Wouldn’t it be great if kids came with a manual? Imagine the time, money and effort we could save if we had a handy little booklet that contained all of the nuances of your child’s personality.
But our children aren’t refrigerators; there’s no index to flip to when we don’t know what to do next. There are, however, tiny clues. If we’re paying attention.
I’ve always been a snoop, a Nancy Drew of sorts, but I don’t always see what’s right in front of me. One Christmas morning early on in my marriage, my husband and I were arguing as we drove with our two babies to a family dinner. My husband was trying to understand why we had to be at my sister’s house at 10 a.m. if dinner wasn’t until 5 p.m.
It was a fair question, but I’d noticed that anything related to Christmas seemed to change his easygoing demeanor to grumpy.
At that moment, I didn’t really want to understand what was bothering him, I just wanted him to put on a happy face for my family. Using my sophisticated communication skills, I told him, “Cheer up. It’s Christmas, dammit, and Christmas is for kids!”
You can imagine how well that worked to improve his mood.
Later, while I complained to my friend about being married to the Grinch, she suggested that perhaps there was something bigger going on. She recommended the book The Five Love Language by Dr. Gary Chapman.
In his book, Dr. Chapman writes about the five different ways that people express and receive love. After years of counselling couples, he noticed that couples were misunderstanding one another and their needs. He determined that we all have our own language, and that sometimes we struggle to express love in a way that speaks to your loved one’s heart.
Chapman’s five Love Languages are: Quality Time, Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service and Gifts
His Love Languages are complex, but I’ll simplify them in a language most parents can understand:
Quality Time: Let’s go for coffee.
Physical Touch: Let me wrap my hands around you like a cup of coffee.
Words of Affirmation: You make a great cup of coffee.
Acts of Service: Here’s a cup of coffee in bed.
Gifts: I got you a coffee.
After I read the book, my husband’s foul mood that Christmas started to make sense. I realized that my husband doesn’t like Christmas because he doesn’t like gift-giving, which is often what Christmas centres around. Well, that and unnaturally long family visits.
We took the book’s quiz and learned that his Love Language is Physical Touch mixed in with Quality Time of which there would be neither in the eight hours of family visiting we were about to embark upon that day.
If I didn’t know this about my husband, I was probably stumbling through my relationships with the kids too.
I already knew I was missing the mark with my daughter. For years I have been trying to figure out how to talk with her. I find small talk awkward and unsatisfying, but often this was all I could get from her. My questions were met with one-word answers. Car rides were silent. When we went out to dinner at a restaurant, we looked like those bored couples who have been together so long that they have nothing left to discuss.
When I learned that there was a Love Languages book specifically for kids, I thought I had finally found the manual I was longing for. The original version had helped my marriage: making dinner, unclogging the shower drain and various other Acts of Service, had proven successful by my husband to make me happier.
Maybe the kids’ version of the book was my shortcut to unlocking the mystery of how to connect with my daughter. I would be able to take a quiz, figure out what made her tick, and boom—we would be sharing secrets like best friends.
The problem was, the child categories, when viewed from the lens of a parent, didn’t seem as clear. For example, isn’t being a parent one big Act of Service? I’m certainly not cutting off crusts and doing their laundry for my own benefit. As for Gifts, what kid doesn’t love a gift? Just take your kid to Toys ’R Us and you’ll be convinced this is their Love Language. My kids get ample Words of Affirmation, Quality Time (this especially peaked during Covid) and Physical Touch.
What was clear was that my attempts to connect with my daughter through conversation were not working. I decided to take the emphasis off of talking and instead focus on when my daughter was trying to connect with me.
She often asks me to play Rummy, to draw with her or play with Lego, but I never thought of these activities as a connection because we weren’t talking. I noticed that when we were side by side, playing calmly and quietly, a softness existed. Quality Time, sometimes wordless, was where our closeness lived.
I’ve always assumed that connection came from communication and how much we “talk” in our relationships because that comes easily to me. I’m learning that it’s more about how we relate to one another in our relationships that creates the deep connection I seek.
There may be no troubleshooting chart for children or a manual for how to love other people. But, if we pay attention, there are clues.