Loving our children is always a work in progress. Andrea Zanin, Kids Matter facilitator/comms pro & mum of five talks “love languages” and how getting it wrong helps us do better next time…
My husband packed the notes that he had lovingly written the night before into the kids’ lunch bags – one for each of the girls and one for out son Jackson. A sweet secret to be discovered at break time. When the the girls saw their dad after school, they ran attacked him with joyful kisses and cuddles, thanking him profusely for their little letters. Jackson didn’t even open his…
His perplexed, slightly stressed face, as he tried to recall the small envelope, sent a stifled giggle bubbling down my throat – not wanting to hurt his dad’s feelings but also having precisely zero recollection what the note said because it was still buried inbetween sandwhich crumbs and a soggy apple core, he struggled to come up with an adequate response.
Now, it would be easy, in this moment, to be offended. Jackson barely acknowledged this token of love from his dad. But what we remembered about our son in these awkward few seconds was that Jackson is not a words person. What does this mean? Well, like all kids, he loves to be affirmed, but this is not the primary way in which he expresses his love, and in turn, feels most loved.
Jackson is a quality time kinda guy. He also loves a cuddle. Our son feels most loved when he’s spent time playing Monopoly with us or cuddling on our laps reading stories together. On birthdays, his older sisters love to clamber onto our bed and read our birthday messages to everyone out loud; the words on our carefully chosen cards make them so happy! Jackson rips the envelope open more as a token of interest and dives straight into gift and ‘cake for breakfast’ as has become our family tradition.
As Jackson’s lips opened and closed in a desperate attempt to to somehow breathe in the right answer to whether or not he liked his note, we remembered that Jackson’s love language is not quite how his dad had chosen to show him love on this occasion. So we put him out of his misery by reminding our bleak-faced boy that it was okay that he had not opened the note; and suggested we dig it out of his lunch bag and he sit with dad on the ocuch and open it together? We didn’t want our son to feel like he had done something wrong when we had forgotten how he needs to be loved.
If you’ve not ever come across the “love languages” phenomenon, let me offer it to you as a gift – it will absolutely change the way in which you do relationships with friends, partners, family members and children. Anyone whose on your love radar. Based on The Five Love Languages book by Gary Chapman there are five love languages that people use to express and experience love: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. Usually each person has a primary and secondary love language, and these might change over time. The idea is that to love others, our metaphoric love tank needs to me pretty full; this happens when we recieve love in our language, then we are enable to give love to others.
But what happens when we don’t love someone the way they need to be loved? –Like Jackson receiving a note rather than getting a hug on his way into school, which he loves!
Our instinct is to love according to our own language. So, if I am a quality time person, my natural inclination is to want to spend devoted, one-on-one time with everyone in my life – because that’s how I show love. It’s also how I need to be loved. Note the use of the word I. My primary love language might apply to many but certainly not everyone. What happens when love languages do not match up I’ve spent exorbitant amounts of energy making an effort to spend time with my children, friends, family, husband when, actually, that’s not what they needed, leaving them feeling disregarded and unheard because I’ve not engaged them in their own language. Perhaps they needed a hug, or a card, a phonecall or the dishes to be washed? Ultimately, relationships can suffer because of this miscommunication.
What can save the day is knowing your love language and learning the love languages of those around you – then loving people in the way they need to be loved, not the way YOU need to be loved. With a total of five children (aged 10, 8, 6, 3 and 2) charging through our house at any given moment, nailing their love languages makes the biggest difference in our family relationships. We;re by no means perfect at it! Believe me, we get it wrong a lot! Just when we think we’ve figured out a couple of our children, their languages change and we have to adapt. Or we’re ace at communicating our love with one child but totally not getting it with another.
We don’t even get it right with each other all the time: I need Warren to look into my face when we are having a conversation; right into my big blue eyeballs – fixing his bicycle or paging through a tool manual and having a chat is only half-way good enough. Full attention, thanks. And he’ll often walk past me and grab a hug – and I’m like; didn’t I give you one of those three minutes ago? Loving someone in their own language rather than your own takes work and practice but it it makes all the difference when you get it right! It acknowledges and affirms the ones you love and gives them the capacity to go out into the world and do the same for others.
And the great thing is that this doesn’t have to be a guessing game. There is a very handy love languages quiz you can take (and different versions for kids, teens, partners etc.) to help you figure out your own love language. We ask parents to do this quiz with their kids as part of our Kids Matter parenting programme and it is always wonderful to see eyes light up as mums and dads realise that their kids aren’t simply acting up again – they just need to be loved in their own language. We have a cool resource that helps with this, once you have figured out the love languages of those living in your home. See below:
For any more information on love languages or to access any of our programmes, visit our website Kidsmatter.org.uk or get in touch by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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