While St. Valentine’s Day may not be on the Roman calendar of worldwide feasts, this holiday dedicated to love is widely celebrated in popular culture. For parents, St. Valentine’s Day can also serve as a reminder of the central importance of love in the family, and just how important it is to share love daily.
One starting point for family discussions about love can start with Scripture, in 3 Colossians:12-14:
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Parents concerned about how to best model love should start with the knowledge that love is a fundamental underpinning of the Catholic faith, says Katie Dawson, Director of Parish Faith Formation for the Diocese of Orange.
“The reality of our existence proceeds from a generous and creative act of love on the part of our Creator. Out of the immensity of his love came the gift of life, and the gift of eternal life,” Dawson says.
“Everything that we receive in our entire existence comes from that act of love on the part of God. And our ability to bear life – as parents, to create a new life – is an echo of that creative love of the Father and the Son.”
Children learn their earliest lessons about love and respect at home, and parents can work to ensure that they offer solid lessons in what love truly is. That is an important foundation for children as they grow up and enter a society that often trivializes and reduces love to a notion of petty infatuation.
“Our culture reduces love to a giddy feeling that can be fleeting, that has little substance to it. In reality, love is a deep and profound reality,” Dawson explains. “Our first lessons about love come from our childhood and the significant people in our lives. Our mother, father and extended family communicate something to us about what authentic love is.”
When children grow up in a home where parents treat each other with love and kindness, they learn an invaluable lesson.
“Children are great mimics, and if they see their parents speaking kindly with each other, treating each other with affection and warmth, they are more likely to treat people that way,” says Dawson.
Parents should also promote love by requiring siblings to always speak kindly to one another, regardless of their differences. Requiring loving action eventually will promote loving feeling, she says.
“Love is a decision. It’s a choice. It’s an act of the will to do the loving thing. Our feelings will conform ourselves over time by doing the loving thing. When they don’t feel like they love their brother or sister, they still have to treat them with love and kindness,” says Dawson.
Parents who place this emphasis on kindness will see their work bear fruit as their children grow into adults who are careful of others’ feelings, do the right thing for others, and respect the dignity of all.
“When it comes to love in the family, it’s the most important work we do,” says Dawson. “If we don’t love each other, nothing we accomplish is worth anything.”
This is a reprint of an article that previously appeared in Orange County Catholic in February 2014.