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When I was in college psychology classes studying child
development, the women’s movement was in full swing. Many
women wanted to be freed from the cultural assumption that
it was their job to raise the children. Much was being written
about whether men could or would do a good job nurturing very
young children. Much was also being written about what was
driving women to want to pursue careers outside the realm of
homemaking and child-rearing. The 1970s and ‘80s were a time
of culture wars between women who wanted no children at all,
those who wanted to combine motherhood with other careers,
and women who held motherhood and homemaking as their
sacred calling.
That was the climate in which I began to think intentionally
about love, asking myself “what kind of love do children really
need?” By the time I finished graduate school and started
practicing as a psychotherapist, I had married and was the mother
of two small boys. What I had learned about love by growing
up surrounded by it, and then studying what the experts said
was now guiding me in my home and in my work with clients.
I was crystallizing a framework for understanding what I had
been learning. I no longer focused exclusively on what children
need from their parents. I could see more and more clearly that
the same types of issues and challenges come around repeatedly
throughout life and while the style of delivery must change as
Carol J. Sherman, PhD
we get older, the need for love to be concretely expressed in a
variety of ways does not disappear. It doesn’t even fade, really,
even though many people teach themselves to pretend otherwise.
Throughout life, human beings need two very different kinds
of love. We need to be accepted and cared for just as we are, often
called “unconditional love.” And we also need to be encouraged,
helped, and even prodded to grow and change. Initially, I saw
these as maternal and paternal approaches to parenting, but a
wise mentor gently but firmly showed me that women and men
are capable of both ways of loving even though one way may
come more readily than the other, leading them to lean toward
one more than the other. She helped me see that naming these
two categories for their primary characteristics would be far
more helpful in the larger picture, allowing men and women to
acknowledge their default mode and become more conscious
of times their loved one would be better served if they “leaned
the other direction.” “Nurture Love” and “Challenge Love” have
therefore become the names I use for these two encompassing
categories of love, each manifested by certain types of actions
that directly affect the loved one.
When I began teaching a college class on love in 2008, I
introduced students to my framework for what love looks like
in action. In particular, I had them recall specific instances of
receiving the various kinds of love and identify how those had
fostered in them any of the core ego strengths identified more
than half a century ago by psychologist Erik Erikson. Time and
again, their papers have shown how Nurture Love and Challenge
Love in action foster the ego strengths that create a more
resilient self—a core of personal identity that feels authentic and
integrated—in the loved one.
If you or someone you know missed out on the basics about
love for whatever reason, I think you’ll find this book helpful..

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