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Love is not a Luxury

Love is not a Luxury

Our love for our children -- and our ability to express that love -- will ultimately make them or break them.


My daughter comes home hungry from kindergarten; I feed her. My toddler is crying; I pick her up and cuddle with her on the sofa. My third-grader rushes in from the playground with a skinned knee; I smear on some antibiotic cream, cover it with a band-aid, and seal it with a kiss.

If you were to glance over the list of mothering tasks that I perform over the course of an average day, you might think that I am totally replaceable. Bring in a conscientious babysitter, an average (or even below-average) short-order chef and maid, and a sympathetic nurse for emergencies, and my children would be no worse off.

For 50 years, the Israeli kibbutz movement tried to do just that. Kibbutz children ate healthy meals in a communal dining hall, were cared for after school by devoted and carefully-trained kibbutz members, and slept in a communal "children's house" equipped with a state-of-the-art intercom for children to alert the kibbutz member on duty if they had a bad dream in the middle of the night.

The results were tragic. Dozens of academic studies of kibbutz children have revealed that over half of them have grown up into adults who suffer from trauma and serious psychological disorders.

The diagnosis? Severe lack of love.

Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen, a Harvard-educated scholar of education and author of the acclaimed bestseller To Kindle a Soul: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Parents and Teachers (Leviathan Press) details how the intangible emotion of love and the close relationship it creates between parents and their children influences children dramatically and permanently.

Rabbi Kelemen quotes a multitude of academic studies which demonstrate that a parent's love is a basic prerequisite for healthy human development. More than their IQs, or their friends, or the schools we send them to, in the end it is our love for our children and our ability to express that love which will ultimately make them or break them.

A newborn horse or kitten, for example, can walk shortly following birth. But in order to reach the level of self-sufficiency that most animals have at birth, human beings require an additional nine months outside of the womb.

In 1998, Dr. Michael Orlans, founding executive board member of the American Psychotherapy Association, explained that during these nine months the most important factor in the brain's development is "interactive routines between caregiver and infant."

Or, as Rabbi Kelemen explains, "Children do their final 'wiring' when we love them."

The impact of our love on our children's development, expressed through the attention and affection we provide them, does not grow less when our babies grow into toddlers and children and adolescents. Our children continue to crave the sense of security and confidence (known as "secure attachment") cultivated by a parent's careful attention to their needs whether that attention is provided by giving a bottle of warm milk to your toddler, or reading to your six-year-old, or hanging up the phone so that you can hear all about your child's adventures at school.

Quality attention is one of the most important gifts you will ever give your child.

Providing the high quantity and quality of attention that children need is time-consuming, demanding, and often requires a thorough reshuffling of priorities.

It's also worth it. Quality attention is one of the most important gifts you will ever give your child.

Current research at leading universities confirms that children raised by parents who are sensitive and attentive to their needs are more than six times as likely to avoid serious psychological disorders in later life. They are twice as likely to grow up into adults with high self-esteem. They are also more likely to be independent, confident, and emotionally thriving adults.


The next ingredient in creating healthy children is affection: the hugs, the kisses, the adoring looks that express just how much you love your child.

Mounting research has shown that children who are raised in an affectionate family environment are more likely to grow up to be caring, empathetic, and giving people. They are 30% more likely to get married and to stay married. Most striking of all, psychologist Joan McCord, former President of the American Society of Criminology, was able to predict with awe-inspiring 92% accuracy whether a child would grow up to be a criminal based exclusively on the level of affection that a given child had received from his mother.

As Rabbi Kelemen concludes from all of these findings, "Love is not a luxury. Taken together, the basic ingredients of love -- attention and affection -- might constitute the single most important factors in human development."

The most remarkable research findings presented in To Kindle a Soul relate to the long-term health consequences of parental love. In the 1950s, researchers at Harvard University asked students to rate their parental relationships as "Very Close," "Warm and Friendly," "Tolerant," or "Strained and Cold." 35 years later, researchers discovered that an astounding 100% of people who had rated their relationship with their parents as "Strained and Cold" were suffering from critical health conditions (such as severe heart disease, intestinal ulcers, and alcoholism). This is in contrast with only 47% of the people who described their relationships with their parents as "Very Close" or "Warm and Friendly." The research team concluded that feeling loved by one's parent promotes life-long immune function and good health.

So the next time you pick up your crying baby, make spaghetti with meatballs for your children, or cover a skinned knee with a band-aid and seal it with a kiss, remember that you are doing something of tremendous importance. These minor, daily expressions of parental love, attention, and affection have major long-term positive impact.

It's true -- you will never list these parenting responsibilities on your CV, brag about them to your colleagues, or even to your fellow mothers on the park bench. But the moments, days, and years that you devote to your children are among the most important of your life.

They are certainly the surest investment you will ever make, with the highest possible return. A thriving human being.

April 14, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 18

(18) Anonymous, October 29, 2009 3:11 PM

One doesn't need to be at Harvard to know the obvious - love generates sane human beings... get off the podium Harvard people - you're only stating what EUROPEANS have known for the past centuries...

(17) Sandra, July 30, 2007 11:47 AM

If only

If only parents would realize that it's not the material things that children crave but the love and time their parents can give them that stays in their hearts and lasts a lifetime. We are not remembered for the quantity in life necessarily but all the little things our parents did or didn't do for us and we carry the scars deeply for the lack of love, devotion.

It is important if we are a child that lacked to try to break the chain and nurture the little ones gifted to us and to see them blossom and thrive gives a hurting heart of a parent much healing and joy in their own lives.

Love, neverending, unconditional, no matter what is just what children need.

Thank you for this article, I sent it to my daughter. She will see much of herself and her wonderful mothering in it.

(16) Anonymous, June 24, 2007 2:39 PM

Excellent article

Chana, your article is excellent. If only current society would be more understanding and supportive of mothers that actually care about their children. What I mean by this is that, as a mother of an infant, I get a lot of advice about training my child. I was recently shocked when someone called me a "bad mom" because my child wasn't sleeping through the night by 9 months of age. Why is it necessary for my child to sleep through the night? Why can't I nurse her through the night? If my husband and I are okay with cosleeping, why is it anyone elses business? If my child is -baruch H-shem growing nicely, why did my pediatrician advise me to reduce nursing her through the night and start weaning? I'm not ready to wean and neither is my daughter. Why is every one trying to talk me into making her "cry it out"? I think the whole "crying it out" movement is barbaric - I mean - trying to eliminate a communication vehicle between a parent and child just because it's more convenient for the parent - and not to mention - more socially exceptable. Crying is the way infants communicate - it needs to be heard and responded to. If it isn't responded to, the child loses trust in the only people it depends on for survival - very sad.

(15) Robert, April 30, 2007 6:09 AM

For Our GrandChildren

You will be more then a buby.

(14) Ulrike Manke, April 19, 2007 1:54 PM

Very true

I totally agree with the article. Not only for the development of the child but also for the possibilty of a healthy society, as we can only form a society according to the menmbers in it. Only by love and time being given to our children in abundance can we expect to see compassion, empathie, dedication, high moral standards,love etc to be lived out within the society we are shaping anew daily. Love and time to our children from a parents heart can not be replaced by a care taker.

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