Some years back I read the book "The Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman. Contrary to my expectations (what could a book with a pink cover adorned with a doily and flowery writing have to offer me?) I was quite impacted by the concepts in the book. The author talks about how there are five different ways in which people express and receive love and the importance of communicating love to a person in their primary love language, in the way in which they best give and receive it. With kids it can be hard to know what their primary love language is, and it is important to express love to them in all 5 love languages. Lately I have been thinking a lot about what it means for me to love my girls in all 5 of these ways. Here are some of my thoughts. You don't have to read it all if it's too long for your busy day, but it is good for me to write it and think about it:)
Quality Time: As a stay-at-home mom it could be easy for me to just check this one off the list. "I spend all my time with my girls, I can't give them more time than I do, I'm good at this one!" But I think that quality time for Anna and Josie and Ruthie is time that I spend completely focused on them without other mommy distractions. Quality is especially time with each of them one-on-one without their sisters taking any of my attention away from the one that I am focusing on. That, my friends, is hard to do. This week there were a few days when Anna didn't take a nap. Sometimes that is hard for me because getting them all down for a nap at the same time is one of my highlights. I actually get some time for me! But the time that I was able to spend with Anna was precious time. We played Go Fish and a few other just mommy and Anna things and we both loved it. I find I have to be very intentional and creative and it takes a lot of energy for me to find the space in our lives to spend time with just one daughter at a time.
Acts of service is another way of expressing love that seems at first glance to be easy for me. I feel like I am serving my girls all the time. Serving them feels like all I do sometimes. But then I realized that for me there is a difference between acts of service that are just my daily responsibilities and acts of service that are extra ways that I put in extra effort to serve them. In our house there are things that are Anna and Josie's responsibility to do and things that are my responsibility to do. When I need them to do something that is their responsibility to do I tell them to do it, I don't ask them to do it. Anna is responsible for getting herself dressed every morning. When it is time for her to get dressed I tell her that. I don't just ask her to. There are things, like changing diapers, that are my responsibility to do as a mom. Sometimes when I am changing Ruthie's diaper I ask Anna or Josie if they want to do me a favor by bringing me the diaper. They usually love to help out in little ways like that. But it is always something I ask them to do and they have the option of saying no to the request because it is something that is completely and totally my responsibility to do. When they do choose to help me out with something that is my responsibility to take care of then they are serving me, then they are showing me love and I try and express to them that I really appreciate what they are doing. I want them to know how it feels to show love like that, how right they feel inside when they serve. When they obey me and take care of something that is their responsibility to take care of, that is great but it is not an act of service. When I make lunch for the girls I am doing something that is my responsibility to do, it is not an act of service in a going above and beyond the call of duty sort of way that they will receive as love. It is an expectation in our daily life although done with a lot of love on my part. When they are doing something that is their responsibility to do, like getting themselves dressed, and they ask me for help, I can choose to help them or I can choose not to. When I choose to help them in those duties that they know are their responsibility to do then that feels like I am truly serving them and I can see in how they respond to me doing those acts of service that they do feel loved and nurtured by that.
Physical touch is a way of expressing love that seems extremely important to young children, especially babies who don't have a separate identity from their mothers yet. In our household with three girls aged three and under there are constantly needs that need to be met from the moment the first one wakes up in the morning until the last one is finally asleep at night. Despite this pressure to do, do, do, I find that making sure I take the time to sit with each of the older girls each morning (one at a time) until they decide they have had enough snuggle time and climb out of my lap on their own goes a long way towards meeting their need for physical love each day. If I rush that time and try to move them on before they are ready to move on (breakfast has to be made, laundry needs to get started, I want a shower before Mitch walks out the door...) I find I pay for it later with little girls who are fussier and clingier than usual and just want to be up all day, their way of making sure their need to be close to me is met. I have also found that my baby carriers are invaluable. They are one item on the endless list of 'stuff you supposedly need to buy for your baby' that does actually seem important to me. They truly help me to be a better mother. I love my Ergo backpack for that reason, I can carry any one of our three girls on my back or front and still go about my day getting the endless list of chores done that makes our household function. It allows mothering and the domestic arts to go hand in hand. Wearing my girls (hopefully one at a time) allows my girls to feel loved even when I feel overwhelmed by all the stressors of life and don't feel like I can just stop and hold the one that needs to be held. Wearing Ruthie allows me to hold her and be responsive to her needs even as I keep moving to meet the needs of the older two and do all the tasks in my day that require two hands (laundry, chopping veggies for dinner, changing Josie's diaper...) Another thing that feels like it helps meet their need to be close to me is cosleeping. I love our big family bed! We have a queen size bed and a twin size bed right next to each other in our room that we all sleep on. Our room is basically one big bed:) It feels like this is what allows Mitch and me to continue parenting our girls in the way that we want to (responding to them when they need us, letting them be physically close to us when they need to...) even at night and still get the sleep we need. When they wake up at night they can roll over and feel our warm, sleeping bodies right next to them and they can go right back to sleep feeling safe, secure and loved even at night. (For tips on safe bedsharing check out: http://www.mothering.com/articles/new_baby/sleep/family-bed-safety.html )
Verbal affirmation, telling them I love them, is something it is easy for me to forget. Of course I love them! But I find that it is so easy for a day to slip by without telling them so. Coming from a 'Deeds, not Words' family where the emphasis was more on showing love means it is especially easy for me to forget how important it is for Anna and Josie and Ruthie to hear me say "I love you." But every time I tell them and see their responsive grin and how they cuddle up to me I am reminded that they do care. They do need to hear it. It does contribute to their feeling of well-being, to their physical, emotional and spiritual health.
Gifts are hard in our family because neither Mitch nor I are good gift givers. More 'stuff ' is not a very high value of ours nor do we have much money to spend on gifts or often have the time, hands and money it takes to make gifts. But it is another way in which our girls receive our love. So the little bit of time we do find to devote to making gifts is usually spent on making gifts for our girls, sorry to all of you who haven't received a gift from us in the last number of years:). I think that kids are natural gift givers. Our girls love to tell me who each of their creations are for and sometimes I am able to get those creations to their intended recipients.
It feels like all of these things are pieces of what contribute to our girls feeling a sense of rightness inside themselves, a sense of security, a foundation with which to approach the world, a confidence in themselves and joy in the world around them. I love the smiles on their faces when they feel these things inside themselves. I love seeing them share that love with each other and with others around them, modeling how they see us loving them. It is good for me to remind myself of what I am trying to do, of how I want to love them each day in the ways that Mitch and I have chosen to parent our girls.