Love is composed of many different emotions, processes, and feelings; because of this, it’s easy to get lost. It happens with teenagers who think they are in love and will live happily ever after when really, they have only arrived at attraction. It happens with hook-ups where physical intimacy can be difficult to distinguish from commitment and care. It happens with parents who want their children to be good people, but use discipline rather than compassion to get obedience.
All these are facets of love. Attraction is the beginning of romantic love. Intimacy is a way for partners to deepen their connection with each other. Discipline keeps children safe from hazards they might not have considered. There are many more layers, applications, and manifestations of love, here I have focused on three types of love that are essential to fathers.
I make a point every day to tell my wife that I love her. It is important to me that she never doubts my commitment and dedication to her. She needs to know that she is special and worthy of being loved. Occasionally, she will respond, “Why do you love me?” I reply, “You are beautiful. You are my best friend. You are a great cook.” I realized, while those things are true, they are surface-level and don’t convey the depth of love I have for her. So I moved on to things like, “You are a caring person. You are a fabulous mom. You go out of your way to help others.” It was a great boost to her confidence to point out her specific character strengths and let her know that I noticed them. I was satisfied with my answers, until one day I ran out of original things to say. I found myself repeating the things that I said before, and while I still meant them, it didn’t convey what I wanted to.
I panicked. I thought “I must be doing something wrong. Why can’t I think of anything original? She is my wife! I spend every day with her. Am I not loving her the right way? Shouldn’t I be able to compliment her endlessly?”
These thoughts continued to bother me for some time. One night, my wife and I went on a date. While we were out, we reminisced about how we met, our love story, and what we had done these past few years of our marriage. It was then that I realized I wasn’t doing something wrong — I was simply looking in the wrong places for love! The source of my love was not in the compliments I gave to her, but in the experiences we shared with each other. Our love continues to deepen as we share experiences and live together.
It is essential for fathers to realize — the greatest gifts that a father can give to his children is to love their mother and be together with his children. There is no replacement for time and togetherness with your children to foster greater love. During these moments is when children will become close and build memories of their parents, and it will be these moments that children lean on when life gets hard and they need help.
#2 Unconditional Love
Your love for spouse and child should be predicated on love for love’s sake. Not on a return, promised reward, or investment. It is simply love because they deserve it. There will be times as a parent that you feel upset, taken advantage of, disappointed, and more. It will be the hardest at those times to love unconditionally; yet, it is also the most crucial time to remember to love. This unconditional love will lead to trust and open dialogue, which becomes especially important as your children enter their adolescence. As you love unconditionally you are sending a message to your spouse and children, “I love you no matter what. There is nothing that can take away my love for you.”
#3 Tough Love
Love is tough — like when your toddler just wants to eat candy for dinner and you have to break their poor delicate spirit by saying, “No.” Other times it means watching your child make a choice that you know will not bring them happiness. This love doesn’t mean that you are unkind, or stubborn — it is, instead, protective. It is the kind of love that drives parents to teach children when their actions may lead them (and their friends) into harm’s way, even when that may create resentment on the child’s part. Parents need to make sound decisions that may not be popular, but will best provide for their families and their well-being.
When fathers incorporate these three types of love into their lives and their parenting, they will find more happiness at home and for themselves. If you feel you are lacking in any of these areas, don’t feel guilty, feel motivated. Go do an activity together as a family, create a shared experience to increase your togetherness. Make a goal to specifically tell your children and/or spouse that you love them — especially after they have done something to make you upset. Finally, make some tough love decisions to keep your family on track. That might mean putting cell phones away at the dinner table or removing media with questionable content from your home.
Start small if you need to — pick one area to improve upon and do it. As soon as one area improves it will become easier to improve on others.
Tell us in the comments one thing you are going to work on in your family this week!