The love that we extend to them is a unique brand – more like agape love. When present, it underlies all of our efforts and is available for the kids to see. It is the difference between dealing with a child from the perspective of "how someone in this role (e.g. teacher) would respond" to the kid and how someone who authentically cares for the child.
I worked in a Social Adjustment class for 7 years and the most effective way to penetrate the historic behaviour patterns, and conscience, of a child is to step outside the normal realm of expected behaviour. Kids who are misbehaving in schools will often be reacting to the "suit" – the faceless being who is fulfilling the role of teacher. To step outside the normal sphere of expected responses will, at once, gain their attention. To let them know that it really matters to you that they are emotionally and psychologically well (not just compliant) is the beginning of serious penetration through the armoured exterior that they wear.
When leaving this post several years ago I left the teacher with a bit of key advice; (figuratively speaking) "reach in with your hand and grab them by the heart – they'll continue to kick and scream with all of their behaviours and they'll test your commitment to them but don't let go. Keep caring for them. Soon they'll settle down into the realisation that you really do give a dam about them. Then watch them grow."
When they start responding to you as a unique individual, then you've earned the right to be heard and you are given their trust to take them places that they've never been before. You can lead them on a path of self-discovery that is unlike any trip they've been on so far. I've found that when a kid knows that you really care about them, it awards you the position of coach and cheerleader for their growth. You are more than just a "suit".
Kids are more than just their presenting problems. Giving them a fuller complement of ourselves e.g. caring, is both a great self-motivator and is, itself, part of the solution for the kids. They need to know – and feel – the experience of being loved if they are to internalize some self-love and to establish compassion for others. If they've been denied love from their parents then its all the more important that we show them that we care. I feel that if we don't emotionally CARE for the kids we're working with then we've gutted the tern "Child and Youth CARE worker" and we can only offer the kids a shell of ourselves. I've seen workers who were in the field for reasons other than genuine care for the kids (teachers too) and its a sad sight. I've always told myself that if I ever get to that level of work where I deal with the kids without compassion then I'll get a job in a factory and make way for someone who can give what I cannot to the kids.
Well, this is my biased opinion. I hope it helps.
I think "love" is too strong a word to apply to what we do. I believe that it is imperative that we enjoy what we do, respect the children in our care for who they are and who they might become. It is also important to genuinely care about the kids and show this in our dealings with them. It has been my experience that kids respond very well to being treated with respect, honesty, fairness and genuine caring. If they interpret this as love, then so be it.
Replying to "Is Love enuf?" In my mind ... no kidding!!! The kids can see through anything but love. It may sound wishy-washy, but it's the truth. In my experience, the true changes occur when I allow myself to fully love these youth as my sister, brother, daughter, son, etc... they can see that you love them and believe in them... and hence they want to impress you and work hard, meet expectations, and fully be who they were created to become ...
Why do they go the extra mile? Because they can see that
you love them fully and believe in everything that's great within them ...
in all realms: mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I believe
that each child/person is here for a purpose; I look for all their gifts and
strengths and promote it daily. Is it not natural for humans to love other
humans, therefore promoting growth on their path. Of course it is!!
So I dare ya all ... hug them and tell them that you love them. You could make the difference!!
When we use terms like love I wonder whose need we are filling. Love as I understand it is a two way process in which both parties have equal power. In the relationship that we share with children I believe it is important to remember that we hold more information and often have control in the relationship. If we were to observe that kind of love in our personal world I would suggest that we would call it unhealthy.
That said, I think that as I experience the field more and learn from past and current explorers of the field, I need to examine my presence in relationship regularly. I recently read the current Journal of Child and Youth Care where Mark Krueger wrote about presence:
"Presence is conveyed in many ways. By eyes, smiles and nods that are alert and attentive. By listening and an honest expression of the feeling. By enthusiasm for the task at hand. By the underlying message: we can move forward together, you and I. I am confident we can make it. You are safe because I am here and will go with you. I will try to know myself if you will try to know yourself."
This very closely resembles the place that we could call love; however, here we call it presence. This is a better way to speak with a multi-disciplinary team who may be affecting the world of a youth, simply because it is the language of work. In the world of work if I go to a discussion using terms like love and other soft and fuzzy concepts, I believe that we may not be heard by others and therefore are not impress advocates. In the form of an analogy it would be like travelling to a new country and neglecting to be aware of the way the culture works.
For myself I reserve the word love for personal
relationships, but reviewing this subject is important.
This discussion was continued in October 2004