Love is the greatest principle to be learned in the family setting. Elder Loren C. Dunn said, “If parents will influence and direct and persevere with love, then members of the family will also make that principle a part of all they do. The principle of love can overcome many parental mistakes in the raising of … children.” (Ensign, Nov. 1974, pp. 10–11.)
Sometimes, though, it is difficult for parents to express love. It isn’t that they don’t love their children, it is only that they have a difficult time demonstrating their love openly. And because their love isn’t expressed in easily recognized ways, their children sometimes fail to appreciate their parents’ love and respond to it.
Unfortunately, parents are sometimes torn by conflicting emotions and confused about how they actually feel. One father learned almost too late the importance of sorting through those feelings and expressing his love to his son. In a letter to Bishop Vaughn J. Featherstone, he wrote:
“You possibly don’t recall the brief conversation we had on the stand at the stake conference last Saturday night. I told you I had a seventeen-year-old son to whom I hadn’t spoken a kind word in nine years and I was going home and tell him how much I loved him.
“He has caused his mother and me many hours of heartbreak, especially in the last two years. He and I haven’t had a father-son relationship in over half his life. Isn’t that a frightening thought? However, the little unhappiness he has caused us is nothing compared to the lonely hours he must have spent because of me all those years. The many nights he went to bed feeling so unloved and unwanted by me, his father!” (Vaughn J. Featherstone, Ensign, Nov. 1976, p. 104.)
We would never consider letting our children go for long periods without food or sleep, but regular meals and regular rest are no more important than regular portions of affection.
“Among the tragedies we see around us every day are the countless children and adults who are literally starving because they are not being fed a daily portion of love. We have in our midst thousands who would give anything to hear the words and feel the warmth of this expression.” (H. Burke Peterson, Ensign, May 1977, p. 68.)
Agony and regret are the unavoidable results of not learning to express our love to our families. We must do all within our power to avoid the sorrow caused by events like this:
“It was the day my father died. … In the small hospital room, I was supporting him in my arms, when … my father slumped back, and I lowered his head gently onto the pillow. I … told my mother. …
“It’s all over, Mom. Dad is dead!
“She startled me. I will never know why these were her first words after his death. My mother said, ‘Oh, he was so proud of you. He loved you so much.’
“Somehow I knew … that these words were saying something very important to me. They were like a sudden shaft of light, like a startling thought I had never before absorbed. Yet there was a definite edge of pain, as though I were going to know my father better in death than I had ever known him in life.
“Later, while a doctor was verifying death, I was leaning against the wall in the far corner of the room, crying softly. A nurse came over to me and put a comforting arm around me. I couldn’t talk through my tears. I wanted to tell her:
“‘I’m not crying because my father is dead. I’m crying because my father never told me that he was proud of me. He never told me that he loved me. Of course, I was expected to know these things. I was expected to know the great part I played in his life and the great part I occupied in his heart, but he never told me.’” (John Powell, as quoted by Marvin J. Ashton, Ensign, May 1976, p. 53.)
“In speaking of a son or daughter, some will say, ‘He ought to know I love him. Haven’t I done everything for him? I buy him clothes, give him a warm home, an education, and so on.’ Make no false assumptions. Unless the person feels that the need has been filled, the parents’ responsibility has not been accomplished.
“We must make an even clearer effort to communicate real love to a questioning child. The giving of love from a parent to a son or daughter must not be dependent on his or her performance. Oft times those we think deserve our love the least need it the most.” (H. Burke Peterson, Ensign, May 1977, p. 69.)
Those parents who themselves come from homes where there were few demonstrations of love seem to have the most difficult time expressing their feelings. If love is not expressed, demonstrably, usually children do not learn how to express it either. An individual who grows up in a home where affection was not demonstrated is inclined to feel self-conscious or embarrassed when he tries to express love, so even though he may resent his own training, he will likely perpetuate the same pattern with his companion and children.
“I’m just not the gushy type,” some people say who have never learned to express affection openly. But just as nonmembers become converted to the gospel and embrace new truths and new ways of thinking and living, these parents can learn new joys, new dimensions of love, by becoming more expressive with their love.
The best time—the easiest time—to start expressing love to our children is when they are infants. Then, as they grow, our demonstrations of love will follow naturally and easily. Elder Burke Peterson tells the following story:
“Some years ago in our ward fast and testimony meeting a young father proudly gave a name and blessing to his first child. Afterwards the father stood to bear his testimony. He expressed thanks for this, his first son. He then said in a rather perplexed way that since the little fellow didn’t seem to understand anything they said he wished he knew just how to communicate with him. ‘All we can do,’ said he, ‘is hold him, cuddle him, gently squeeze him, kiss him, and whisper thoughts of love in his ear.’
“After the meeting I went up to the new father and said that in his testimony he had given us a success pattern for raising healthy children. I hoped he would never forget it; even as his children grew to maturity I hoped he would continue the practice.” (Ibid., p. 68.)
As we demonstrate our feelings of love to our children, we are helping them become comfortable with those same feelings in themselves. One of the best ways to help them do this is to accept the way they feel and listen to them as they express feelings appropriately. Doing so communicates love and respect and encourages the child to accept and trust his feelings.
Love is expressed in other ways as well. A hug, a kiss, a “well done!” or an “I love you” are immediately recognized as expressions of love. Other expressions may be more subtle. Showing interest in a daughter’s activities, teaching a son with kindness and patience, going out of our way to make a child’s birthday special—these, too, communicate love. Showing love is more than words, actions, or technique. It is the honest expression of the respect that comes from recognizing the true value of those entrusted to our care. Elder H. Burke Peterson wrote:
“I have often wondered what would happen if the method of introducing a father to his newborn child were different. Instead of a doctor coming out and saying, ‘It’s another girl,’ or ‘It’s another boy,’ how would we react if each time a child was born our Father in Heaven made this kind of introduction to the parents:
“‘Thank you for preparing this little body for the spirit I have created. Now, I present her to you for a season to care for. Please teach her of me and of my Son. I so much want her back with me some day. … Remember this: She is loving. She will respond to teaching. She wants to learn. Please treat her with respect. The road will not be easy. Some of the time it will be most difficult. I want to help you raise her. Please call on me often for advice and counsel. Together we can help her fulfill her purpose in the earth.’” (Ensign, Jan. 1973, p. 115.)
Fortunately, great amounts of time are not required for us to begin expressing more love. Seconds and minutes a day are sufficient to lay a gentle hand on a shoulder, to hug, to sit together. As Elder Peterson has said, “May I suggest that as parents we must require more of ourselves. May I suggest that we give more of ourselves, that we give more good experiences to our children, experiences that are love-producing and family-solidifying. Whether the times we give are measured in minutes or hours is not as important as what we do in them. It may be five minutes at a child’s bedside each night or a fifteen-minute walk in the evening. It may be a day in the hills or a three-minute phone call from the office at midday. It may be a clever love note to a little girl or a night out to a ball game with a boy. It can even be the experience of a family home evening. It can be the experience of a family learning to pray together and reading the scriptures together and fasting together.” (Ibid.)
Start showing more love for family members today by using the following suggestions or coming up with your own ideas for appropriate expressions of affection.
Share a positive feeling with each member of the family as soon as possible after laying this magazine down.
Instead of giving him a tongue lashing, next time your child does something that annoys you, sit down, put your arm around him, and tell him you love him.
Keep a log of all the emotions you experience in one day just to see how rich your emotional life is. Share the results with your companion.
If you have an unkind feeling toward a family member, share it with them in a loving atmosphere. (Remember Lehi’s example, 2 Ne. 4:12.)
Reminisce with the family, using photos, slides, journals, some of the shared experiences of the family.
Develop your own family’s “love words”—affectionate nicknames and things you say when you greet or part.
Explain your feelings to the children at times to help them understand more of what you experience.
Practice listening to your children, without correcting or interrupting.
Be willing to talk through problems before making any judgment.
Physically express love by hugging, kissing, holding, touching.
Express love and appreciation during interviews.
Express gratitude and love for each child during family prayers.
Take extra minutes at bedtime for individual time with each child.
End the children’s day with a special story, song, or talk.
Write a note expressing your love and mail it to a child, pin it to his pillow, put it in his lunch.
Include a note in a suitcase or camp pack of a family member leaving home.
Pin a note to ironed shirts or dresses, something like “Ironed with love.”
Prepare a favorite food and present it to the child with a kiss or hug.