It probably goes without saying that the love of parents is essential to a child’s well-being. God has made children to need parental love, and He’s built into parents the ability give this love. Yet family life gets complicated. Parents are often busy, scattered and tired, and many of us feel guilt about how well we are raising our kids. Am I giving my kids the love they need? we ask ourselves.
“Children spell love T-I-M-E,” the saying goes. So true, yet often so challenging. Our frenzied, active lifestyles conflict with the time our kids really need to sense our love.
Related Content: Take our free 7 Traits of Effective Parenting Assessment to see where you rank in the area of love.
Throughout my years of working with families, I’ve learned that authentic parental love is never a guarantee. What’s more, many guilt-stricken parents may misinterpret the kind of love their kids need, trying to make up for lost time by not enforcing boundaries and appropriate expectations.
The good news is that authentic parental love is a skill that we can learn. It starts with understanding the clear benefits our children receive when they live in a home where “love” is truly spelled “T-I-M-E”:
Love is a physical need for children. When our kids receive and learn to give love, they won’t be as thirsty for love from people outside the family. The authentic love of parents helps children develop an identity as a beloved child of God, one who has the capacity and responsibility to share that love with others.
Research from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, has demonstrated that a mother’s love helps her child’s brain grow—as much as twice the rate as that of a neglected child. Preschoolers who received love and nurturing from their moms were found to have more growth in the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in learning, memory and response to stress. This early growth can have a significant effect on their development later in childhood. “It’s vital that kids receive support and nurturing during those early years,” said lead author Dr. Joan Luby.
The children I have counseled over the years tend to become more self-confident when they feel a genuine and unconditional love from their parents. These children learn to enjoy the moments and experiences of life instead of being worried about what their future holds. Being hyper-focused on the future can create a paralyzing stress. But family environments where love is frequently demonstrated—where family members authentically enjoy doing life together—prepare children to boldly face all the questions the future may bring.
Strength to face adversity
Kids from loving homes tend to better learn to be adaptable. The love of parents gives kids the roots needed to develop resilience and perspective for facing life’s difficulties. Kids are better able to learn perseverance, self-control and patience when they receive authentic, encouraging and supportive words from their parents.
A sense of security and an ability to handle boundaries
True parental love means helping children appreciate limits and boundaries. And this pays off in our kids’ lives. Kids don’t like boundaries—they actually love them. They enforce them on the playground, they feel safe and secure when they have them, and they feel loved when they remember these moments with parents. Yes, a child’s emotions do get in the way of his liking his parents’ boundaries. His often selfish desire for immediate gratification prevents him from seeing clearly. But even if they won’t admit it, children thrive in a home with loving, clearly defined boundaries.
God’s model of love is authentic and perfect. It is patient, kind, gentle, sacrificial and eternal. God’s love motivated Him to send Jesus to save us. And His love fuels the Christian parent’s love. God loves us no matter what, strengthening us to do the same toward our children.
Parental love can be transforming for you and your child. But it is an endeavor that can always use improvement and refinement. A parent’s love is full of mistakes and mishaps, but it is the essential glue to our imperfect and messy family relationships.