Since so much depends on love for abiding happiness in marriage, it stands to reason that a comprehensive understanding of what real love is takes on paramount importance.
There is nothing so misunderstood and no word so abused as the word “love”. Little boys and girls “love” candy; women “love” mink coats; trees in every village and in every lane have “love” carved in their bark, and fences on every back street proclaim that A.B. “loves” C.D., while recapped Romeos whisper it gently and its magic is supposed to make liberties righteous.
Ignorance of the development of love, as well as the multitudinous forms love takes, makes for the misunderstanding of it.
A great many people imagine that all children are born with an innate love for their parents and their immediate family; that, later, puppy love develops; and finally that they will quite naturally go through the process of dating, courting, and then marry.
Would that it were quite so simple!
Under the most favorable conditions everyone’s love life develops through five stages.
The first stage comes in infancy when, as Dr. Vladimir G. Eliasberg, a psychology professor at Rutgers University, says, we begin by being narcissistic–that is, lovers of ourselves.
Next comes our love for our Parents–then a love for our playmates–then a crush on a companion of the same sex (for example, a girl’s crush on her teacher)–finally, as teen-agers, we show the usual interest in the opposite sex, with thoughts of finding a life mate and marriage.
During any one or all of these stages, external forces may hinder or help the growth of love. Let us examine some of these hindrances or helps in detail.
For instance, in the first stage of narcissism, a child in the normal home learns to depend upon its parents and finds it easy to transfer some of its love from itself to its parents.
In those homes, on the other hand, where the child is definitely not wanted and lacks love, that child is a cheated individual and because he is not loved he refuses to love in return.
In order to acquire a fine personality, a child must feel himself a worthy and wanted member of the family. A child needs to feel secure. Without security he is cheated, and a cheated child is a future delinquent.
Parents who really love one another and who are considerate of one another and avoid harshness naturally provide the best background for the child’s security.
The shrewish, nagging, domineering mother will stunt the growth of a child’s life.
The proud, arrogant, sawdust-Caesar-like father, who rules his home with dictatorial edicts, will set a pattern for his child’s later love life.
Knowingly or unknowingly, we become like those with whom we live and associate.
Another extremely important matter in the growing love life of a child is the proper attitude toward sex. The vast majority of children will grow up, choose a mate, and find in marriage the fulfillment of a real vocation.
How successful this venture will be will depend upon a sensible sex education in the home.
Growing up in a home where there are condemnation and embarrassed looks when the child asks the normal questions about sex and questions concerning life’s beginnings, as if it were something terribly unclean and sinful, tends to make of it a personality problem.
Curiosity is merely whetted by such mid-Victorian attitudes and the child will seek information elsewhere.
Parents actually warp a child’s sex life by their attitude of evasion or embarrassment when sex is mentioned.
It suffices to say here that the best Catholic authorities assert that parents should avoid the extremes of prudishness on one hand and vulgarity of detail on the other.
Pope Pius XI, in the Encyclical letter “On Christian Education of Youth,” pointed out the duty of parents to instruct their sons and daughters in sex matters when they are requested to do so by their offspring.
Sex questions should then be answered directly and reverently.
The way in which parents handle this problem may affect their children and their children’s children for generations.
Still another way the love life of a child or teen-ager may be permanently affected is that by which a selfish mother or father resents sharing the child’s affection with friends and playmates.
A mother who emotionally ties a child to her apron strings does that individual a great injury. Obstacles placed in the way of a child’s development in normal friendships can later turn out to be a real booby trap.
Parents should endeavor to develop in their children, from early years, a wide range of friendships with other children of both sexes.
The mother who boasts that she is her “son’s best girl” and who is eternally berating all girls as flirts, and who, to her daughter, pictures all men as “wolves,” does her offspring a disservice.
The teen-ager’s normal adjustment may be impaired or irreparably damaged by such conduct.
Let us now consider some of the different manifestations of love.
There is, as we all know, such a thing as a deep love of country; there is the love in friendship such as that which existed between Jonathan and David and between Our Lord and Saint John; there is filial love such as exists between a child and its parents; there is romantic love such as exists between two lovers; and nuptial love–that which exists between a man and his wife.
Common sense tells us that in each of the above cited examples, the love is different.
For instance, the simpler love in friendship is more or less restricted in external expression, for while there is genuine esteem and deep regard, we do not kiss or fondle all our friends.
Again, the love that exists between members of the family, while much more demonstrative, has definite natural limits.
A mother will have as deep and abiding a love for her child as she has for her husband, but the difference lies in the fact that her love for her husband is flavored by sexual attraction.
The romantic lovers will love their parents, brothers, and sisters, but the love between themselves is the sexually flavored variety. And sexual attraction is a normal, natural, healthy desire, created by God Himself, without which few men and women would desire to marry and have children. Frankly, without sex attraction the human race would soon die out.
A deep understanding of the different kinds of love will keep parents from making the mistake of resenting the romantic love of sons and daughters. The new love will not extinguish filial love, it will strengthen it.
“Our words do more than just make our children feel good. Our words can make them feel like somebody who can accomplish great dreams or like a nobody who is destined to be a loser.”
“Affirming words from Moms and Dads are like light switches. Speak a word of affirmation at the right moment in a child’s life, and it’s like lighting up a whole roomful of possibilities.” – The Power of a Woman’s Words