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Showing Children How To Love: A Year-Round Gift

“How did you know your parents loved each other?” Looking for material for a Valentine’s Day story, I took a poll of adult friends as we sat around waiting for our kids to get out of the locker room. Sadly, some people answered, “They never did.” Or, worse: “Are you kidding? They hated each other.” For most, though, the question brought a smile and a thoughtful response.

“I could tell by the way my dad’s face lit up when my mom came in the door,” said Peg. “That’s really all. They never were particularly huggy types. I think if my sister and I ever saw them kiss, we would have been shocked. But he was always so genuinely glad to see her, like it was new. And she would just kind of smile back.”

Brad’s folks were equally undemonstrative. But after he thought about it, he shared a memory of evenings at his house when he was a teenager. “My mom hated TV. She loved to read. Dad had to watch whatever sport was on the tube. A picture of them I carry around in my head is both of them on the couch with my mom’s feet in my dad’s lap. She’s reading even though he’s whooping about some play.” “Did you see that?” he’d ask her. And she’d look up and smile and go back to her book and he’d massage her feet. I mean, that’s real love.”

“My folks always sent us all away from the table after dinner so they could have their coffee and cigarettes together.” Dan warmed to his story. “We knew not to go back in the kitchen for what seemed like a long time. They told us it was their time. Sometimes I’d go in to grab something I’d forgotten and they’d be holding hands across the table.”

“When I was little, my folks had their ‘date night’,” replied Jan. “Looking back on it, I know that they didn’t do stuff that was all that special. A movie maybe. Sometimes out for dinner at the local family restaurant. But my dad would change out of his usual work clothes and my mom would get a little dressed up and put on some lipstick. I can still remember the smell of the cologne she used. They’d kiss us kids goodbye and you could tell they were glad to go out together.”

“I don’t mean to break the romantic mood,” said Jack, “but my folks are loud! They shout at each other. They argue. They bicker. But somehow we never questioned that they loved each other. With things that counted, they pulled together. They still do.”

“My parents divorced when I was very young and never did get along. But my mom and stepdad were really into making events out of special days of the year.” My friend June smiled at the memory. “Their birthdays, their anniversary, and especially Valentine’s Day were an excuse for doing things like having breakfast in bed or inviting the relatives over for a big meal. They did it for us kids too. But it made an impression on me that they made a big deal out of each other’s special days. I don’t remember any of my friends’ parents doing that.”

Showing Children How To Love: A Year-Round Gift

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). Showing Children How To Love: A Year-Round Gift. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.