Since becoming a parent, I have realized that there is a whole genre of children’s books whose sole purpose is to remind us and our children of how much we love them, such as:
I used to think they were really sweet, but now I am starting to wonder why I read them. There are a lot of books out there that may be more interesting for children, ones with surprises, excitement, and actual story lines. And there have to be books that are more interesting to adults as well (although five years into parenting with a two year old that loves his board books, every one of them is like nails on a chalkboard to me, even Jamberry).
And not only that, many of the books have disturbing themes. “Mama, do you love me?” revolves around a child who exhibits worse and worse behavior including breaking eggs, playing unpleasant practical jokes, and making her mother cry. But none of that matters because her mother loves her. The Amazon.com review calls this a “beautiful and timeless story about a daughter’s attempt to find the limit of her mother’s love.” And I certainly agree in a vague way with the sentiment of the book. I really love my kids, and I still love them even when they try my patience and drive me crazy. But do I really need a book to harp on that point? I’d love a book that encourages my kids to be pleasant and good-natured, not unruly and mean. Will we some day have a version of this book for adult children that asks, “Mama, what if I shoot up heroin, become a meth addict, steal your credit cards, and beat you up?” to which the mother would reply, “Underneath the smack you would be you, and I would love you.” Probably a true sentiment, but not something I want to yell from the rooftops.
So why do I read books like these? Maybe I feel guilty about all of the times that I’m not world’s most patient and giving parent, so if I read my kids a book like this, at they will know that I aspire to unwavering love. Or I worry that my love or the relationships in my family are lacking in some way, so I read these books as a litany for protection of my family. Or I read books like these simply to give me another reminder to tell my kids how much I love them, rather than getting swept away in the often tedious task of taking care of them.
Just so you don’t think this genre is a new phenomena, there are older favorites with similar themes, such as
The Giving Tree in particular is a rather disturbing tale whether you take it as an allegory about our relationship to the natural world or about the relationships of mothers and sons. But it still resonates with many of us (and was a big childhood favorite of mine), just as the other books do. We still feel and even thrill at that tug on the heartstrings that expresses the bittersweet experience of loving a child past all reasonable boundaries. There is a reason, after all, that we received four different copies of “Mama, Do You Love Me?” during our kids’ baby years.
So what do you think? Are these books wonderfully sweet or do they represent something we should strive to avoid as parents? Or perhaps a bit of both?