Longing for Love-Filled Families
- Carol Kuykendall MOPS International
- 2005 4 Oct
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.:
• Big love adds up in little ways: When I asked our children how they knew they were loved, their answers were about little everyday things: “Taking care of me when I was sick….Being on time when you picked me up at school…Driving me to the store for cookie dough.”
• Love isn’t always easy and doesn’t always feel good. We’re always making individual sacrifices for the good of the group. Family-style love is an everyday choice about learning to love each other, and we’ll be home-schooled in these lessons every single day for the rest of our lives.
• Love takes time. Family time together demands both quality and quantity. It’s kind of like eating. We know that eating matters. Sometimes we zoom through fast food; sometimes we prepare, sit and savor a meal for hours. Both happen, and both add up to eating, which matters!
• Family rules shape love: Family rules give children a sense of security. And a model of confidence. “I’m thankful you had the confidence to be firm with us,” my daughter Lindsay said. “I didn’t always appreciate it, but now I recognize that you loved us enough to know that pleasing us was not always the most important thing.”
• Our imperfect love is good: Though we love each other more than words can describe (at least most of the time), we still love imperfectly. Yet as our children learn to live with our admitted imperfections—knowing we are still committed to loving each other as well as we can—they learn to live with the reality of other imperfect relationships in the world around them.
Adapted from Five-Star Families by Carol Kuykendall (Revell, ISBN: 0-8007-3059-3).
Carol Kuykendall is the director of strategic projects at MOPS International (Mothers of Preschoolers). She is the author of four books and the co-author of five more, including Real Moms, What Every Mom Needs, What Every Child Needs, Children Change a Marriage, and Make Room for Daddy. A popular seminar and retreat speaker, Kuykendall also writes for Guideposts and Daily Guideposts, and her articles have appeared in Reader's Digest and Parents magazine. She has been a guest on the Focus on the Family and Family Life Today radio broadcasts. Carol and her husband, Lynn, are now proud grandparents and live in Boulder, Colo.