We adults often forget that young children are sensitive beings. Whether parents argue openly and vehemently, or display animosity toward one another in covert ways, everyone else in the household is affected.
by Joan M. Thomas
How commonly we read or hear the words "a loving environment" describing a childcare facility. Additionally, media messages soliciting refuge for orphaned children and stray animals often include the phrase "needs a loving home." The connotation is that more than shelter is needed.
What's implied is a plea for a safe and friendly environment conducive to physical and emotional wellbeing. And while it is imperative that a child suffering from some trauma or loss be placed in such surroundings, all children need the same.
We adults often forget that young children are sensitive beings. They feel hostility, hidden or otherwise, even when it is not directed at them. Whether parents argue openly and vehemently, or display animosity toward one another in covert ways, everyone else in the household, even the family dog, is affected. Such an unpleasant atmosphere is the antithesis of what we think of as a loving home.
Resolving differences lovingly
When working on her book on divorce, We're Still Family, researcher Constance Ahrons found that where parental conflict pervades family life, it harms children. Whether or not separation or divorce results from parents' discord, children need to know that it is not their fault, and that they will always be loved. When parents simply disagree, as any two individuals will, a mature and amiable resolution makes life more pleasant for all concerned.
Plus, as Edward L. Schor, M.D., counsels in his book, Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5-12, "Do not forget that children learn how to handle disagreements by watching their parents' example...Your children model themselves on you."
Parents should try to resolve their differences without creating a lingering mood of oppression, anger and fear. Becoming Parents: What It Means for Couples, a handout prepared by the American Academy of Family Physicians, stresses that especially when parenting children, spouses should learn how to fight fair. "It is important for children to know that their parents love each other and see them work out problems."
Video role models
But more than just handling disputes in reasonable fashion is necessary. A happy family life is one where love overrides problems, both in the home and in the outside world. One need only to catch some of the better children's TV programs, especially those on PBS, for good examples of art imitating life, demonstrating what makes a loving home.
Animated shows such as Arthur, Between the Lions, and The Berenstain Bears portray animal families with human characteristics whose homes, even if in a tree, are cheery and comfortable. The parents demonstrate typical adult foibles, and their offspring's mischievous behavior mirrors that of our own children. And, as with any happy family, their love and consideration for one another always prevails.
Additionally, such shows often acknowledge the reality of single parents and combined families. Arthur Aardvark, for whom Arthur is named, has a friend whose parents who are divorced. Buster Bunny lives contentedly with his mom, but spends quality time traveling with his dad, the airplane pilot. The feeling conveyed in that story is one of peace and acceptance. Buster is just as eager to spend time with his pop as he is to return to his mom and his home base.
Brady Bunch-type shows demonstrate how a warm and loving home can be created for children from previous marriages. The story lines typically downplay the importance of material things, and concentrate on emotional security and ethical and moral values.
In the end, all of society is affected when the child emerging from a hostile family life enters society as an adult. Jennifer Roback Morse, in Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn't Work, contends, "Without loving families, no society can long govern itself." As we are all part of the human family, we each require a loving environment for sustenance. We need that as much as food and shelter.
We adults often disdain the discomfort experienced when people we know are engaged in a bitter dispute, and we are unwillingly drawn into the battle. Yet we at least have some experience with such differences, and some control over the situation. Our children have little of either.
Just think how they feel. How will they know about love if they never witness it? We might heed the words of Karishma Bejaj on indianchild.com, an Indian website dedicated to building good character in children: "We can bring into our children the emotion of love only when we create for ourselves a loving environment."
The author of three books, freelance writer and historian Joan M. Thomas also enjoys writing feature stories and essays on current topics. Born in Carroll, Iowa, she now lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband, Bob, and canine pal, Sasha.