Setting Realistic Expectations for Love: Teach Your Children Well

As a child of the ’80s and an adolescent of the ’90s, I grew up watching movies like Can’t Buy Me Love, Pretty in Pink, Pretty Woman, and 10 Things I Hate About You. Give me a romantic, sappy movie and I would watch it 12 times. It is no surprise that my perception of love hovered between “man” swooping in to save “woman” (insert any Disney movie until recently) and love triumphing over any and all obstacles.

I held onto those hopes for way too long, which led to unreasonable expectations for the guys I met and disappointment on my end. When I first started dating my husband, we had the “honeymoon phase” where we were absolutely crazy about each other and couldn’t get enough. It eventually settled into where we are now, which is the “good love,” that love that keeps you content and happy. As John Cusack says in High Fidelity, “She didn’t make me miserable or anxious or ill at ease. You know, it sounds boring, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t spectacular either. It was just good. But really good.” That is where I want to be. I loved dating and the fun and excitement that came with it. But the good love? That is the sweet spot.

As we approach the most romantic Hallmark holiday of the year and there are roses, balloons, enormous stuffed animals, and enough chocolate for a lifetime around every corner, I look at my three small children. My six-year-old daughter is a tad anxious. She worries what others think and frets over what they say to her. She doesn’t like to be corrected by me and has asked me more than once if I still love her when something has gone wrong. She loves Disney movies. Luckily, these days the female characters seem to be stronger, and the plot doesn’t always focus on a romantic relationship.

So, what does my daughter think about love? What has she learned so far, and how can I teach her that love is more than a fairy tale? The team at ACMB brainstormed, and these are the important lessons we want our children to learn about love:

You can choose whom you love. Disney has it wrong. You don’t have to give into love. It isn’t sealed with a kiss like Ariel and Prince Eric. It won’t knock you over like those old cartoons. Attraction is good, but love and attraction are not the same thing. You learn to love someone through many experiences. You make the choice to love, sometimes over and over.

Life will go through highs and lows, but love stays consistent. I am sure there are couples out there who have never been tested, but that does not reflect the majority of relationships. Life is hard. Things happen that will pull you apart. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t pull yourselves back together. Your love for another person can stay consistent through life’s ups and downs—as the traditional vows go, “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health.” The truth is that you never know which side comes first. Spoiler alert: you will go through all of them, but you can still make it out the other end.

Marriage is really, really hard. You have to constantly commit to each other to make it work. However, it is worth it. As one ACMB team member said, “Look at marriage as 100/100, not 50/50.” Don’t meet partway; sometimes you will have to carry your partner, and sometimes that person will have to carry you. It is worth it.

Love with all that you have. If you don’t let yourself fall deeply in love, you won’t risk the terrible broken heart if things go wrong, but you will miss all of the good that comes with letting yourself be vulnerable to another person. Take the risk.

Love has many faces. My love for my kids is different from that for my husband, family, or friends. Learn how to love in a lot of different ways. I see the way my daughter loves her classmates and teacher now, and it is beautiful.

Love isn’t just talk. It is actions. Show others that you love them. There are many ways to do this. Find the one that works for you. My husband and I lived far apart for several years while we were dating. I used to send him small care packages frequently. That was how I showed him that I cared. He didn’t do the same but was more likely to make some grand gesture every once in awhile. At first this irritated me, because I didn’t think he cared as much. Then I realized that we just show our love differently.

In the end, I want my kids to know that love is so many things. It doesn’t fit neatly into the box that is portrayed in the movies. It can be easy. It can be hard. Mostly, I want them to know that the risk of loving others is definitely worth it and that they are worthy of being loved. I hope we show them that every day.

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