When infants are born, they have a good amount of dependency. Where as other mammals can somewhat detach from their parents early on, humans typically hold on to that attachment for quite a long time. Where as a baby fawn can stand up and walk around the first day that it’s born, a human baby usually doesn’t walk for an entire year after birth. On top of that though, humans seem to need love. When research was done because of the high mortality rates at orphanages, the literature suggested that even when babies are given the proper nutrition, if they are not touched, held, snuggled…they stop growing…they can even die. Love seems to be at the heart of that necessity.
We have an immense amount of social drive. We crave connection to social groups, and we need to be nurtured in such a way early in life.
My daughter was born an entire two months before her due date. We were fortunate in that the hospital we chose to use for delivery was equipped with a state-of-the-art neonatal care unit. They facilitated couplet care, in which the mother and father are able to stay at the hospital with the infant in the room, until the infant is ready to go home. One practice I quickly learned from the nurses was that skin-to-skin contact would be crucial now…that the literature is clear how beneficial it is for the baby helping them grow more effectively…and that it builds a strong bond within the parent/child structure. This is love…growing a child. With this knowledge, as soon as I knew it was a time I could hold my daughter, I’d quickly take my shirt off, lay down on the bed, and the nurses would carefully place her on my chest (early on she was connected to oxygen, a feeding tube, a picc line, and monitors so it helped to have others move her). We’d then cover her up, but also maintain that skin-to-skin contact. She was learning my smell, my voice, my breathing patterns, my personality, and my love. I’ll never forget the love and emotion that I felt during those times. It was a connection that I’d obviously never felt before. My daughter sprouted up through that phase real quick, and is a happy, healthy 5 year old now. It’s easy to see how love played its part in that growth.
As we age, the actual necessity for love seems to fade. We can live without it, although it’s not ideal. We certainly can’t thrive without it. And part of our self-actualization seems to transfer from ‘needing to be loved by others’ to more of a ‘desire to give love to others’. Now that a child has grown into an equipped adult, they are now in a position where they can give back and provide love to others.
Love isn’t perfect harmony…and only rainbows and butterflies. Love between two individuals hopefully comes with the knowledge and awareness that each can benefit from the other’s perspective, and that challenging each other’s presuppositions (in a caring and loving way) will lead to the growth and potential reach of each person. Love involves honesty and truth. And sometimes dealing with the truth isn’t easy. It’s challenging and arduous. It’s realizing that you aren’t everything you could be. But the awareness and effort and growth together leads to the absolute best version of both individuals.