When my older sister was a new mom, overwhelmed and worried about her new responsibilities, our Grandma boiled down decades of experience to one piece of advice, “Oh, just feed him and love him.” True, this childcare tip doesn’t include instructions on what to do when the baby’s diaper explodes clear up to his neck in biologically impossible ways, but maybe it is more complete than it seems.
On February 14 we celebrate love, or at least society’s materialistic version of it complete with sequins nighties on display in every store and paper cards with sentiments kids hope won’t be taken literally. But what would happen if on Valentines Day, for one day, we truly focused on just loving? There are times for hefty consequences for children and division of labor summits with our spouse. There are times to focus in on problem behaviors and to check off job charts. But for one day, maybe we can just get back to the very basics of family life, and just feed them and love them.
Religions across the globe have as one of their most basic tenants to love and serve others. Perhaps we are taught to love not only because it is so good for others, but because it is so good for us! When we are focused on loving our child, we may be more likely to smile and chuckle at a two-year old trying to get dressed, instead of harming our physical and emotional health by getting all worked up with impatience. We are more likely to try to see things from our spouse’s perspective during an argument, and focus on solving the problem instead of winning the battle. When love is our motivating factor, we’re less likely to scream at kids to get out of the kitchen and leave us alone while we make heart-shaped cupcakes with “Love” piped onto the frosting. Even if we don’t think through the bitter ironies of the situation, choosing selfishness always leaves us feeling empty and unfulfilled. When we focus on loving others, our attitude is better, our words are milder, and our relationships take on a sweetness that blesses every aspect of our lives.
Loving others is easy when…well…when we love them. It is much harder to be loving when we don’t especially feel loving. It is so helpful to remember that the feeling of love is not always the same as the verb love. There are often great results when we choose to behave in loving ways, even when we may not feel lots of love right then. In a radio address given during the dark days of WWII, philosopher C.S. Lewis had profound advice for his listeners:
“The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.” (In Mere Christianity, Book 3 Chapter 9)
This certainly applies to our closest neighbors, our families. There is always room in relationships for a little more love. So on Valentines Day, put away plans at reforming your spouse, changing your children, and getting your way. Disregard correcting table manners, reminding kids to button up coats, and lecturing spouses on toenail clippings. Keep it simple. Just love them and feed them.