Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Expressing Love Verbally

Expressing Love Verbally
A. The Problem
One of the desperate needs of family members is to hear verbally that they are loved. Although many do not have a problem with this, others struggle greatly to regularly say the words "I love you." When family members do not feel loved, they often go searching for that love. Unfortunately, it is often ‘looking for love in all the wrong places,’ as the song says. More often than not, this communication problem has been passed down from previous generations. It also seems that fathers have a much harder time expressing love to family members than mothers do. .
Many years ago Paul Popenoe conducted a study with teenagers. He said, "Several thousand HS students were asked what they would most like to hear from their parents. The survey found that 50 percent of the students said they wanted most to know if their parents loved them." ("Do Your Children Know You Love Them?" Parents and Better Homemaking, 40, December 1965, 43-45)
Perhaps you think things have changed since the sixties, when this study was conducted. In more recent research, it appears that the problem still lingers. High school students from various areas of the United States were asked:
Q. How often do your parents tell you that they love you?

Never 27% 9%
Once or so a month 25% 14%
Several times a month 19% 21%
Daily 29% 56%
(American Youth Survey, 2001)
It appears that parents still have a problem telling their children they are loved on a daily basis. Men in this study are three times less likely to ‘never’ tell children they love them than are mothers. Fathers are almost half as likely as mothers to tell children daily that they love them. This tendency in parents is heartbreaking when you consider the consequences of such neglect. Often the simply expressed "I love you" works miracles. H. Burke Peterson said, "Among the tragedies we see around us every day are the countless children and adults who are literally starving because they are not being fed a daily portion of love. We have in our midst thousands who would give anything to hear the words and feel the warmth of this expression." (Ensign, May 1977, p. 68.)
Billy Wayne Ezell
On Sunday June 2000 I was asked to speak at a huge family reunion to honor our great-grandfather, who had died 100 years earlier. I was at a loss to know what I should say to this crowd of descendants and friends who would gather for the celebration. To get my thoughts together, I drove to the country cemetery where I sat in peaceful surroundings gazing at the old tombstones of my great grandparents. I stared at the names of their fifteen children and remembered how eight of them had died before adulthood. I imagined the pain they must have felt. I sat on a bench and pondered again what to say at the meeting. As I looked up, my eyes were drawn to a laminated poem near the tombstone of Billy Wayne Ezell (born on December 7, 1972 and died February 26, 1994). His mother wrote the poem and I could feel her sorrow as I read these words:

If I’d only known it would be the last time,
That I’d see you walk out the door,
I’d have given you a bigger hug and kiss
And called you back for one more
If I’d only known it would be the last time,
I’d hear your laughter and playful way,
I’d taped each action and word,
So I could play them back every day
If I’d only known it would be the last time
We would have an extra minute or two,
I’d been sure to have said once again,
"Son, please know how much I love you!"
If I’d only known it would be the last time,
I’d be there to share your day
Believing there would always be more,
I wouldn’t have let it just slip away.
If I’d only known it would be the last time
That I’d see you fall asleep
I’d prayed "take me Lord, but please,
Give my son his life to keep.
If only I had known.
The purpose of the poem was to point out how things would be different had the mother only known her son was going to die. The point, however, is that she didn’t know. And neither do any of the rest of us know when the last opportunity might be to express love to family members.
Only In Certain Situations
Some children are told they are loved but only on special occasions (birthdays, leaving for trips or extended periods of time, college, or when they’ve made their parents proud). One mother expressed it this way, "One thing that did not occur in our home was our parents saying the words ‘I love you’ to any of the children. I don’t remember ever saying it myself until my first phone call home during my freshman year of college. It was my first experience away from home and I was homesick. I told them "I love you’ over the phone for the first time. After my marriage, my sister was shocked to hear me tell my mom that I loved her. She said that she wasn’t used to hearing anyone saying that in our family."
Others are told they are loved only when they are in trouble. For example, my friend Ken told me about a question his son asked him. He stated, "Dad, how come you only tell me you love me when you’re mad at me?" Perhaps you hear or even use the line, "The only reason I am punishing you is because I love you." Children need to be told they are loved at all times. In order to help our children be better we often point out many of their faults. One university research report estimated that an average teenager hears ten negative comments about themselves for every one positive. Whether this is true or not there seems to be a problem in our society with parents expressing frustration with children rather than love. Of course, there is great danger in this.

Q. What problems do you see in families who do not express love?
Email us your answers at fromourfamilytoyours@yahoo.com