Why do kids need Love Stories?

When I was seven years old, I fell in love for the first time. His name was Adam King, and we played marbles together on the playground during recess. I lost track of him in third grade when he was moved to the local “gifted” school, but I’ve never quite forgotten him, or the day he stuck his entire upper half out of the school bus to show me his new, tie-dyed shirt.

The little foster boy who I was raising, briefly, fell neatly and tidily head-over-heels in love at the sage old age of six. (And unfortunately got his heart broken–that little hussy!)

Today as the snow comes down drearily in MontP, I want to talk about love.

I wonder if we didn’t all feel a little unloved or unwanted at some point in our childhood? Maybe when our parents were angry at us or when they sided with our siblings in an argument? But for some kids, this feeling is a bitter undercurrent running through long periods or their entire childhood. Foster kids, shelter kids, group home kids, homeless kids–all are likely to feel unloved. But even kids who have live-in parents are not guaranteed to have their emotional needs met. Parents who are depressed, workaholics, living at or below subsistence level, better bonded to another sibling, in an abusive relationship, divorced, have mental or emotional disabilities . . . are all likely to be unable to meet the emotional needs of a child.

As a young child and an adolescent, I devoured love stories. I’d guess that other kids who feel consistently unloved, would do the same. The need to feel loved and connected, is one of the most fundamental needs. Children who don’t feel loved, or loved very much, or particularly cared about, are likely to feel hopeless and afraid. I think love stories can give these children hope that even if they feel unloved right now, they will be loved someday in the context of a different kind of relationship.

The books that had the most resonant love stories that I returned to over and over as a child were:

  • Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
  • The Second Bend in the River by Ann Rinaldi

Since then, books I’ve loved for their love:

  • Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt
  • The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley
  • I am Rembrandt’s Daughter by Lynn Cullen
  • Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
  • The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
  • Ash by Malinda Lo
  • Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

These are not complicated books about love. They are not dark and angsty. They aren’t about teen passion. They aren’t, for the most part, particularly honest looks at relationship. These books don’t teach kids really what romantic love is or how to do it healthily. They don’t portray lust or sexuality for the most part. The point of these books is that the love story–which is not, for the most part, the main story line–feels real, and deep, and soul-touching, and good.

There are a lot of other kinds of love/lust stories for kids. Stories that show quirky relationships (Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger and Tips on Having a Gay (ex)Boyfriend by Carrie Jones come to mind), relationships destined to end (Stoner and Spaz by Ron Koertge), relationships that never get started (Criss Cross by Lyn Rae Perkins), disturbing relationships (Twilight) . . . But it seems like good, old-fashioned, somewhat unrealistic but utterly hopeful love stories that show the heros riding off into the sunset together have gone out of vogue. I want to make a call to bring them back.

I do think that kids in general need honest love stories, even honest emotionally appropriate stories about teen sexuality. But these stories don’t provide hope for unloved or underloved kids. In fact, they can do the opposite by suggesting that love is harmful, troubling, dangerous . . . And love may truly be all of these things, but there’s time to discover the true complexities when they are in a more loving environment. Until then, I think they need old-school love stories (minus, perhaps, the chauvinism and 1950’s politics.)

What do you all think? And what love stories have you read that made you want to fall in love?

Next Week’s Topic: Homeless kids, the invisible demographic.

About pamwatts

Writer, Reader, and Children's advocate
This entry was posted in Book Lists, Thoughts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why do kids need Love Stories?

  1. annewestrick says:

    This post made me think about religious faith, and I was reluctant to comment here because I’m wary of writing anything religious. I hate the current glut of faith-speak and politicians throwing around faith-language and people telling you on their answering machines or in check-out lines to have “a blessed day.” It used to be you had to sneeze to get the blessing, and now all you have to do is breathe. But I digress. I want to say something about love and faith…

    I used to wonder: if a child is raised without love, how can s/he ever understand the words, “God is love.” How can an image of a “loving father” or “loving mother” resonate when you haven’t experienced such a person? These are powerful images. What if you have no context in which to understand them?

    You wrote, “I think love stories can give these children hope that even if they feel unloved right now, they will be loved someday in the context of a different kind of relationship.” Agreed. And in addition to books giving hope, some faith communities can offer hope, and that’s what your post brought to mind. Congregations that reach out to all people equally, regardless of social, economic or marital status, race, ability, sexual orientation, ethnicity or age—those are the congregations that have the power to make a difference. Sorry I didn’t have a book that jumped to mind here. But I did have a church, Ginter Park Presbyterian, and I know there are thousands of other churches that are truly loving communities. You just have to look long and hard for them, and listen to the message that is preached—is it a “love” message or a “fear” message? I say—run fast from the “fear” churches but give the “love” churches a second chance. Books are great. But in a community, you can physically hug another person during a healthy interchange, and experience love that starts as friendship and acceptance and grows into trust, and may ultimately have the power to dry up a reservoir of childhood dysfunction.

  2. pamwatts says:

    That makes sense to me, Anne. It seems like having a loving community of adults who care could be life changing for a child who doesn’t feel loved. But how to get the child there?

    And I will say that for me, the image of a “loving parent” does not actually resonate. I’ve had to find a different set of powerful images to dialogue with the divine. And when I go into a church to worship and grow spiritually, there’s a lot of translating that goes on in my head. Luckily, there are a number of other frameworks to choose from. But it might be easier if that set of imagery did work for me.

    I wonder if there’s anything that churches can do to reach out to unhappy kids who aren’t already a part of their congregation?


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