Children learn about God's love for them through their parents' example.
Children seem to have an intuition for feeling the love that unites their parents. They notice it through small details of daily life: conversations, gestures, and acts of love and forgiveness.
Children do much better when their parents know how to solve family problems by practicing love in action. When the values of love are cultivated first of all in the relationship between husband and wife, the child has a clear idea of what it means to love.
To love is to give oneself
Love is a subtle blend of feeling and reason that gives a vital impetus to all family relationships. It’s a mighty river that can carry everything away, so it needs two banks to keep it well contained: intelligence and will.
Love is too often understood only in the sense of desire, and not in the sense of giving and self-giving. To be true, love must be reciprocal between parents and children; otherwise it’s limited to mere imitation of the parents, as children naturally do when they love their parents.
Love can degenerate into “devotion,” as when parents are overly possessive of their children. Conversely, it can slip into an excessive spirit of sacrifice, as is the case of many mothers who no longer have a minute to themselves and who confuse love with letting themselves be consumed. All these deviations need to be transformed into true love that receives in order to give.
Children’s growth in love goes through four stages: self-love when they are small; then preferring the other to themselves, with their first friendships; then mastering their desires and trusting others in adolescence; and finally, moving from the ideal to the real as they approach adulthood, through compassionate love that reaches out to other people.
“When a conflict among themselves stirs up my kids, they cry and scream, and I give them a little time to work it out before trying to find out what’s going on so I can use the situation to teach them a real lesson in tolerance. Everything is grace!” says one mother of a large family who thinks of mercy before justice.
Reflections of divine love
To love one’s children as God loves them, with tender affection, is to reflect divine love through one’s parental love. Is enough said about the grace that passes through the gentle gestures of parents (which does not exclude firmness)? Parents’ actions reveal God to their children more than a thousand words.
By reconciling gift and desire—these two faces of love—the family perfectly embodies the reciprocity of love. Love is both desire and gift: sometimes a gift of desire, and sometimes the desire to give oneself. Desire, which is a natural need in children, must mature into a more supernatural form of love (self-giving) in adolescence. When children receive a successful education in their family—a school for learning love—it leads to growth from a love of mere affection to a love of disinterested and fulfilling self-giving.
Father Michel Martin-Prével