Parents can assure their children of your love. . .even when they don’t live together.
By: Tess Worrell
February can be a tough month. The focus on Cupid and good feelings often overwhelms those dealing with the confusion and insecurity of family bonds unraveling. How can parents communicate their love when children may need to hear it most?
Gary Chapman in his book, The Five Love Languages, offers concrete ways to express the amorphous layers of love. Using these guides, parents can meaningfully reach out to their children by tailoring the Love Languages to their unique situation.
Some children thrive best in one-on-one settings spending time with their parents. Whether living together or apart, parents of children who long for time should each arrange for moments with their child. BUT?..
For children whose love language is time, parents must know that fighting over time wounds their child deeply and destroys trust. Both parents must work together to ensure each has time. Moreover, children in crisis may pull back from spending time with a parent. The gift of waiting till she’s ready may be the best gift a parent can give.
Valentine’s Day focuses on gifts, so some parents assume going whole-hog will win points. Not so fast. While a bit crass, parents must understand that no one wants to feel “bought.” Exchanging value for affection is prostitution, not parenting.
Parents of gift children should focus on giving tangible symbols of love that reflect the tastes and priorities of the child. When parents choose gifts aimed to connect their child, rather than trying to buy affection, they communicate love.
Children, even teens, generally crave physical affection from their parents. Yet, disrupted trust or convoluted emotions can cause children to need more space. On the other hand, children in the midst of the chaos of divorce may long for the affection of their parents and not know how to ask. Parents should intentionally offer a hug or tousle a child’s hair and then look for the child’s signal of whether this is the right time. If there is hesitancy–it might be best to verbally express love instead of reaching for a hand to hold. When parents give space and refuse to push, the cuddle-bug child’s natural affection will return.
Acts of Service
Parents spend their days running children to practice, washing laundry, and packing lunches. Parents in crisis may find themselves too overwhelmed by the exhaustion of change to keep up. For children whose love language is acts of service, this lapse can create a double whammy–the loss of traditional support and a feeling that their parent’s love disappeared, too. This especially impacts if the serving parent moved out.
Parents build security for children with their attention to service. Whittling the list to a few key acts fills a child’s love tank without overwhelming parents. For the parent living away, brainstorming ways to stay involved not only shows children they are loved, it supports the family unit. That may prove key to resolving the underlying crisis.
Finally, notes, cards, letters that sincerely express both a recognition of the hard times and the steadiness of the parent’s love creates security. Wondering what to write? Simply and honestly affirm what makes each child special. Whether their love language or not, children’s security will increase.
Valentine’s Day’s focus on love often creates added stress for those who aren’t sure how to get the idyllic image in a far from idyllic situation. Yet, parents who target their child’s love language with even the simplest gestures offer security and affirmation–the most idyllic gifts of all.