No parent is perfect, just as no child is perfect. Along with that, I don’t know any parents out there that think they have it all figured out and don’t need any help. I certainly don’t feel that way. On a weekly if not daily basis I feel like I have failed to meet the needs of my kids. Wow “kids”. I’m still getting used to saying that in the plural form. My aim in this series of blog posts is to break down some of the more complex topics surrounding parenting and make it simple, and practical, knowing that overall there is nothing simple about parenting.
So if you don’t know me, my wife and I have not one but two beautiful boys. I have a 22-month-old son named Titus, and a 15-day old son named Eli. For the purpose of this particular post, we are going to be focusing primarily on Titus since I have had significantly more time with him than my brand new baby.
Welcome to Practical Parenting
Part 1 – Love Languages
I’m a firm believer in Dr. Gary Chapmans 5 love languages. Not that it somehow changes the way I view relationships forever, but it does break down what I believe to be a really powerful truth. We all experience and express love in 5 different ways.
Those ways are:
We all can give and receive love in these 5 ways, and no one has a monopoly on one. If you have a loving relationship with someone, whether that be a friend, family member, child, or spouse, all 5 types of love will be present.
But each and every one of us has a lean or preference toward some of the languages over the others. When we identify the love language that we have a stronger lean toward we call it the primary love language.
Take me for example. My primary love language is words of affirmation. I experience all 5 of them and enjoy all 5 of them, but the one that I need more than any other from relationships is words of affirmation. Something about the way that my brain is wired insists that for me to feel loved by someone, they must all affirm who I am and what I’m doing. (You can take this time to come up with a great encouraging comment for this posts now before you even finish it to affirm me ;).
Now, all this talk about love languages isn’t concrete science. Some people may have more than one primary love language, or even have a need to feel them all equal. But generally people have one primary and the others are just supplementary. Whatever your primary love language is, inherently it will also be the one you are the best at expressing towards others. My wife, for instance, is quality time. Nothing means more to her than me making a plan for us to spend time together. We could have nothing to to do on a Friday night and would spend the entire evening together watching tv or doing a house project, but if I PLAN for that to happen, pick the movie, and let her know that the night is strictly dedicated to hanging out together it will mean the world to her. She also is best at loving others through the language of quality time. She can carve out quality time from thin air and make the most out even the shorter periods. But she constantly struggles with words of affirmation. I don’t write that as an attack on her, it’s just human nature. We are not as good at loving someone outside of our primary love language.
What we have to realize then, is that just because we are best at loving others in a specific way, doesn’t mean that is the best way to show them love. Just because my primary love language is words of affirmation and I love the best in that way doesn’t mean that’s the best way to love my wife. In fact, it’s not. Because she needs quality time and I have to love her in the way she needs to be loved.
Let’s Get Practical
That is the concept of the 5 love languages. Now in terms of practical parenting, what I want to do now if evaluate this idea of love languages, and turn it down to look at how children experience these love languages. Even though they are not as complex emotional creatures as us, they can still experience love in the same spectrum that we can. And I think that far too often, we put them in a box and say “You’re a child and you experience love in ______ way and no other way, therefore I’m going to love you like this.” Not only is that elementary and far too basic, but its also dangerous, because our children need to be loved with the same complexity as our spouse. We have to learn to love them how they NEED to be loved. Moreover, I’m going to argue that children, especially young children (0-9 or so), need to experience a heavy dose of all 5 love languages because they are developing a sense of self and likely won’t have a primary love language until they are older.
So let’s break it down piece by piece and talk about what each of the 5 love languages looks like in children.
Physical touch is the very first love language that we can experience as a child. From the moment that a baby is born their only love language they will experience until they start to develop a personality is physical touch. What calms a crying baby (other than changing their diaper, or feeding them)? Holding them. Patting them. Rocking them. The touch of someone who knows what they are doing. We have had a lot of visitors for our newborn son over the last two weeks and I can’t tell you how many times someone new was holding him, and they were nervous or just really rigid and he started wailing. All I had to do was take him, and bounce a little before he knew he was safe and secure with his da da. Physical touch is everything for newborns.
But even as kids grow this one is hugely important. A kid sitting in the lap of their mom while she reads them a book. A dad wrestling with his kid in the living room floor. Holding your toddler when they are hurt and crying as if the world is ending. You can say I love you with your words over and over until you are blue in the face, but nothing is like your arms wrapped around them holding them tight. Our kids feel that we love them when we are close to them physically.
Words of Affirmation
Think about when you were a kid. Think about getting a base hit in a baseball/softball game. Think about when you finished your first recital, or band concert, or choir solo. Think about bringing that report card home to show your parents your good or bad grades. Think about when you messed up and did something you shouldn’t have. You likely looked to your parents for their encouragement, praise, or forgiveness. You wanted to be affirmed.
I can already see this in my oldest. He’s not even two yet, but if he climbs up onto the coffee table and jumps off the first thing he’s going to do after landing is look right at me. And I’m going to be clapping and cheering. (Side-note. Don’t judge me, the coffee table isn’t that high). When he takes a bath at night we count the toys that are in there from 0-15 and from 15-0. And even if he messes up along the way, we are clapping and cheering for him when he finishes. And he smiles in the best way possible.
The flip side is true as well, however. When he disobeys us and goes to time-out. The first thing he does when his 30 seconds in the corner are done is turn around and hug us. We kiss him and tell him what he did wrong, and that’s it ok, but to not do it again.
In all these cases he is looking for affirmation. Did I do good? Are you proud of me? Even though I disobeyed, do you still love me? These questions are asked by all of us, no matter what age we are. But its critical in our children to affirm our affection and love for them.
If you were a fly on the wall in my house I can’t tell you how many times a day you would hear the words “mama come on!”. What he means by that is follow me, come with me, play with me. I think Titus is slowly becoming every bit a lover of quality time as his mom. He wants what so many other kids grow to want and that is focused un-divided time spent with us.
When I get up in the morning with him he wants to sit in my lap while he drinks his “baba”. And then he wants me to be on the floor with a tractor in my hand making scooping noises. He doesn’t want me looking at my phone checking my twitter feed. He doesn’t want me watching the TV in the background. He wants me to make that tractor “go” and have that dump trunk “dump it out”.
I think this is one of the most difficult to get right in the 21st century. We have thousands of things vying for our attention, and often times our kids lose the battle. I’m not saying your children need your attention every second of every day. They need to grow to be independent in time, but they do need your undivided focused attention for some quality time.
Gifts are often the easiest for most parents to participate in. Every kid could fool you into thinking this is their primary love language by the way that they throw a tantrum when walking past the toy aisle at the store. Gifts are an important part of the childhood love experience, but I think we need to be careful that it doesn’t become the only one we participate in.
Showing your children affection through giving them gifts is important, but we must not let it become the only way we show love. A gift given to children doesn’t replace the other love languages they need.
Acts of Service
In an adult, acts of service might look like helping out with a special project they are stuck on, or giving your spouse a shoulder rub the help get rid of the tension. Acts of service can be much more difficult to identify in children. Has your child ever brought you their broken toy and asked you to fix it? And then immediately broken it again so you could fix it again. Repeat. This is your child looking for acts of service.
Other times it’s helping them with homework even though they can finish it fine on their own. For my son, acts of service are when he brings his mommy the nail clippers with his fingers held out waiting for them to be clipped. Or when he insists that he has a “boo-boo” on his leg that I can’t see. I still will grab the Neosporin and doctor it up for him, because that is a small way I can show him love. Acts of service in children may sometimes seem silly to us, but we need to recognize that its an important part of their emotional development.
Now you do what only you can do. You evaluate your kiddos and see If there are some areas in which you can improve upon. If your child is older, maybe think on these 5 and see if you are starting to see one of the languages stick out a little bit more than another. Whatever you do, don’t give up. I will say this a million times before I die. Parenting is hard. It’s not easy to be there for your children 24/7 despite how you feel, but that is what is required of you. On our worst days, when we feel unloved, unloveable, and like our tank is empty, our kids still need us. I’m proud of you for trying, even when you fail. Because there are too many kids growing up in our world, with parents that don’t even care to try. I hope you find this helpful, and encouraging, and I hope that maybe it makes it just a little bit easier to love your children the way they want/need to be loved.
Drop a comment below if anything stuck out to you! Even if your not a parent yet, you’re likely an aunt/uncle/family-friend/crazy-cousin, and the kids in your life need love from you too!