How many times has love been the rationale to sleep with someone, cohabitate or end a marriage? How often has a woman or man been used or coerced with the words, “I love you,” or, “if you love me?” The word “love” is used so frequently and so freely.
As parents we use the word “love” to communicate the depth of feeling and commitment to our children. We also use the word “love” to offer kids a roadmap for decision-making. Thoughtful parents and caregivers frequently use the word “love” with children while having “the Talk,” or in any of the myriad of conversations regarding relationships and dating. The following are examples shared with me by two different parents:
“Sex is designed for a committed marital relationship in which two people really love each other.”
“Wait to have sex until you find someone that you love.”
Love is at the crux of what is being communicated to our kids about sex and relationships. As adults, we have something in mind when we use the word “love,” but what do our children hear? Love is constantly being defined for youth by media and peers. Many children have an incredibly murky view of what love is. Just because someone uses the word “love” doesn’t mean that authentic love is being expressed.
We must intentionally define love for our kids (even adult children), and we must just as intentionally define what love is not. As mentors and caregivers, we can offer young people an understanding of love that is defined by God’s kind of love. God’s love is the baseline kids can use to determine what is really love and what is not.
God is Love, and so we learn what love looks like from Him:
I John 4:7-10: “This is how God showed His love for us: God sent His only Son into the world so we might live through Him. This is the kind of love we are talking about – not that we once upon a time loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.” (The Message)
God provided us with a walking, talking picture of what love looks like through Jesus. Jesus’ kind of love:
1. Respects and affirms the image of God in all others.
2. Is given freely, not with force and not demanded.
3. Cares about the other’s feelings.
4. Does not use others to get what we want.
As the Source and Sustainer of Real Love, Jesus’ love is that which we must consistently expose our kids to, in order for them to learn and experience what real love looks like. Jesus’ kind of love results in flourishing regardless of a person’s marital status: single or married.
This could be communicated to a child or young adult by saying something like: “Our body selves image God in a unique and unrepeatable way. Because this is true, we are to be treated with respect and with an attitude of love. We choose to treat others with Jesus' kind of love. This kind of love respects and affirms the image of God in all others. This love is given freely, not demanded or with force. Love cares about the others' feelings. Love doesn't use others to get what we feel that we need or want. Using is not love.”
Knowing what love looks like makes it possible for our children to:
- Choose to love others well.
- Recognize when they are being treated lovingly.
- Recognize when they are NOT being treated with love.
What a valuable gift! My daughters and I have mostly navigated questions of love from a perspective of friendship as well as through relationships at school and church.
- Is she treating others with love?
- Is she being treated with Jesus’ kind of love?
- When a friend or peer is not treating her with an attitude of love, is my daughter still choosing to love that person, knowing that love is what they (and she) are made for?
Not only does this understanding help to inform many types of relationship, it also communicates that use and abuse are not okay. The desired outcome is that if a child experiences another person as coercive (forcing him to do something), using him as an object, or not caring about his comfort or safety, then this kind of treatment will be recognized not as love, but as abuse. We want our kids to recognize for themselves and others that use and abuse are never appropriate or acceptable attitudes towards a person.
If you would like to have a suggested script that can help facilitate a conversation with your child about abuse and the best response to abuse, join us at a workshop or bring THE conversation Workshop to your area. We talk specifically about protection from abuse in Session 5, “The Way to Really Love.”