Teaching Character: Love
Thank you Beatles! All you need is LOVE!
This one’s easy. Parents, we do this all the time. Inadvertently. Consistently. Unconditionally. Even when we think are aren’t showing it, love pours out of us. Our children know we love them. We can’t help ourselves.
So, when it comes to modeling behavior, we’ve got this.
But step back a moment and consider how much we talk about love to our children. Yes, they might hear (or overhear) us saying ‘I love you’ but do we consciously use the word love in a way that defines it, describes it, teaches it?
That I’m not so sure about.
Just the other day in the bath, my girls were pretending to answer their phones. They picked up these foam letter bath toys and started talking on them like they were talking to their friends. When my older daughter was done, she said, “loveyoubye” all one word. Then, as older sisters do, she browbeat my younger daughter into saying it.
“No! Not ‘love you! Bye!’ It’s ‘loveyoubye!’” she’d say, as if bye and love were inseparable. As if that explained it.
So back to teaching love, not just giving it.
Quoting Corinthians or Keats or singing the latest Usher song isn’t going to cut it when it comes to kids and love. Now, if you want to talk about sex, turn on the radio. There is plenty to jump start that conversation.
But not love.
Instead of giving some pat suggestions on teaching love, like petting fuzzy bunnies or some such, I think it best to say love is defined by the lover. Or maybe even the lovee. So when you think of love, that’s love. When your child feels love, that’s love.
For me, when I talk about love to my girls, I talk about feeling it in my heart. I talk about caring for, and respecting another person - like their father. See, when I define love, I equate it with care, respect and nurturing, too. Taken in small things, it’s easier to understand.
They see me fussing over dinner - making it with love - so it tastes just so. When I fold clothes, often I’ll sing/hum a little song and take my time smoothing and folding. Our house isn’t exactly clean and neat, but when we do get to cleaning and straightening the house, I try to take it slow and put all the stuffed animals in their places. What I guess I’m talking about really is reverence.
OK, enough of the June Cleaver bit. I don’t want to make your teeth hurt with all this sweet love talk.
Love and Taking Chances
Defining big words like love is best left to the pros: poets, artists, mother nature et al. They’ve got it goin’ on. They’re the experts.
Some day your daughter will discover love, true romantic love, on her own. Your son will swoon and his eyeballs will turn into big red hearts pumping big love. And all the sentiment about love will come alive for them and they’ll know. They’ll just know. And you, as their first love, will be crushed.
I know I will.
Because one of the biggest components of love is vulnerability. Love - and not just in a romantic way - leaves you open to being hurt. Devastated even. That’s scary. How do we, as parents, approach defining something utterly wonderful without mentioning the inevitable pain involved? Or do we?
Maybe we don’t. Maybe we do.
Molding Your Child
Personally, I consider the undertaking of teaching character to my children as a way of molding (as much as a parent can) the whole being. Or, better yet, seeing the entire person inside of a block of marble and helping her chip her way out from the inside. Complete. Whole. Positive and negative. Love and pain.
Now, I’m not throwing this at you in a morbid, ‘oh all that is good is crap’ sort of way. And I’m not suggesting for a minute that you introduce pain to your kids as a teaching tool. Not really.
Yet I do think it’s important to not shield little minds. Adorable ladybugs get squashed when held too tight. Stuffed lovies get lost. Grandparents die. Shit happens. But we pick ourselves up and we trudge on. We put ourselves out there. That’s love. That’s all you need.
And that brings me to my next character trait: hope.
photo credit: gustaffo89