These parting words, exchanged between Kiki, my 10 year-old son and me, occur every night before I close the boys’ door and they go to sleep.
With love in the air this Valentines’ week, I thought there was no better time to reflect upon how we love our children and they love us back. Sometimes–as in our bedtime ritual above–expressing love for our children and feeling their love towards us, is easy and straightforward.
But as we all know, there are other times when expressing and receiving love can be confusing, misunderstood, or even backfire. Yet these moments of confusion, as in so many other areas in life, can also be opportunities for gaining the most clarity in learning about ourselves and our children.
I remember when my older son Conor was very young and I made a point, whenever he fell down or expressed big emotions, to always offer him words of validation like, “‘I know it’s hard, it hurts, or I’m right here, ” and to remain close to him, knowing that if I felt hurt or upset, this would be exactly what I would want. Imagine my shock the day he was old enough to articulate his feelings and he yelled, “Mama, DON’T sit so close to me and DON’T say all those words like, I know this, I know that!”
Was he really telling me he wanted to be left alone and for me to be quiet? How could all my comforting and loving words be irritating him? I didn’t understand.
Then I read The Five Love Languages of Children by Dr. Gary Chapman, and everything began to make sense. In his book, Dr. Chapman describes how each of us feels and gives love in specific ways—basically that we each have our own “love language”. These five languages include: Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch.
The basic premise of Dr. Chapman’s work is that loving our children isn’t always enough. Learning to speak their love language communicates our love in ways they’ll understand right from the start. By understanding our own love language and that of our children’s (and partner’s too) we can better connect to each other and enhance our relationships. (To learn more about each language and take a quick assessment, go to: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/).
After reading about the love languages, I realized that both Kiki and I are “Words of Affirmation” people who feel loved with validation and support. So naturally I assumed this was the best way to also show love to Conor when he was hurting.
But after observing how Conor expresses love, and listening to his most common requests, (both suggestions from Dr. Chapman) I realized that “Acts of Service”–like cooking breakfast for me or rubbing my head when I have a headache–was his primary love language.
In fact to this day, I’ve noticed that Conor doesn’t like when I give him too much focused attention, or talk too much about his feelings or accomplishments (I also learned the same was true for my husband, which explained a lot of things)!
I now know that when Conor is hurt or upset, he would much more appreciate if I made a treat for him, or help him with a chore, than give him validating words and comfort about his frustration.
So this year, in addition to buying the candy hearts and Star Wars Valentines for the class, I invite you to take a few moments to reflect upon the love languages that you and your family speak. It may open another door of connection and closeness that could be sweeter to your life than even a Godiva Dark Chocolate Truffle (well, pretty close, anyway)!
Mindful Parenting Playlist Song#12 “Jus the Way You Are” by Billy Joel