Feeling Loved - The Key to Effective Parenting
by Steven R. Hemler
Parenthood is likely to be the most enjoyable, challenging, and rewarding role we may ever have in life. Many consider parenthood their most important vocation, since in no other vocation is another human being so totally dependent upon us. Our children are precious gifts from God. However, they are not really "ours." Rather, they are a special "loan" from God, entrusted into our care and nurturing until they grow up and go away to live their own lives as God intends. Parenthood is a commission by God to love, nurture and guide our children into faith, moral maturity, responsibility, and independence. Fostering in our children a deep Christian faith and commitment, and helping them feel loved, are two major goals we have as parents.
One of our main challenges as parents is to help our children discover and develop their God-given gifts and potential, as well as to help them seek to use these gifts in accordance with God's Will. Helping them love and accept themselves, as special children of God, is one of the most important things we can do to help them love others and develop a life of Christian service.
Each and every person is precious in God's sight. Each child has been created with the strengths, and weaknesses that God intends for them to have. And, if our children (even with their weaknesses) are OK with God, then they sure should be OK with us. And, we should not hesitate to let them know this.
I believe the most important task that parents have is to try our best to make sure our children feel our deep and unconditional love for each of them. It's not enough for us to know that we love our children. They must feel it. They have to be certain, deep down in their innermost being, of our unconditional love and support. Through all their ups and downs, joys and disappointments, and good and bad choices in life, our children need to know that they do not have to earn our love, nor can they ever lose it. Of course, we should not approve of or encourage bad behavior. However, we can guide our children along right paths without withholding our love or making it conditional upon their behavior.
There are many ways my wife and I have tried to help our children feel loved and accepted. Of course, hugging and other affectionate physical contact is important, especially when they are young. Also, taking our children and their world seriously, by focused attention and empathetic listening to their life stories and concerns, is vital.
Spending lots of time together is essential. When our three children were babies, we tried to spend as much time as possible rocking them and playing with them. As they grew, taking walks, cuddling, wrestling, reading together, and playing became wonderful shared experiences. I'm convinced God makes young children ticklish as a route to bonding and shared affection! In the summer, we liked to play in a nearby creek and in the winter in the snow. Supporting our children in their many activities (sports, scouts, riding, school events, music, theater, etc.) by active involvement or attendance is imperative. For example, coaching their sports teams can be very rewarding and a lot of fun.
We also tried to go on a "date," just parent and child, once a month or so. This time alone with each child is very special. We usually went on our "date" after church on Sunday for brunch and a movie, etc. Even now that our children are grown, we still try to spend as much "focused time" with each one as we can.
Of course, raising children is often very difficult. Their innate "rough edges" (i.e., selfishness) need to be molded. That's part of our job as parents. Trying to make sure our children feel loved is essential not only when they are young, but even during the often difficult years of adolescence. In my over twenty years of youth-related ministry, I've been amazed at how many teenagers do not feel like their parents love them. This is often the "root cause" of many young people getting into trouble. For children of any age, negative attention is often better than no attention.
Sometimes, hugs and focused attention are the answer during the hard times. Sometimes "tough love" is what's needed. The art of parenting is knowing the difference and doing what is appropriate. This is best done by trusting in God's guidance through frequent prayer and discernment, while also seeking the support of our spouse and other Christian parents. Having a supportive social network is important in parenting.
What makes parenting so difficult is that we really don't know how well we've done until after it's too late (when our children are grown). As parents, we often fail. I sure have. Nobody is perfect, especially parents. However, we should always remember that children who feel loved by their parents are much more likely to turn out to be responsible and giving adults, as well as happier.
By relying on God's grace we should try to give our children the most precious gift we can - making sure they each feel loved unconditionally. We really should do no less, especially since unconditional love is the same precious gift that God, our Father, gives to each of us.
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Copyright © Steve Hemler. Steve Hemler has been involved in youth ministry, pro-life political activism and religious education. His articles have been published in America, Liguorian, Church, Modern Liturgy, Religion Teacher's Journal, Liturgical Catechesis, and National Review.