Sunday, April 6, 2014

Loving a Toddler

Have you ever heard of "love languages"?  Many adults have.  Dr. Gary Chapman's "The Five Love Languages" book is a common and powerful resource that is often recommended to engaged and married couples.  I've read it.  I know my love language.  And while I think there might be a "language" or 2 that Dr. Chapman missed and I also think the principles MUST go hand in hand with the "Love and Respect" principles of Dr. Emerson Eggerich (I'll post about that sometime, maybe soon, maybe not), it is a great resource.

The five love languages Dr. Chapman proposes are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch.  I believe we all have a primary love language but again, I think Dr. Chapman possibly misses one or 2, that some people have 3 or 4 that are pretty equally important and that in general, men have "respect" languages that make them feel loved and women are more based in the "love" languages. 

I also think as a society we focus too much on getting our own love tanks filled by outside influences and don't focus enough on loving others and choosing to see that others are trying to love us, even if its not done in our primary love language.  The principles, if used incorrectly to push another to focus on us and force them to show us love in our own "language" instead of using it to help us love others better can be very damaging.

So...after all that intro, let's get to the point of this post.   This morning, out of the blue, I had a bit of an epiphany.  I have NOT been focusing on our toddler's love language!  Yes, littles have love languages too, just like adults. 

Adults and older children can take a simple "quiz" to identify their love language.  But a 2 year old can't.  So how do I know his love language and how do I know I haven't been doing a very good job showing him love through it?  Well, it's an educated guess based on knowing this child.  My guess is his primary love language is "quality time", which is mine as well, so I feel even sillier that I haven't focused on it more.  I am making this guess because he is happiest when we are doing things together.  Whether it is a walk, playing tractors, making muffins, playing with play-doh, just going for a drive, he likes to be with me.  Now, some would say that's just a toddler but I don't think so. I know toddlers who are very independent.   Who don't want anyone to play with them.  That's not our toddler.  He comes to me and says "come play with me, Mama".  And I often find myself telling him "I will in just a second, as soon as I finish ________".  Now, am I saying I should spend every second with him?  No.   Am I saying he should depend on me for entertainment?  No.  What I am saying is I need to focus on making sure, especially if he is having a bad day or is extra toddler-emotional, or if he has just coming home from 3 days with his Dad, that I focus on some true quality time with him and make sure he knows that time with him IS a priority.  It also means that as he grows up, if quality time is and remains his primary love language, I need to assist him in learning to look for ways to feel that love, by spending quality time with Christ, with looking for ways that those around him are trying to show him love in other ways and by teaching him that others might feel love from him in ways other than quality time and he needs to make an effort to show them that love.

I believe is closely secondary love language is physical touch.  He is an affectionate child.  When he was about 16 months old he would hug EVERYONE!  He scared other toddlers at play group because even if he had never met them he would run at them, arms wide, and hug them tight and try to kiss them.  He is all about hugging, snuggling, cuddling, fist bumps and high fives, wrestling.  Is this a pretty common love language for a toddler?  Probably.  But I know toddlers who aren't as physically affectionate as he is.   And that means I need to make sure I am making a concerted effort to make my hugs mean something.  It means when he wants to give a kiss or a hug or be picked up and snuggled a bit I need to make sure I'm never too busy.  And it again means I need to help him learn to recognize that not everyone has the same love language and that people he wants to show love to might not always feel it through hugs.  And that people who love him might not always give him love through his love language and he needs to look at their intentions and their heart, not necessarily their actions. 

Our baby has love languages too, right now it's probably physical touch more than anything else.  But as he grows I will learn more and will need to make a concerted effort in helping him learn about them and about those of others.

We all have love languages, maybe one or 2 of the 5 above, maybe one not listed, maybe more respect than love.  And it would be ideal if those around us always showed us love in our love language.  But we can't make that happen.  And expecting it or demanding it will make us miserable.  What we can do is try to identify the love language of those around us and make an effort to show them love in their language.  And we can learn to see that others are trying to show us love, even if isn't shown in our primary love language. 

Christ showed love through many ways...but the most ultimate was an act of service.  If we can see his sacrifice as love, even if that isn't our primary love language, surely we can see the efforts of love from others even if it isn't in our primary love language.  And surely we can choose to show others love in their love language so they can feel our love.

Because LOVE is the greatest gift, language, currency and blessing of all.