Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Loving Them in Ways that They Get It

The couple was in distress over their teenage son. Mom lamented, "I cooked, cleaned, drove him to school, shopping, everywhere. I do things for him all day long and he doesn't appreciate me one bit." Her husband added, "He asked me to help him with homework at the last minute, then he questioned my logic and got mad at me!" They were clearly hurt, frustrated, and feeling taken for granted. Many parents shared similar stories about our sons and daughters at one time or another. Are they just selfish, inconsiderate, and ungrateful? Will they ever feel our love?

Feeling loved is the most basic human need. We have heard how premature babies would grow better if they are consistently held and talked (or sung) to. Some adults may feel unloved even though their spouse kept saying, "Of course I love you, don't I work very hard to provide for you?" or "What do you mean not loving you? I am exhausted doing this and that for you!"

Jesus taught, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 19:19) and "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12). How then shall we love one another if each of us secretly wish that someone would love us in a particular way that is personally important and meaningful?

The most common ways of expressing love are called "Five Love Languages" by author Gary Chapman. Each person has his or her own dominant (primary and secondary) love language(s) among Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, and Gifts. Only when love is "spoken" through our particular language, can we "click" with the sender and feel loved.

For examples, the son who bursted out "You don't love me" may be craving for quality (fun and relaxing) time with his parents for them to listen to his fear, anxiety and dreams instead of nagging and lecturing. From their complaints, one can guess that mom may need some acts of service while dad may be asking for respect and affirmation for solving problems.

Children will grow up and leave couples with an empty nest. That is why parents have to support and refill each other's emotional love tank by having regular dates and quality time away from their kids. On this Valentine's Day, take your mind from all the negatives and make a list of positive things you like about your family. Do more of what works and stop things that don't work. Encourage and affirm each other for the efforts you have put in, listen to each other's feelings, hug and kiss one another, tell each other "I love you," and buy your spouse a gift if she (or he) likes gifts.

Emotional love tanks need to be refilled constantly. Every negative interaction may cancel out 5-7 positive interactions. Do not get upset when your kids say, "You don't love me!" Listen to their feelings and show empathy. Try different ways to express your love until they get it. There is a Chinese saying, "You will only understand parental love when you parent your own child." We can all hope that some day our kids will look back and understand our love and sacrifice. However, why wait if you can love and feel loved now? Try a different love language today!

Copyright © 2006 Winnis Chiang, Parenting ABC


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