Can you think of a word that carries more mixed messages than “Love”? I’ll wait.
I won’t wait very long, because this is print. But imagine I waited just long enough to prove the point that love is complicated. The same word we whisper to our children is also tied to the incongruous concepts of self-love and love bombing. The same sentiment we use to declare the deepest commitment and affection for another, is used to describe how we feel about coffee or reality television. Our teens will passionately love one band one week, another band the next week and, with the same intensity, say that they have fallen in love with a person in their class or a pseudo-celebrity they saw on TikTok. Erotic love or sexual love, is the kind of love that parents tremble at when thinking about having to have those conversations with kids who are often the product of… you get it.
You see what I mean? Mixed messages.
So what is the “right” definition of love and how do we talk about it with our kids?
As adults, we can see the passion a teenager has for their first love and recognize it as infatuation. We can also innately understand that the feelings we have about our morning coffee are not the same feelings that we have for our partners, children, or friends. But our kids, who haven’t developed yet to understand nuance, will lump it all together and freak us out when they start asking the “love questions” or tell us they love someone.
One way to demystify the conversations about love is to understand what kind of love they’re asking about. Despite the constant commercial message of Valentine’s Day, one kind of love isn’t any better than any other.
“Philia” love is a love between friends or a love of one’s pets.
“Storge” is a love that parents have for their children.
“Philautia” is the love we have for ourselves.
“Agape” is a love for all of mankind and
“Eros” is romantic and passionate physical love.
There are several other types of love just from the Greek to describe this emotion we have lumped into a single English word.
When your kids start asking about love, take the opportunity to get curious about their experience. Who or what do they have these strong feelings about? Is it a love for a thing that helps them define who they are and what they like? Maybe it’s love for a thing that gives them comfort or transports them to a cherished memory. Is it love for a place that makes them feel safe or adventurous? Is it love for a friend? If so, what about that friend who makes them feel love? Is it love for a classmate? Instead of jumping to questions like, “Are you dating?” “Are they your boyfriend/girlfriend?” or “Are you being safe?”, one way we can express love for our children is to demonstrate interest and curiosity in the person they love. What is it about that person that they find attractive or interesting? How do they feel when they’re around them? How does the classmate make your child feel about themselves, their present, or their future?
Pay attention to their answers, these are insights into how they think, feel, and interact with their environment.
It’s safe to say that there isn’t a “right” definition of love.
Love is caring about someone, something, or yourself and that looks like a lot of different things. But, just as there is no right definition of love, there is a wrong definition of love. In addition to all of the wonderful things love can mean, it’s also important to teach our kids that love never means hurt or fear. Love never means being asked to do things that make them afraid, ashamed, or uncomfortable.
Love is personal and special, it makes you feel warm and happy inside.
Love is not healthy if it makes you feel yucky or like you want to hide.
Where children direct and how they express love is unique to them. Love in every form enriches the human experience.
As we wind down the month of love, be encouraged to appreciate the many ways love is expressed to you and by you.
By Amy Pittman