Longing for Love-Filled Families
- Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Do you want a love-filled family?
We are all love-hungry people who want to be part of a family who cares for each other, shows up for each other, sticks up for each other. To show our love, we do corny things, like circle up for family hugs. We create our own “I-love-you” sign language with hand squeezes or pinky finger touches. We play the “How much do you love me?” game.
We’re all born with a God-given hole of longing in our hearts, and we spend our lives looking for the kind of love that fills that emptiness within us. I have a simplified picture of how this works in our families.
Experts tell us that babies are born with no internal source of love. They arrive in this world totally dependent upon an external source of love to meet their needs for security (am I safe?) and significance (do I matter?). That’s why a mother’s tender touch is so critically important in the first few months of an infant’s life.
As a mother cares for her child, she pours her love into her baby’s heart. Sometimes spoonful by teensy teaspoonful (like early on a sleep-deprived morning, when she is nursing the baby while trying to put cereal in bowls for her two older, more demanding preschoolers). Other times she pours her love in by the bucketsful (like on a quiet afternoon while she cuddles with her baby on the couch, uninterrupted). Regardless, these experiences of love begin to fill the baby’s heart with loving memories, from which her child will draw strength for the rest of his or her life. Confidence to form loving relationships with others. Comfort when feeling lonely, afraid, or disappointed. This reservoir of memories also connects a child to the people who will offer continuing resources of love in a lifetime.
I confess that when our kids were young, descriptions like that made me cringe because I worried about all those times I wasn’t so loving. Or patient or consistent. But I’m older now, and so are our kids, and this is what I know for sure about family-style love. Families are resilient. And kids respond more to patterns of love than individual incidents.
Sometimes we pour our love in. Other times, in what I called my “bad mommy moments,” a little leaks out of the reservoir. Those are the times when we’re impatient or too busy to listen or we break a promise or just plain lose it with a child. But at the end of a week or month or year, there’s still plenty left in their reservoirs for them to draw upon and know that they are loved. The principle is this: more love goes in than leaks out.
We can take heart knowing that through our everyday gestures and routines we are filling our children up with experiences of love that will nurture and sustain them and remind them of what matters most in life. And even if they start growing in a different direction, as teenagers often do for a time, that reservoir remains. It is a permanent part of who they are, and it continues to hold the memories of love deposited there when they were young. It readily offers up the resources of strength and comfort when they choose to draw from it again.
We all want love-filled families because love meets our greatest needs. And when we reach the end of our lives, we won’t care about what we’ve accomplished; we’ll care about how well we’ve loved and been loved by those closest to us.
Family-style love comes from the overflow of love poured into each individual’s heart. It connects and holds a family together – no matter what. After some thirty years of on-the-job training, this is what I’ve learned about Family-style love.:
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