Is Love Enough ?

Why are we tentative when we talk about love relationships between children and adults in professional child care and education? What frightens us? It is as if we demonise both childhood and parenting adulthood. May we as adults say that we love another person’s child? Can such a love be healthy? Do children and young people in care need love? If so, whose love? These are the questions which delegates at the goodenoughcaring conference

“Love is enough : sincerity and professionalism in the care and education of children and young people”

will be addressing on Saturday, 4 October 2008 at the Maria Assumpta Centre, 23 Kensington Square, London.

Bruno Bettelheim famously entitled one of his most influential books Love Is Not Enough. He argued that the kind of care troubled youngsters should be given differs in quality from the love given by parents to their own children. Certainly in recent times there seems to have been a consensus that, when it comes to looking after other people’s children, love is not enough.

Yet a recent and in my view important edition of Children Webmag, a group of articles seemed to initiate a challenge to Bettelheim’s axiom. Simultaneously the editorial group of the goodenoughcaring Journal witnessed a trend in the articles submitted to the Journal which seemed to ask the question, “If we believe that all children need love, shouldn’t love have a place in the professional care of children and young people”?

The difficulty for us is that we seem at best resistant and at worst fearful of the word love. It is not sufficiently professional or scientific for us. It doesn’t tick boxes. In the throes of our professional and personal terror of failing to protect children, we have allowed ourselves to forget that there is a boundary between the acting out of aggression and sexual desire and the more mature love of parenting figures for their children.

Our fears and anxieties have prevented us from establishing healthily concerned and loving relationships with the children we look after. We struggle to free ourselves from the shackles of a professional defensiveness which ironically has its source in procedures primarily developed to protect children. Have we become fearful of loving children and behaving in the warm and intimate ways which are concomitant with good parenting? Has our rigid adherence to professional procedure engendered a subtle but increasing tendency which de-personalises our relationships with the children we look after? As professional carers should we be aware enough to discern, without a total surrender to the forces of procedure, the sexually and aggressively driven behaviour of abusive adults – however plausibly and subtly exercised – from the mature love that good enough parenting figures have for children?

Perhaps too we are resistant to the notion of love in our work because it speaks of duty, of commitment and of intensity of concern. It speaks of ‘stickability’ ‘through thick and thin’ and of cherishing another in the face of the greatest of difficulties. Some of us struggle with these elements in our own personal relationships, but if in our professional roles we return to the question “Do the children we look after need all these things from us?” we know the right answer and it represents a huge professional challenge. If we cannot give this kind of love, whatever we put in its place in our relationships with children may not be enough. If we do give it, this will inevitably mean risking giving up more of ourselves.

Perhaps we need to think of love as having a wider meaning than Bettelheim felt able to own at the time he wrote Love Is Not Enough . This will be the focus of the conference. We hope that you will join us in the discussion. Further details about the conference and how to book a place can found at or by e-mailing [email protected] . is a real and online community. It is not commercial or profit-making and it exists in harmony with all individuals and groups who are interested in the good care, education and nurture of children and young people.

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