As its proponents will tell you, Valentine’s Day calls for an expression of love. That’s the one occasion where commercialization of love is condoned and couples are urged to splurge on material things to show their plus ones that they’re loved. But is Valentine’s Day reserved only for spouses or partners? Many would beg to differ.
Popular culture may have narrowed the meaning of love down to romantic feelings between two people, but it really goes much deeper and wider than that. Think of parents working hard to save up money to buy a little treat for their children, mothers nurturing babies, single parents thriving to play double parental roles, elderly people being taken care of by their grand children – the possibility is endless, and oftentimes family is where it all happens.
According to the book True Family Values (Third Edition, 2006) written by Joong Hyun Pak and Andrew Wilson, there are four types of love in the family, which the book refers to as four great realms of heart: children’s love, fraternal love, conjugal love and parental love.
Children’s love grows as a response to parental love. From the moment a child is born, there’s a bond between him or her and the parents. As primary caregivers, parents strive to provide for every need their child may have – food, clothes, education, psychological support, and of course, love. In return, as they age, the children will want to return the favour. Children naturally offer love and respect to their parents, expressed through obedience, gratitude and trust. By the time they are grown up and able to make their own living, they could or want to, for instance, buy their parents valuable goods as an act of love.
Also known as sibling love, fraternal love means love for our brothers and sisters, through which we learn the importance of sharing and caring. It may begin with a lesson to share food or toys when the children are young and evolve as they mature. As the children grow, fraternal love among them will expand into friendship and ultimately into the social virtues of tolerance and cooperation.
Once the kids turn into adults and are ready for marriage physically, mentally, and financially, they will want to find the right person, get married and share conjugal love with their husband or wife. American psychologist M. Scott Peck describes marriage as an arena for spiritual growth, and “marriage is generally the best vehicle for whittling away at our narcissism. The tentacles of narcissism are subtle and penetrating and must be hacked away one by one, week after week, month after month, year after year.”
By the time couples have a baby, paternal love — simply defined as an entirely selfless love in which parents give all they have for the sake of the child endlessly — comes into being. It never seeks anything in return other than the wellbeing and happiness of their children. Whatever makes the children happy, that too will be the source of contentment for their parents. On the other hand, anytime the children feel let down, their parents too will share in the pain.
Parental love is also sacrificial in nature. In the name of love, most parents are willing to make costly sacrifices, perhaps even give up their lives. It’s precisely because of parental love, many have witnessed selfless acts of parents juggling risks to save a child – storming into a burning house, running down a hill to stop a baby stroller from sliding further and many more brave acts we have heard so much about in the news.
They say home is where the heart is. Perhaps it’s not too much to suggest that home too is where love is. Happy Valentine’s Day.