God is love (1 John 4:8).
Each person is born created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Therefore, we are born to love and be loved. To take away love is to take away our greatest need. Sadly, many parents in our society fail to love their children the way children need to be loved.
We cannot be the person God intends us to be without love. A child who grows up without feeling loved will be a broken adult. The degree of brokenness will vary depending on the resilience of the child and the degree of parental failure to love.
Surely, no parent wants to produce a broken child.
Just as bad, broken children grow up to become broken spouses and parents. The result is dysfunctional people creating dysfunctional marriages and families. Divorce is a common result. The cycle continues and often gets worse with each new generation.
Even Science Supports the Detrimental Effects of Rejection
There are 1000’s of studies that support the truth that rejected, unloved children can grow up with serious emotional problems.
For example: A report by a 13-nation team of psychologists compared findings from 36 studies from around the world involving more than 10,000 participants. (1)
The study examined the effects of parental rejection (lack of love) on children.
All of the 36 studies supported the same conclusion: Children who felt rejected (unloved) by their parents were more anxious and insecure, as well as more hostile and aggressive toward others, when compared to children who felt loved.
The 36 studieds also found that the pain of rejection -- especially when it occurs over a period of time in childhood -- tends to linger into adulthood, making it more difficult for adults who were rejected as children to form secure and trusting relationships with their intimate partners.
Translation: Unloved kids can grow up to be emotionally broken adults.
The Warning for Parents:
Lack of love greatly injures the emotional core of a child. Their emotional core is where all their attitudes (formed by their experiences) are stored.
Children will grow up and use their emotional core to relate to and love their spouses and own children. If this emotional core is damaged their ability to love their spouses and own children will be damaged. This sets in motion a generational cycle of broken individuals.
An Important Clarification
Love Must Be Expressed!
In my years of family counseling I have talked with many parents who vigorously claimed they loved their children – but their ACTIONS said otherwise.
It is too easy for a parent to tell themselves, “I love my child”, but never express that love.
Unexpressed love is as good as NO love. Love must be expressed.
I know a mother who claimed very strongly that she loved her child. When I met with her grown child for counseling the child told me, “I don’t remember one single time while I was growing up of my mother telling me she loved me. Not one single time! I also do not have a single memory of my mother ever hugging me or even patting me on the shoulder or showing ANY physical affection towards me the entire time I was growing up. I felt totally unloved. And I believe my life has suffered greatly because I did not know how to love others as an adult”
Love is empty and useless when it is not expressed.
The Obvious Solution
*Parents – EXPRESS your love.
--Tell your children you love them on a regular basis. Daily is best, but at the least, make sure you never let a week pass by without telling them.
--Express your love. Hugs, a pat on the back, a hand on the shoulder – all of these gestures communicate your love.
Note: When your children become teenagers they may resist your physical gestures. This is o.k. Just choose your times more wisely. When their friends are around it may be best to save your hugs for later. But, despite your teens protests, don’t ever think your expressions of love – telling them, “I love you”, a hug or pat on the back – are not appreciated by them.
--Show your love and support by being involved in their life. Attend their recitals, concerts and sporting events, when possible. Always find ways to say the important words, “I am so proud of you”.
HEADS-UP TO DADS: Men can be especially uncomfortable expressing emotions. Remember Dads: Love is sacrifice. No matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel - express your love to your children! Do it for their sake. "I love you", "I'm proud of you", hugs and pats on the back mean everything to your kids.
God has given us the supreme example of what it means to love. He was willing to sacrifice His only begotten Son for the rest of us. (John 3:16) Therefore, love means sacrifice.
Parents, when you willingly sacrifice your time and effort for your children you are expressing your love – and your children will feel loved.
Love does not mean you don’t have bad days or are always able to attend every event. Unlike God, you are human, and so is your love. But let these days and times be the exceptions. Your children will not remember the exceptions when they are grown. They will remember the big picture - the overall experiences of your expressed love for them.
For broken parents: teaching your children of God’s total and unending love for them can go a long way in covering your failures. And that is good news.
If you grew up feeling unloved and experience emotional brokenness take heart. Broken adults can be mended. The downside is it can take years of one’s life to reach a state of strong emotional and spiritual health. While this slow process of mending is happening your spouse and children may have to deal with the effects of living with a broken person.
You cannot change that. You CAN change your child’s perception of you by showing them you are serious about overcoming your brokenness. Be willing to sincerely apologize to your children for the mistakes you make (and made) as a parent.
Then get to work. Keep working and improving yourself with God’s help and guidance. What your grown children will remember in the end is that you loved them enough to spend the rest of your life becoming a better person, spouse and parent.
And that, my friends, is love expressed.
(1) A. Khaleque, R. P. Rohner. Transnational Relations Between Perceived Parental Acceptance and Personality Dispositions of Children and Adults: A Meta-Analytic Review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2011; 16 (2): 103 DOI: 10.1177/1088868311418986
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