Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4 NIV
Recently, in my recent article called, Life Unscripted, I confessed how I’d wished my children were born with scripts. That way, I’d always know the right thing to say and do. While all the wishing in the world did not produce said script, I did, however, fall upon two fabulous resources (albeit, fifteen years after giving birth to my youngest child). These resources changed my parenting style and helped me communicate more effectively with both my children and my husband.
The Five Love Languages and The Five Love Languages of Children, both authored by Gary Chapman, were the most valuable tools for my floundering communication skills as a mother and a wife. In his books, Chapman identifies five basic love languages, stating that we all encompass one primary language. By identifying our child’s (or spouse’s) primary love language and communicating our love for them using that language, we build healthy relationships and “fill their love tanks.”
Here’s the five love languages Chapman defines:
- Words of Affirmation: compliments or words of appreciation; criticism devastates this child.
- Quality Time: the need for undivided attention; be totally present. Ignoring or showing no interest in them or their interests deflate this child.
- Receiving Gifts: the joy of receiving thoughtful gifts (made or bought) brings great appreciation and joy; overdoing this can be meaningless and harmful.
- Acts of Service: showing love by performing a task that’s especially meaningful to that child (running their forgotten lunch to school, fixing his bike, helping alongside them on a school project). While we do some of these things already, to the child who has this love language, it’s how they feel loved and are especially grateful for your help.
- Physical Touch: hugging, kissing, appropriate touching is how this child feels loved. As the child gets older, we must adjust the level of touch, but a simple squeeze on the shoulder to say, “I love you” goes a long way. Without this physical touch, this child feels unloved or unlove-able.
There’s two tricky things about all this: one, figuring out your child/spouse’s love language and two, considering how to love effectively when your primary love language is not the same as your child’s (spouse).
First, spend time observing your child/spouse. How do they show you they love you? Do they praise you for doing things for them? Do they fight for undivided attention? Do they bring you little gifts or do things for you around the house? Or, do they constantly want to hug, kiss or touch you, especially when they’re upset or tired? Chapman explains, “our behavior is motivated by our emotional desires.”
Secondly, loving them as they feel most loved can be a stretch, a real sacrifice, especially if they don’t share your primary love language. For instance, my primary love language is Words of Affirmation, but for my husband and daughter its Physical Touch. It’s not natural for me, especially during conflict, to run up to either of them and throw my arms around them. I’d rather run the opposite direction until the situation calms down and we can speak “affirming words” in a calm tone. For years, these two precious people wondered why I couldn’t hug them, even after things calmed down. It must have been exasperating. It’s not my love language and I had no clue how touching them could make them feel more loved. Honestly, my husband used to have to ask me to hug him.
Chapman states that “when a child’s emotional needs are met,” [by speaking their love language effectively] “they become responsible adults. If their emotional needs remain unmet, they may violate acceptable standards, express anger toward parents, or seek love in inappropriate places.”
It wasn’t easy to change how I expressed my love to my children or husband. It took a lot of humbling (taking my eyes of myself and how I feel loved) and a bit of work observing and asking questions. Of course, it’s a two-way street, and they’ve learned how best to love me, too. But, isn’t that what God’s called us to do? To put the needs of others before our own? To sacrificially love one another?
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:12-13 NIV