That feeling called ‘love’

The love and respect with which parents treat each other has an implication on children too. This article explains more.

By Akshaya Ganesh

That feeling called ‘love’

Picture this: You’ve had an exhausting day at work and all you want is some sleep. You walk into your house and find your little child waiting to meet you. He starts sharing his day’s experience as you start cooking for a ‘relaxing’ evening supper and your spouse walks in. He’s had a rough day too, and he cannot stop complaining. He takes it all out at the dinner table and goes to sleep.

Now, picture this: You’ve had an exhausting day at work and all you want is some sleep. You walk into your house and find your little child waiting to meet you. He starts sharing his day’s experience as you start cooking for a ‘relaxing’ evening supper and your spouse walks in. He’s had a rough day too, but he gives you a smile, freshens up and compliments you for the food you’ve cooked.

Which situation do you think your child would prefer? In fact, which one would you prefer?

Our perception of love is sometimes defined by our family. For children, their first interaction with the outside world is through their parents. So, doesn’t parents’ display of love among themselves and the family serve as the base for the child’s understanding of the concept of love? It sure does.

Recently, someone posted a query on Quora asking people what it felt like to be raised by parents who loved each other, and the responses were beautiful. Most people, now adults, said that it inspired them and made them believe in love. Laura Brenton, an avid user of Quora, went on to state that being raised by parents who truly love each other makes you realise, from a very young age, what a true relationship can be like.

Micro-moments of love

But, how do you define love?

Aparna Balasundaram, a parenting expert, who is also the co-founder and Chief Service Officer of The Lighthouse Organisation, says, “Love is forgiving, love is kind, love is not jealous. Love is not a word that you use, but your actions. You need to express and show that you love someone, not just say ‘I love you’.”

The magic of the three words and the little moments can actually rub off positively on the entire family. Arundhati Swamy, former president of Chennai Counsellor’s Foundation, stresses on the significance of ‘Micro Moments’, a concept introduced by Professor Barbara Fredrickson, a social psychologist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Says Arundhati, “People experience love when they experience little moments of connection. These little moments of connection is what we call micro moments.”

As far as a child is concerned, these micro moments of love and connection become important during the teenage years. During that time, when your child is going through several hormonal, physical and psychological changes, it is essential for him to know about the power of love and happiness. Says Aparna, “Remember to label your actions – when you hug someone or appreciate someone, your child begins to associate those actions with love.”

At this stage, it is also important to talk to your child about the changes he’s going through, especially his attraction towards the opposite sex. When it comes to display of affection, parents should try not to overdo it as it is very easy for teens to get embarrassed.

You should also be conscious of how you portray your relationship to your children. How often have you said ‘I love you’ to your spouse? Or, how often have you sat together and exchanged smiles? Also, ask yourself how often you have fought with your spouse. If your fights are more frequent than your micro moments of love, then your conflict wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by your child. Children can also sense any kind of discord in the family. Take my little nephew, for example - he is just two, but he can easily feel any tension brewing at home.

Those ‘little’ fights

Arguments are common in any relationship. At times, even a small argument can escalate into a big fight. And, where there is a fight, there cannot be special moments. Says Arundhati, “It is but obvious that if there are more problems in the household, there are fewer chances of experiencing these moments of connections.”

Lisa Firestone, clinical psychologist, in her article titled, ‘How your relationship impacts your kids’, in Psychology Today, explains how children are constantly paying attention to their parents’ interaction with each other. She says that though it may seem like children aren’t noticing because they are playing, they still pick up on the smallest of things. She goes on to state that children’s anxiety and perpetual worry increases when they sense something is wrong between their parents. They also tend to numb these emotions with behaviours as overeating or playing video games excessively.

The power of positivity and love 

Yes, your internal conflicts will definitely affect your children, but just experiencing positive emotions can do anyone a whole world of good. Try and remember how just a smile on your friend’s face made you feel nice, or how that a squeak your child let out when you got back home in the evening made you jump with joy. That’s the power of positivity. Like many other emotions, love is a positive one. It cannot be taught or explained. It is a feeling that is meant to be experienced.

Aparna says, “The way Mom and Dad respond to each other serves as the biggest base for the child to understand and perceive love.” Hence, while you are busy tending to your children, don’t forget to connect with your spouse too.

Not many people realise that micro moments can be experienced in small things like holding hands, a small hug, or just exchanging smiles, explains Arundhati. So why be a miser when it comes to showering love? Open your heart and shower love on your spouse and family. Like Ursula K Le Guin, the famous author, once said in her book, The Lathe of Heaven, “Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”

Our perception of love is sometimes defined by our family. For children, their first interaction with the outside world is through their parents. So, doesn’t parents’ display of love among themselves and the family serve as the base for the child’s understanding of the concept of love? It sure does.

Children see love as a volatile emotion

In a study titled, ‘When Do Children Understand Love as a Persisting Emotion?’, Sherri C Widen and James A Russell of Boston College try to understand how children perceive love.

As a part of the study, the researchers explained various scenarios to 111 children aged three and four, and 16 university-aged adults, about a boy called Jamie who loves his parents. The children were presented with nine stories where Jamie is made to feel happy, angry or neutral by his parents or neighbour.

What the study managed to find was that adults believed that Jamie loved his parents even if they made him feel angry or neutral. However, most of the little pre-schoolers thought that Jamie loved his parents less when they made him feel angry. This made it easy to understand how young children look at love as a volatile emotion that changes depending on how the parent makes them feel.

So, the next time you fight between yourselves, or yell at your child, keep in mind that your child’s perception of love is dependent on your behaviour.