To Love and To Be Loved
by Michael Childers
As a parent, there are many things I want to teach my children. I lose sleep over them. I ponder how I can teach and re-teach this ever growing list. The number of things I want to teach my children is easily too large to be contained in this article. But when I boil it all down, I feel that there are two things that I want to teach which far outweigh all of the others: the ability to love and to be loved.
All of the other things have their place as well, and I certainly do not forsake them for these two exceptional lessons. But being able to both give and receive love rank as the top on my list. The item that comes in second, a choice that seems to fluctuate with my mood of the day, falls well short of these preferred ideas. It isn't even a close race.
So I am now, and have been for some time, dealing with the problematic question of how. How do I teach my children to love and to be loved? The options to this question is the focus of this writing, along with the media's take on what love is.
I'll start with the popular media, mostly because I recently watched a movie that proposed to explain what love is, actually. In this movie, the title of which can be found hidden within the words of this article, several scenarios of various types of love are explored. But I believe the movie makers, assuming their claim was well intentioned, got it wrong. Each of the scenarios depicted, save one, was of what I would call "new love." By new love, I mean the early romance and energetic passion felt in what many have called the honeymoon period.
Only one scenario depicted "old love," the love shared by a man and woman who have been through it all over the course of a lengthy relationship. And even this scenario fell short, in my humble opinion, because it depicted a mature marriage on the rocks as the husband, apparently going through some stereotypic midlife crisis, wooed a younger woman with jewelry.
So, what is this movie teaching our children about love? And don't fall into the trap of thinking that movies don't teach us anything but only entertain us. Maybe this is the case for adults wise enough to see through the smoke and mirrors of Hollywood. But to young eyes, too naïve to understand the gulf between Hollywood and reality, movies indeed teach our children.
And this movie was making the point that romance defines love. But after perusing divorce rates (an increase of 700% from 1970 to 1996, according to the Americans for Divorce Reform), we need to teach our children about "old love." I am begging Hollywood, please show us touching movies about adults growing old together in marriage! From where I'm sitting, I cannot think of a single movie highlighting old love. Of course, as an involved (and married!) father, I take it upon myself to teach my children. But society teaches, as well. This is a fact I cannot deny.
Hopefully the model of my old and growing love for their mother will be enough to teach my children about the value and substance of old love. Because the romance shown to them in advertisements, television shows and movies are only trumpeting the value of romance; aka, new love. But new love is notoriously brittle, cracking under the constant strain life's stresses. And what happens to that new love when children are brought into the picture?
It is my opinion that new love, if not maturing into old love, will break more times than not. Let us take it upon ourselves to espouse the value and fulfillment that one enjoys having spent their entire life with one partner in matrimony. True, sometimes I don't exactly like my wife. And I am sure that she isn't all that fond of me from time to time. But working through those moments, being able to look back at the growth of a relationship, and experiencing the lasting loyalty and deep happiness from a long and meaningful marriage is much more gratifying then the momentary euphoria of a passionate romance. This brings me full circle, back to my original point. I want, more than any other thing, to teach my children to love and be loved.
Without these necessary skills, moving past a simple romance is doubtful.
Children need to know that they are worthy of being loved. As a father, it is my duty, and likely my most important charge, to teach this to my children. Of course, I tell my children that I love them daily. But that isn't enough. My actions must follow my vocalization. I hug them at every available opportunity. I stop what I am doing, if at all possible, and give them my time and attention when they ask. I tell them repeatedly that I cannot think of a better way of spending my time than with them. I don't know if all of my efforts will amount to much, so I am vigilant at recognizing opportunities to teach them that they are deserving of being loved. If, when my children are 30 years old, they understand that they deserve to be loved, then I have done half of my job.
The other half rests in their ability to express their love. Love which remains hidden is useless. What good becomes a man who loves his wife yet cannot effectively communicate his feelings? It isn't difficult to imagine a doomed relationship. I believe the same applies to my children. As stated above, I am eager to express my love for them.
But I constantly encourage my children to express their love. I make them hug every relative and thank them for their gifts, their time, etc. I tell them how special it makes others feel to show be able to experience their love. Again, too little effort? Time will tell.
These two concepts I hold near to my heart. If I am to be a good father, which implies being a good husband, then I am to show my love for both my children and their mother. While I am not convinced that is enough, I am certain that my children will miss the message without my efforts. You've probably already done it many times today, but take a moment to love your kids right now. As my daughter read to me from a book recently, "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift, and that's why they call it the present."
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