As I pushed the cart through the aisles, a tiny little finger would point to item after item as she simply declared, “I want that!”
This same child — my firstborn — would often start asking for Christmas and birthday (both in December) presents in the middle of July. Over the years, she’d argue that holidays like St. Patrick’s Day — and even her brother’s birthday! — were occasions that required gifts — for her.
Now before you label my daughter a greedy brat, just know that she has also always been an enthusiastic gift giver. When she was little, she could hardly wait to give me the creations she made in class. When she was old enough, she’d save her allowance and shop with the utmost thought and care for just the right present for each family member. She loves to give to causes and charities.
One year, for Mother’s Day, she gave me several month’s worth of allowance to pay for my meal at my favorite restaurant.
Now, at 16 years old, not much has changed. Just the other day, she said, “We have to go shopping, Mom. When we’re not fighting about how much to spend, we really bond on those trips!”
It took me a long time — too long — to realize that shopping with Molly — the gifts I gave her — was about much more than the latest toy or fashion trend.
When Molly says, “I want that!” what she really means is, “I want your love!” Gifts are Molly’s love language. She’s not trying to drive me to the poor house. She’s trying to find out how rich my love is.
And if a cute pair of jeans are involved, well, so much the better.
It transformed the way I thought about shopping for her. I realized giving small gifts (even her favorite Reeses candy) communicated “love.” It didn’t have to involve a shopping spree or daily trips to the mall. Small, consistent gifts (with an occasional spree thrown in) helps keep her love tank from hitting “Empty.”
In Gary Chapmans’s book, The 5 Love Languages of Children,” he describes the five most common “languages” that speak love to our kids (and, by the way, to adults also): Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time and Physical Touch. I highly recommend the book. Here’s a quiz you can take with your child to assess which “language” speaks to him or her.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things that have helped me bond with my kids:
Pick up on the cues. My daughter sometimes says, “We haven’t gone shopping in a long time.” Or, my son (whose love language is Physical Touch) will say, “You haven’t given me a hug today.” Those are my cues that they need a confirmation of my love.
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Proverbs 3:27
Speak their language appropriately. My daughter and I went through a rocky time during middle school. I just couldn’t seem to reach her. I didn’t know how to fix our problems. So I took her shopping — alot. It seemed to be the only time we could connect. That’s not all bad. But, at some point, I realized we couldn’t simply shop our way to a healthy relationship. We had to do some hard work outside of the mall — which included included painful decisions, boundaries and conversations. That’s what love required. And, it was so worth it.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
Don’t make excuses. If your child’s love language is Physical Touch, start hugging — even if you’re not the “huggy” type. As all moms know, showing love isn’t always easy or natural for us. It often takes effort.
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them … Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Romans 12:9-10
I will never love my children perfectly. Only their Heavenly Father can do that. But as long as He’s entrusted them to my care, I will ask Him to help me love them well.
Even if a credit card is involved.
This post is part of our eight-week series, “Spirited Mom: A Fruity Look at Mothering.” We’re focusing on a different Fruit of the Spirit each week, as it applies to mothering.