What is the Most Important Love?
Most often, the first love we ever experience is from our parents and close family.
What we learn from this early love forms the foundation for the love relationship we will have with our self, our friends, romantic partners, and new family as we grow through life. Because of this, you could say that family love is the most important love of all.
Family love is different from any other love experience. Family love is unconditional and begins with deep acceptance and celebration of each family member for who they are, as they are. Being a part of something bigger (a family) while also being your “true self” is belonging. In her extensive research, Brené Brown, renowned professor and author, has found belonging to be an innate desire that most people are worried about and trying to achieve. Having a sense of belonging is important and crucial to our life satisfaction, happiness, mental and physical health and even longevity. It gives us a sense of purpose and meaning. Healthy family love fosters this sense of belonging.
Family love is built and nurtured. So how do you do this?
- If you are a new parent, lay the foundation early! Babies enter the world with their sights set on love. They seek joyful, interactive engagement with their parents as eagerly as they seek to quench thirst or hunger. When parents are responsive, playful, and tender, babies learn that they are loved. As babies grow into children, they continue to seek love from moms and dads, and it is vital that we continue to respond.
- Create a family “creed” or agreement together. Let all family members contribute ideas for family ground rules (ie., in this family we speak with respect, we give each other the benefit of the doubt, we have permission to make mistakes, etc.). Hang the family creed in a place where everyone in the family can see it. You may even borrow this great quote from Brené Brown: “BE HERE. BE YOU. BELONG.”
- Have family dinners together as often as possible. Many families find this to be challenging when considering work, school, and after school activities, so begin with a schedule that feels manageable to you. Maybe begin with a commitment to eat together 4 evenings a week. Whatever you decide on, really commit to it. Research shows that having family dinner together at least 4 times a week has positive effects on child development. And your commitment to this shared time will show your children that they are important to you, and that they are loved!
- Smile often! Children are sensitive to nonverbal cues, and your warm smile and bright eyes tell them they are loved. Toni Morrison, beloved American novelist, asked parents “does your face light up when your child enters the room?” She encouraged, “Let your face speak what’s in your heart. When they walk in the room my face says I’m glad to see them. It’s just as small as that, you see?”
- Make your home an openhearted place where every member of the family can exhale, relax, and be completely themselves. Where everyone has the latitude to make mistakes and learn from them; to ask for help when they need it; to express their feelings (even the difficult ones); to be listened to and fully heard; to give and receive unconditional love; and to feel a deep sense of belonging.
No matter who you consider your family to be (the one you were born into, the one you created, or even your close friends), healthy family love is characterized by respect, loyalty, affection, and healthy attachment. And it is never too late to find, build and grow it.