I hear quite a bit in Christian and other circles on “how to better love your spouse”, and seminars and events to that effect abound. When it comes to children, however, I have mostly seen books, blogs and Bible studies on how to effectively parent, discipline, keep your sanity, instill values, etc. Many center around concepts of how to organize, manage and lead. But very few focus solely on love, when in reality, how well a child is loved or not loved is what will stay with them and most profoundly shape them into adulthood. Much of parenting advice today includes offshoots or aspects that incorporate love, but that is not the primary end goal.
As a wife and mom of two, this question has been on my mind as of late:
How can I better love my husband, my son and my daughter?
Before our wedding, Matt and I were so very fortunate to receive marriage counseling from one of my psychology professors at college. I can’t thank him enough for helping us build a firm foundation of love and communication for our relationship, and give us a solid ground to work through any potential stumbling blocks before we ever got to the altar to say our vows. Most pastors require some sort of marriage counseling before performing a wedding.
One of the best books we have ever read together is “The Five Love Languages,” and I highly recommend it to you (and if you haven’t read it in five years, read it again because sometimes where you are in life can color and shift how you best receive love.) As we worked through the book, Matt and I came to better understand how we each best receive love and how, then, we can best love each other.
For children, however, it is expected that you will just automatically know how to love your child the moment they are born. So, any birthing or parenting classes usually focus on breathing techniques to get that little one out of the womb, or how to put on a diaper. The “loving” part is supposed to be what comes naturally.
Sometimes I wonder if parents need more than just birthing classes before welcoming a child into their family. I think we could all benefit from ongoing support for how to best love our children.
Now that I am staying home full-time with Jackson and Lauren, it is becoming more and more apparent to me that they both receive love in very different ways and I must give accordingly. They both have distinct love languages, even at ages one and four.
Jackson is a “words of affirmation” child and has been from the start. He craves verbal affirmation. When I verbally praise and encourage him, his whole body lights up. He does things just to receive my love in words. He is a naturally-born storyteller, and as he details to me his thoughts and ideas, there is no better love expressed than through actively listening. He even conveys his love to me through words, with “I love you” and “good job, mom” throughout the day. He also communicates his hurt through words, and words of disappointment and angry tones serve as his greatest punishment. As a words of affirmation person myself, loving Jackson in a way he receives best comes easier for me, but I must also use caution with my words, especially in discipline.
Lauren receives love much differently. She is a “quality time” and “physical touch” child. She comes alive with interaction. She could spend an hour wrapped up in my arms reading books, or playing together with her toys. She loves being with other people, and the greatest way they can build into her is giving her their full attention. She would rather play with someone than independently, even if it is our dog. She is a snuggle bunny, and freely gives hugs and kisses. If she is doing something wrong, I could say “no” and shout all day long and it wouldn’t make the same impact as one quick light pat (i.e., spanking) on her backside. Ignoring her is even worse, because she craves that attention and time with me. I can best show her love by being with her and giving her my attention and physical love.
I know God is stretching me because literally every love language is represented in my family (Matt tends to receive love best through gifts and acts of service…my weakest love languages!). I have never had more responsibility than I do now. And, I want to make the most of it. I deeply desire to be the very best wife I can be to Matt, and the very best mother I can be to Jackson and to Lauren.
How do I do that? I have to be deeply rooted in God’s love. The love that the three of them require and deserve can only be supplied to the extent I am firmly planted in Christ. My life’s purpose will only be realized in allowing God to use me as a conduit for His love.
So this week, instead of trying to figure out how can I get this fit to end, this food to be eaten, this room to be clean, et cetera, et cetera, this will be the question I will ask myself:
How can I best love _______ in this situation?