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How Children Need Love from You

Apr 10, 2024

Dear Souls and Hearts Member,

In July 1967, the Beatles released a single titled All You Need is Love, written by John Lennon and it hit #1 on the Billboard 100 in the U.S., and topped the charts in many other countries.


Opinions abound on this question.  I believe it’s because of the simplicity and repetition of the lyrics of the chorus, expressing a fundamental truth of human existence:

All you need is love; love is all you need.

In the turmoil and social upheaval of the late 1960s in the U.S., this message resonated with so many listeners.  Because it’s true.  And it contrasted with other messages.

Detour into Packer football…

Now I grew up in Wisconsin in the 1970s where following the Green Bay Packers can be like a religion for many people.  And I have great respect for Vince Lombardi, the Packers coach from 1959-1967, the winner of Super Bowls I and II (right when the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” was on the charts) – and not just for his success on the gridiron, but for his Catholic faith.  Coach Lombardi was a devout Catholic who was open about his faith and attended daily Mass (see here and here).

But Vince Lombardi said one thing that has always troubled me from a tender age.  And he repeated it for his entire tenure in Green Bay:

Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.

And that is nonsense.  And in spite of the idolization of Coach Lombardi in Wisconsin when I was growing up, I knew it was nonsense.  That message was contradicted by all the coaches I respected in grade school and high school who emphasized the importance of virtues in sports:  perseverance, fortitude, patience, humility, courage – all of which went under the broad heading of sportsmanship.

But more importantly I had tasted some winning and knew it was never going to be enough.  Loving was much more important than winning.

So without any apologies to Vince Lombardi or his admirers, I’m going to correct his adage to read:

Loving is not just everything; it’s the only thing.

The central importance of love for children

The two great commandments are all focused on love and those two great commandments sum up the entirety of the law and the prophets, our Lord tells us.  If we live out the three loves in the great commandments (love of God, neighbor, and self) with all our being – everything else falls into place.  Everything depends on the only thing: love, properly understood and supported by the other virtues.

What our children need is love.  There is nothing in the two great commandments from our Lord about “winning.”

In The 5 Love Languages of Children:  The Secret to Loving Children Effectively, Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell write: Love is the foundation. In raising children, everything depends on the love relationship between the parent and child. [p. 19].

Everything.  That love relationship is so vitally important.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 2221 states:

The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. “The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute.” The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable.

Parents form their children in so many ways and are so essential in their children’s formation that there is almost no adequate substitute – I discussed this near the end of the last Interior Integration for Catholics podcast episode titled The Tree of Catholic Personal Formation: An Integrative Model (watch the video, listen to the audio).

How to love children

Today, given the central importance of love for children, we’re starting our deep dive into Chapman and Campbell’s book, zeroing in on the introduction and on chapter 1.  On page 25, the authors describe how their book focuses on how children need love and how parents can best provide that love by connecting in the child’s love language.

And in what does loving consist for these authors?  In meeting the needs the child has for love.  They write:

Nothing works well if a child’s love needs are not met. Only the child who feels genuinely loved and cared for can do her best. You may truly love your child, but unless she feels it—unless you speak the love language that communicates to her your love—she will not feel loved. p. 19

Chapman and Campbell don’t use the word “attunement,” but that is what they are telling us: parents have to attune to their children in communicate love in ways that the children can understand, accept, and receive – which may not necessarily be the ways that the parents would prefer to love or be loved.

Unconditional vs. conditional love

Amy Leigh Mercree wrote that “Unconditional love is the greatest gift we can ever give.”  Chapman and Campbell describe unconditional love in this way:

We need to fill our children’s emotional tanks with unconditional love, because real love is always unconditional. Unconditional love is a full love that accepts and affirms a child for who he is, not for what he does. No matter what he does (or does not do), the parent still loves him. Sadly, some parents display a love that is conditional; it depends on something other than their children just being. [p. 20]

That unconditional love reflects the love that God has for us.  St. John Paul II in paragraph 79 of his 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, wrote that:

We are the people of life because God, in his unconditional love, has given us the Gospel of life and by this same Gospel we have been transformed and saved. We have been ransomed by the “Author of life” (Acts 3:15) at the price of his precious blood (cf. 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23; 1 Pet 1:19). Through the waters of Baptism, we have been made a part of him (cf. Rom 6:4–5; Col 2:12), as branches which draw nourishment and fruitfulness from the one tree (cf. Jn 15:5). Interiorly renewed by the grace of the Spirit, “who is the Lord and giver of life,” we have become a people for life and we are called to act accordingly.” [emphasis added].

The same unconditional love, the kind of love that the father of the prodigal son demonstrated, is what God calls parents to provide for their children. And it’s not easy.  As Nicholas Sparks wrote, “What it’s like to be a parent: It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do but in exchange it teaches you the meaning of unconditional love.

That unconditional love is a choice, and it depends on you who love, not on the responses or behaviors or dispositions of the child being loved, as this quote from Steven Kendrick makes clear: “The only way love can last a lifetime is if it’s unconditional. The truth is this: love is not determined by the one being loved but rather by the one choosing to love.”  That’s the kind of love that God has for us as our Father.  That’s the kind of love that the father of the prodigal son demonstrated. That’s the kind of love we have to have for our children.  Why?  Chapman and Campbell explain on page 20 of their book:

Only unconditional love can prevent problems such as resentment, feelings of being unloved, guilt, fear, and insecurity. Only as we give our children unconditional love will we be able to deeply understand them and deal with their behaviors, whether good or bad. [p. 20]

The rarity of unconditional parental love…

I’ve published more than 100 of these weekly reflections on our website (see the archive here), and the most clicked of them all by a significant margin is from July 27, 2022, titled Loving a Parent Who Doesn’t Love You.  That is number one of them all. And it makes sense when we read what Chapman and Campbell write about this:  Most parents love their children and also want their children to feel loved, but few know how to adequately convey that feeling. [p. 22].

Few parents know how to adequately convey that feeling of being loved to their children.  And that is tragic.  And we’re not just dealing with deficits in human formation.  In his 2010 book The Human Person According to John Paul II, author J. Brian Bransfield writes that

The union of marriage and the family is the structure of unconditional love. In every temptation, Satan bypasses this structure of unconditional love, leaving a wound that makes it harder for family members to draw strength from one another in withstanding temptation and difficulties. The devil weakens believers by distancing them from the basis of love. [p. 127, emphasis added].

And much of that distancing is exacerbated by the difficulties in communication in family life.  I believe that uncommunicated love is no love at all.  I don’t accept what is so commonly said in families, phrases like “Your father loves you so much, he just doesn’t know how to show it.

No.  I go further than the soft-peddling of Chapman and Campbell in their quote above.  If the father seeks to express real love, he will find a way; real love demands it.  Real unconditional love finds a way to express itself; a failure to convey love is not primarily a deficit in communication skills (although learning some skills can help).  Learning to express love takes trial and error, it’s going to make a father face his own limitations and weaknesses, and his own shame.

That doesn’t mean that the real unconditional love from a parent will always be received by a child.  Often, especially when children have reached the age of reason, unconditional love can be and is rejected.  Children have free will, too.  And receiving real love is painful; I discuss this at length in the 36-minute episode 36 of the Interior Integration for Catholics podcast titled Why We Flee from Real Love.

One love language or more? 

On page 9, Campbell and Chapman write that each child has a primary love language, through which he or she best understands a parent’s love.  Often, one of the five love languages stands out as particularly important for a child.  At the same time, they counsel parents that: If your child is under age four, speak all five languages…. Speak all five languages when your child is older, too, for he needs all five to grow, even though he craves one more than the others. [p. 28].

Why? The authors don’t put it this way, but it’s because the different parts of children need different expressions of love from parents at different times.  As I discussed in episode 116 of the Interior Integration for Catholics podcast titled Why a Single Personality is Not Enough, the concept of a single, homogenous, uniform personality is very limiting in relating to your neighbor, to God, and especially with yourself.

And what are parts?  Here’s my phenomenological definition of parts for our spiral learning:

Parts feel like separate, independently operating personalities within us, each with own unique prominent needs, roles in our lives, emotions, body sensations, guiding beliefs and assumptions, typical thoughts, intentions, desires, attitudes, impulses, interpersonal style, and world view.  Each part also has an image of God.

St. Thomas frequently referred to a medieval principle, Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur which translates to “whatever is received into something is received according to the mode of the receiver” (e.g. see the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 75, a. 5; 3a, q. 5).  This means that we need to be attuned to children, to their modes of receiving, of taking in our messages, when we are communicating love to them.

I would add that, more specifically, it helps so much when we can attune to our children’s parts individually – if your child is presenting with an angry, hostile part, the communication of your love will look different from when that same child has a fun-loving part in front in the moment.

And to make things even a little more complex (this loving isn’t always easy), individual parts can vary a lot in their modes of being from moment to moment, depending on the social context.

So a major aspect of being a good parent is to be flexible in expressing love is a whole variety of ways that include all five love languages, as Chapman and Campbell make clear:

Because you want your children to grow into full maturity, you will want to show them love in all the languages and then teach them how to use these for themselves. The value is not only for your children but for the people with whom they will live and associate. One mark of a mature adult is the ability to give and receive appreciation through all the love languages—physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, and acts of service. Few adults are able to do this; most of them give or receive love in one or two ways. [p. 28]

Consequences of conditional love

The consequence of the lack of unconditional love (generated by natural or spiritual causes) is described Pope Frances in his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia where he tells the faithful that

Many people leave childhood without ever having felt unconditional love. This affects their ability to be trusting and open with others. A poor relationship with one’s parents and siblings, if left unhealed, can re-emerge and hurt a marriage. Unresolved issues need to be dealt with and a process of liberation must take place.  [§ 240, emphasis added].

Pope Francis is putting his finger on the intergenerational transmission of deficits in loving, and his advocacy of liberation from unresolved issues is a critical message for our day.  And psychotherapist Mary Beth Fox in her article Missing Love as a Child (4 Signs Your Parents’ Love Was Conditional) does an excellent job of laying out these intergenerational problems.

You can’t give what you don’t have…

There is an old saying in Latin:  Nemo dat quod non habet, which translates to “No one gives what he doesn’t have.”  And in last week’s reflection, titled Healing Our Parts … So We Can Love Better, I shared with how important it is for you to have your attachment and integrity needs met so that you can better love children.

Life coach Kemi Sogunle sums up the essence of this old Latin saying in loving:  “If you don’t love yourself, you won’t be happy with yourself. If you can’t love yourself, you can’t love anyone else. You can’t give the love you do not have.”

It’s like when a flight attendant tells the passengers on an airliner to put their own oxygen masks on first before attempting to help others.

Let’s take in some oxygen…

So now if you are a parent concerned about not having loved your unconditionally enough, I totally get it.  I feel that way too.  I can see so many deficits in my love for my kids, especially my older ones.

Now the following is not an excuse for poor parenting, but it does provide some comfort for imperfect Catholic parents.  You are not your children’s primary parents.  Your children’s primary father is God the Father.  Your child’s primary mother is the Blessed Virgin Mary.  God knew before time began your every mistake, your every omission, your every fault – and He had a plan to accommodate all of that for each of your children in His providence.  He can make greater good come from parental sins as Romans 8:28 attests: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

But in addition to trusting in God’s providence for our children, let’s also work with ourselves, let’s better equip ourselves to love.  That’s what Souls and Hearts is all about.  That’s what these weekly reflections are all about.  I invite you not just to love better – but to join me in seeking to become love.  That’s my mission.  To help Catholics become love.  And this mission is straight from St. Therese of Lisieux, our Doctor of the Church. This is her epiphany from shortly before she died as she relates it in her autobiography, Story of a Soul, p. 194.

…I understood that the Church has a Heart and that this Heart was BURNING WITH LOVE. I understood it was Love alone that made the Church’s members act, that if Love ever became extinct, apostles would not preach the Gospel and martyrs would not shed their blood. I understood that LOVE COMPRISED ALL VOCATIONS, THAT LOVE WAS EVERYTHING, THAT IT EMBRACED ALL TIMES AND PLACES…IN A WORD, THAT IT WAS ETERNAL! Then, in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: O Jesus, my love…my vocation, at last I have found it…MY VOCATION IS LOVE! Yes, I have found my place in the Church…. I shall be Love. Thus, I shall be everything thing and thus my dream will be realized.”

In order for us to partake of God’s nature as St. Peter invites us in 2 Peter 1:4, we have to allow God to love us first, as St. John tells us in 1 John 4:19.  And we have to be loved both by God and by our own selves, as I lay out in this weekly reflection and in these six IIC podcast episodes:

A special bonus

As a special bonus in this weekly reflection, I want to offer you a brief 11-minute experiential exercise on communicating unconditional love to your own parts so that you can love others, including children better.  Check that out here.

Next week: touch

In next week’s reflection, we will review chapter 2 of The 5 Love Languages of Children:  The Secret to Loving Children Effectively, which is all about the love language of touch.  I encourage you to get the book, read the chapter along with me, and engage with the reflection – and I will have another special experiential exercise for you next week.


The Resilient Catholics Community

If you’re a current member of the Resilient Catholics Community, we have recently reorganized Mighty Networks. Our “Parent Space” is now under a new section called “The Hats You Wear” and we’ll be discussing these weekly reflections in more detail, sharing stories and experiences, and providing support to one another. If you’re a parent and haven’t joined the space, you can jump in now. (We’ll be ramping up the other groups soon as well; stay tuned!)

If you’re not a member of the RCC, learn more on our landing page. Our next cohort will begin onboarding June 2024, and you can join the waiting list (which is at more than 200 already) to make sure you get all the updates.

Be With the Word

Join Dr. Gerry as he reflects on the readings for the Third Sunday of Easter and walks you through a path for stopping scrupulosity and obsessive thinking. He draws on the interplay between the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex as we move from fear and shame to awareness, repentance, and receiving comfort from our great Advocate. Listen to The Key to Stopping Scrupulosity.

Pray for us

As always, please pray for us, our staff, and our mission. Everything we do must be fueled by prayer. Be assured that we pray for you daily.

Warm regards in the risen Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter.

P.S.  Don’t forget to try out that experiential exercise on connecting with your own parts and their love languages here.

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