Q: What are some of the best ways to lavishly and generously love our kids?
A: If there is a phrase wise mothers have been seeking to better define since the beginning of time, it’s balance. How can I help my child develop healthy self-esteem without raising a brat who thinks she is better than everyone else? How can I teach my son to stick up for himself without turning him into an arrogant bully? How can I lavish love on my child and support her interests, but also help her acknowledge a true sense of her strengths and weaknesses? When it comes to loving our children, balance becomes a virtue.
Keep It Age Appropriate
My nine-year-old son Michael is at the precarious stage between wanting more independence and still needing my approval. When he was small, it was natural to hug, kiss, tickle, and touch him while calling him cute names. As he matures and grows, those easy actions and familiar phrases can start to feel more awkward (on both sides), especially when we are in public.
In , Christ calls out to the children and welcomes them into his lap. But yelling, “Go get ‘em, honey!” before my son runs out to the playground or covering him in kisses before his art class was not being well received. How could I let my growing son know how deeply and unconditionally I loved him? How could I show him love in a way that really connected with him? I needed to find nonverbal ways to communicate my love without embarrassing him. A pat on the back or tousling hair can be signs of affection, but I wanted a more specific way to tell him, “You are an awesome kid!” without making him wish I would drop him off for baseball practice a block and a half away.
Michael has always responded favorably to encouragement, so I thought about different ways I might be able to encourage him and help him have a good day. My friend Danielle mentioned her mother gave her three quick squeezes on her hand, arm, or shoulder as a discreet way of saying “I. Love. You.” I now do this with my own son and—victory!—he almost always returns three squeezes to me. Together we have invented our own secret love language. I know I can send him off into his expanding world with my affection, and he knows he can “check in” with me without fearing teasing or eye rolls from his friends.
When we love on our kids, we need to keep their age and unique personality in mind. For example, what works for a preschooler may completely backfire for an elementary school kid. For awhile, I’d been interpreting my son’s resistance to my affection as arrogance, but now I know it’s not that. Michael wasn’t outgrowing his need for me to lavish my physical and verbal love on him, nor was he was becoming “too cool” for his mom. He just needed my love to be communicated in a more age-appropriate way. By doing so, not only do I express my love for him, but I also respect his boundaries and changing needs.