One of the most important things we can teach our children, perhaps the most important thing, is how to be loved and loving. We can't protect them from the many difficulties, even tragedies, of life. But we can teach them how to surround themselves with support and love. People who are loved have people around them to celebrate the good times, to share life's triumphs, and to manage the rough spots. People who have solid relationships are seldom lonely and seldom lost -- no matter how challenging or painful their life's course. People who are loved have a security deep inside that makes it possible to take risks and to accept defeats. People who are loved during life die satisfied.
As basic and important as love is, it certainly isn't simple. I know it doesn't sound very romantic, but love is a skill as well as an emotion. It's something we do as well as something we feel. Love has to be reciprocal and active if it is to last. People who don't know how to do love -- to both give and receive it -- often lose it.
The only exceptions to this rule are "mother-love" and "God-love"; Mom and God each cut us far more slack than anyone else ever will (and often far more than we deserve). As soon as we reach beyond Mom and God, however, love becomes very complicated.
Why? Because with everyone else there is an eternal tension between the "I" and the "We." I want what I want when I want it. But I also want to be close to others -- who want what they want when they want it. How an individual negotiates that tension between "I-ness" and "we-ness" determines how loved or alone he or she will be. How she or he manages that tension with a particular loved one determines the depth and breadth of their relationship.
The key to bridging the "I" and the "We" is sharing. Whether we are two years old, 15, or an adult, sharing is tough. Sharing requires a certain degree of selflessness. Sharing requires caring enough about the relationship to put it ahead of personal desires and needs. Learning and practicing sharing is a lifetime effort that, when done well, leads to a lifetime of love.
Effective Parents Teach Their Children About Love
So, given all this theory, what's a good parent to do to teach a child about how to love? Here are some ways that effective parents help their children learn and practice the skill and art of loving.
Love and Be Loved
The secret to being loved, if you haven't already guessed, is to be more loving. And Valentine's Day offers the perfect opportunity to demonstrate to those we love exactly how we feel about them.
Valentine's Day -- what a wonderful holiday! For over a thousand years, there has been a day dedicated entirely to love! Whether or not we are in the midst of romance, Valentine's Day gives us all a chance to reflect on the love we have in our lives and to show our appreciation and gratitude for it. Whether we send cards, share chocolates and flowers, help our children address cartoon valentines for classmates and friends, or simply make an extra effort to say "I love you" to those we care about, we are practicing the doing of love. Practice doesn't make love "perfect," but it does make it real, and having real love in our lives is something worth celebrating.
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.Date first published: 2/1/02
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 Aug 2010
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.