by Bernie Siegel, MD

The meaning of existence was to preserve unspoiled, undisturbed and undistorted the image of eternity with which each person is born. Like a silver moon in a calm, still pond.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Conceiving a child and raising it to feel loved is the most significant action parents can attain. A loved child becomes not only a creative, inspiring being but one who helps all living things to survive and thrive. Think of your child as a young artist who has come to you to learn how to paint or sculpt. As a teacher you would show patience and guide and instruct the child so they can create a work of art. You would not throw out their painting or pottery but show them how to rework it and create a true work of art. Well you have the clay, the paint and the blank canvas to work with; your child.

As a surgeon I listened to eighty five year old parents complain about their kid and I had to laugh remembering they were talking about a kid, who was in his sixties. We can constantly be critical of our children by using phrases like, “There’s something wrong with you.” Or we can let them know they are loved even when we don’t like what they are doing.

I know from working with all age groups that when you ask eighty or ninety year olds whether their parents loved them close to ninety percent answer yes; but when you ask high school students the same question the figures are reversed. When for homework you ask students to write a note about why they should commit suicide and why they are loveable the suicide notes are three to five pages long and the love notes one page. I am not trying to depress all the parents reading this. I have lived the experience with our five children so I know wounds can be healed and that if we are truly educated about the parenting experience our children will be the beneficiaries. Licenses are needed for just about every significant activity or occupation except parenting. So when the birthing classes finish start parenting classes and learn from those who have preceded you and lived the experience.

Why is it your children’s children are called grand and their children become great grand children? The answer is that as we grow and mature and learn what is truly important in life we see the children as grand and great. So if you do not have time to read this entire article all I ask of you is to act as if you are a loving grand parent towards your children. I was born an ugly duckling, who my parents hid in a covered carriage. I survived because I had a grandmother who, to quote my mother, “Poured oil over your body and pushed everything back where it belonged many times a day.” I didn’t have to find my own beauty, as the ugly duckling did, because I had a grandmother. Studies show the benefits of massage in newborns by their rapid weight gain. So touch and massage your children and watch them grow and develop in response to your loving touch. One teenager I know said she was staying at her grandmother’s house and there were no full size mirrors for her to look in before she went off to high school. When she complained to her grandmother her grandmother said, “Come over here and look into my eyes and you’ll see how beautiful you are.” There are many ways to touch your child.

We must remember the opposite of love is indifference. So the child who feels unloved and drives you nuts gets your attention. While the angel often feels unloved because no one pays attention to him. As one of our children said, “I don’t get twenty per cent of your time.” I explained his brother drove us nuts and got forty per cent. I admire the fact that he felt comfortable confronting his father with those statistics. When siblings are born one or five years apart there is little rivalry. So apologize, as I have, to our kids and help them become a family. Our children learned that love and appropriate anger can exist together. Make magic and do things as a family every week. It can be eating out, going skating, visiting a museum, whatever; just make it an activity that allows you to interact and not sit staring at a TV set or a movie screen. When you do the latter have a session in which you all discuss your reaction to what you saw and learn from each other.

Various states are currently debating passing laws to ban spanking until age four and not allowing smoking in cars with children under the age of six, while a religious cult in another state wants a law passed to allow whipping of children. I can see the fourth birthday becoming spanking day to make up for what parents weren’t allowed to do until that day. It is absurd. What we need is a law which says you must love your children.. I know smokers who smoke outdoors to protect their pets but do not think about their children’s lungs. Love is the answer. As Emmet Fox wrote, “There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer; It makes no difference how deeply seated may be the trouble; A sufficient realization of love will dissolve it all.” A young woman I know whose parents are alcoholics started saying to them every morning, “I love you.” They never answered her. After doing this for three months she ran out of the house one morning late for school. Her parents were in the street yelling, “You forgot something.” “What did I forget?” “You didn’t say I love you.” Their healing began.

Yes, love is a weapon and I prefer to kill with kindness and torment with tenderness.

When we do this our natural tendencies towards aggression are utilized in creative ways through work, sports, games and hobbies and not through destructive behavior. A child’s brain wave pattern up to the age of six is like that of a hypnotized individual. So your messages can stay with them for a lifetime. If they are mottoes to die by, and the child does not make a conscious effort to eliminate and abandon them, it does lead to their illness and early death. A study of Harvard students showed that of those who felt loved by their parents, while attending college, only one fourth had suffered an illness by midlife while almost one hundred percent of those who didn’t feel loved had suffered a major illness by midlife. The addictions and self destructive behavior are not an accident. To quote a woman who said her mother always belittled her efforts and only dressed her in dark clothes, “My mother’s words were eating away at me and maybe gave me cancer.” The cancer motivated her to be born again and redirect her life; reparent herself, find self love and buy a red dress. So curses can became blessings as castles can be built out of the mud.

Centuries ago Maimonides wrote, “If people would take as good care of themselves as they do their animals they would suffer fewer illnesses.” So get some pets and treat your children as you do your beloved pets with love, affection, trust, respect, consistency, discipline, exercise and a reverence for life. Those bits of advice actually come from veterinarians. So when in doubt WWLD; just ask yourself What Would Lassie Do?

If your children have any questions just remember love is my answer. My Mom’s answers were, “Do what will make you happy.” “Troubles are God’s redirections and something good will come of this.” And my Dad’s, “Material things are to make life easier and when you are happy you are a success.”