“How do you know when you are in love, I mean in love for real?” my daughter asked when she was about 13 years old. I have never forgotten the question nor my answer.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, what better time to discuss?
Over the years in my practice (and through my own kids’ growing years,) the questions of how children learn about love and relationships and what it’s all about have come up many times in many ways. Nothing is new. Parents have been teaching kids this part of the life journey forever. It’s part of normal child raising. Whether they want to or not, parents teach these lessons. And they will be deeply embedded forever, ones that will affect the children’s future, especially their love relationships.
The one thing I know for sure is that children’s ideas about love and relationships are first sparked amidst the home fires.
Life lessons happen in so many ways. But the most powerful lessons come from what the child lives, observes, and absorbs on a daily basis. The business of daily life in the home environment creates a template the child will keep for the rest of her life. Yes, this also applies to lessons about respecting, caring for, and loving another person.
I always start my parenting seminar called The Birds and the Bees with this question: “In what room of the house do you think your children learn about sex?” No, it’s not the bathroom or the bedroom. Not even a good guess. It’s the kitchen. Why? Life happens in the kitchen. I mean, real life. And that’s the same room in which children grow their ideas and learning about love and marriage and partnering and relationships.
It is in the kitchen that the kids see Mom greet Dad after a day of work; they giggle (or groan) when he plants a Marilyn Monroe kiss on her mouth; they see when Mom gives Dad a hug or even a love smack on the tush. They hear the caring questions about how he is feeling, how was his day. They also notice when Dad enters and tosses a drive-by “Hey.” with no authentic affection or even genuine interest at all.
Children learn how parents treat one another, how they care for one another, how they feel about one another just from living in your home.
A client recently lamented that he is not outwardly affectionate with his wife and never has been. He admitted that he is just like his father whom he never saw embrace his mother, ever. “I really don’t like that about me,” he shared. He added that he wants his daughter to choose a life partner who loves and adores her, who respects and cares for her. Will that happen, I wondered?
It is true that parents don’t have much choice in the partners their adult children choose. But we do have a strong hand in shaping what they want for themselves and in teaching them not only how to treat a love and life partner but also how they deserve to be treated.
So, I said to my daughter, “You know you really love someone, when his feelings and needs are just as important as yours.”