I read a book some time ago called, The Five Love Languages written by Gary Chapman. It revolutionized my understanding of receiving and expressing love. The concept is very basic, but nevertheless incredibly difficult to actually realize. The main point is that we each are wired to receive love in a specific way, generally categorized into one of the following:
Words of Affirmation
Acts of Service
I think these categories are pretty self-explanatory - nonetheless, here is a brief description of each. GIFTS: Bethany is a classic Gifts. She makes little treasures for presents constantly, and even the smallest token, given as a gift, means the world to her. WORDS OF AFFIRMATION: Caleb couldn't be more transparent with his need for encouraging words. Telling him how proud we are of him, how much we love him, or how well he accomplished something sends him over the moon. PHYSICAL TOUCH: Leah loves to cuddle. She climbs up into our laps, Nana's lap, Jill's lap, even the laps of complete strangers. Holding hands, giving kisses, and being in close physical proximity are a must for her. ACTS OF SERVICE: My kids know that to bless me is to take care of stuff around the house - trash, vacuum, dishes, laundry, you name it... if you do it, I love it! QUALITY TIME: Hannah loves nothing better than to spend time in togetherness. Anything from conversing over recent events to a rousing game of Sorry can be used to satisfy her desires.
Of course there are nuances that create layers and diversity among these generic five. And there are also differences in how you relate to different people. For instance, I enjoy Acts Of Service from my children, Quality Time from my husband, and Words of Affirmation from my mom (don't bother me with Gifts... they mean practically nothing to me).
This was all incredibly illuminating the first time I was exposed to it. Christopher and I have very different love languages (Quality Time/Acts of Service v. Physical Touch/Words of Affirmation). This required some real work to specifically chose to do those things which meant value to the other. It is much easier for me to stop everything and participate in a discussion than to launch into a verbal treatise on all the ways I value and appreciate my husband. He can rub my back for hours but can't wrap his head around my need to talk.
And this is true with our kids as well.
Recently I found myself explaining the concept of love languages to Hannah. You see, if we don't consistently get what we need to feel loved then we tend to shut down, become angry or even bitter. The sad thing is that often it is not a matter of someone not loving you enough, but rather the means of communicating love missing its mark. Remember me and my husband? He could bring home flowers, a card, jewelry and symphony tickets every other week but I would still feel neglected and unloved! Why? Because I need him to sit across from me and genuinely ask me how I am doing. I need him to spend time listening to me and sharing with me more than anything else. When he does I am so much more capable of doing those things which mean the world to him.
Hannah and I are on very different planes in this season of life. She desperately wants Quality Time from me while I really want Acts Of Service from her. She doesn't want to do those little extras that speak love to me. They are boring and unrewarding. I don't want to spend another 30 minutes a night engaging with a child after a whole day of it. It is evident that neither one of us is working to serve the other person, and both of us are getting testy.
It was good to be reminded of the different ways people give and receive love. And my hope is that it empowers Hannah to better understand herself, and me as she grows older and more mature. I think it is a real asset to recognize that everybody is not wired the same as you. But, I am still the adult in our relationship - and the buck stops with me. So I have committed to spending time each day interacting with her in concerted ways. I know that as she grows more secure in feeling loved by me it will become easier for her to respond in kind.
It just never gets easy.