My teenage son recently brought up the topic of love in regard to love for one’s children. I’m not sure if he was just trying to cause a ‘discussion’ – he has recently started finding pleasure in debating controversial topics with us, or if he genuinely believed what he was saying. He put forward that people have more than one child because the fist child is not enough for them and they are not satisfied with that child.
The phrase from the husband in Sister Wives, corny though it may be, “Love should be multiplied, not divided” immediately sprang to my mind. Instinctively, or maybe also culturally, we know we can love more than one child (although we may have preferences, which is a topic for another day) but rarely would the birth of a subsequent child mean you would reject the first.
I have come across the comparison of sibling jealousy and polygamy in at least two books on childcare. In one, Your Baby and Child, polygamy is looked at in distinctly negative light and therefore used to justify why a child would feel so jealous when a new baby arrives. The other, How to Talk So Kids will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, looked at how to work through the jealousy issue in the way a man in polygamy might talk to his first wife (and shows that older children getting over this kind of jealousy is expected, and the justifying of their jealousy cannot practically, nor culturally, be sustained.) The lessons learnt here are interesting and I’ll insha Allah bring these up in more detail when I look at the husband’s role in making life easier for the first wife.
But back to the topic. Love has always been difficult to define and pin down and it was actually this issue, that love is not something tangible that can be ‘proven’ that started the conversation with my son. The terms romantic and platonic love show it is not so simple. Even love of ‘things’ such as chocolate, travelling, and books show that by loving more than one of these items, our original love for item number one is not reduced. If I love going to Paris, it does not stop me loving visiting Prague. Dare I say the atheist Richard Dawkins does not seem to oppose polygamy as he looks at love of more than one partner in this way. But as I discussed in my post on culture, romantic love -love for one’s life partner – is restricted culturally to one.
Loving conditionally and unconditionally
Can true love be conditional? The first example that springs to mind is the love we have for our children or parents – platonic love – which as a child I called ‘family love’. Romantic love can be fallen in and out of and therefore can end – it is more conditional. Of course even with blood relatives, there are lines that are crossed which would cancel that love connection such as abuse, but even the most heinous of crimes appear to be forgivable by some.
Changing our view of Love
So when I come across the crime of adultery or polygamy in Western culture, this brings a conflict of how I should feel or behave according the societally-produced lines that have been crossed. Many women would be filing for divorce after their husband has had a one time fling or even been in any kind of romantic contact with another woman, let alone married someone else and started a family with them. Their lines are different; love can’t be multiplied in this case -it has been divided and therefore reduced – often to zero in these sort of situations. Coming to accept polygamy means changing the positions of these lines. Change is never easy and we need to acknowledge this and give plenty of time to adapt to a different way a of thinking, and accept that the old patterns may resurface. Teaching old dogs new tricks is not always easy, for want of a better term. Changing our view on love is usually necessary for any progress in the acceptance process of polygamy.
Who really deserves our love?
Yes, we love our husbands and our families and friends. Sometimes it is all too easy to get caught up in our love for our mate – it’s again part of the culture, often part of feeling ‘whole’ to have that loving connection with our partners. But it’s useful to rip off the heart shaped sunglasses that we view our lives through and remember who our focus should be, who loves us more than any family member or husband. Allah (SWT) shares His Love with trillions of souls, yet we feel special as we place our foreheads on the prayer mat, and hear the whispers of du’a that pass our lips. Many times when I’ve felt low and this strain on my love for my husband, I have asked Allah (SWT) to make me whole, to fill the space in my heart that I sense forming when jealousy, and other feelings, are overwhelming me – to make me realize what really matters in the grand scheme of things.
I’m not dismissing the hurt we feel when we have to share our husband by accepting polygamy. Many of us may have been through it when we had a new brother or sister as a child, but we usually overcame that. I hope and pray if this situation is current for you, that this post gives some hope that any difficult emotions you are having right now will not be be long-term, that you will come through this stronger and with a greater love for your husband and most importantly, for the One who created Love itself.