There’s an insecurity inside most of us that asks, “But, does he/she really love me?”
It happens when you’re dating.
Sometimes it still haunts you when you’re married.
It follows you into your deep friendships.
And it definitely makes its way into the heart of almost every child.
I have NO idea where this idea came from, but I remember being ten years old and thinking my parents paid my friends to be my friends. (I know, I know . . . that’s a few more thousand dollars in counseling to figure how I came to believe that . . . but I digress.)
No, you’ve never had that thought? I’m a lot more secure than I used to be, but let’s be honest, we’ve all wondered whether someone really loved us when in fact, they did. When in fact, they do.
How does that translate to parenting?
Other than saying, “I love you,” what communicates to your kids you love them deeply?
Often our words and actions are disconnected.
So here are five ways you can show your kids you love them without saying, “I love you” over and over again:
1. GIVE THEM YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION
It’s tempting to think this is a technology issue—and it is to some extent. Your dinner recipe is on your phone or iPad, and while cooking, your Facebook, Instagram, texts, and email notifications keep pulling your attention away. Meanwhile, you were oblivious that someone was calling out, “hey, dad . . . dad . . . dad.”
It’s difficult when the world is in your pocket and follows you around everywhere. But this problem goes back long before we had iPhones and free Wi-Fi.
Maybe you had a hard time pulling your dad away from the football game when you wanted to show him what you built outside. Or your mom was always on the phone with her friends when you really just wanted to tell her what happened at school.
A person’s undivided attention is one of the rarest of gifts in our culture. Give it to your kids as often as you can.
2. LISTEN INSTEAD OF LECTURE
I’m tempted to think my greatest value as a parent is to keep my kids from making the same stupid mistakes I made, or that I see other people making.
There’s some value in that for sure.
But while a lecture feels good to give, it feels less awesome to receive it. Especially when it’s every day. All the time.
Sometimes, I think my kids would much rather have just had me listen to them, rather than lecture them.
They already knew what happened wasn’t great. They just wanted someone who understood. Someone who listened. Someone who cared.
Not someone who knew better.
Maybe a better parenting recipe is five parts listening to one part lecturing. Your kids might even do a great job figuring out the lesson all by themselves, if you just listen.
3. SET SOME LIMITS
At least two things are true about parenting.
Every kid craves limits.
And every kid pushes back against them.
If you decide your ten-year-old gets one sleep-over per school term, they’ll want two. If you let up and decide they’ll get three each month, then they’ll push for four.
It’s hard not to throw up your hands and say, “Fine, whatever you want.” Or worse, “Okay okay, you get as many as your friends have.”
But it’s so critical you don’t.
Setting and enforcing reasonable limits for your kids is one of the best ways to communicate both love and safety.
Your discipline as a parent will help your kids develop self-discipline.
4. TALK TO THEM, NOT ABOUT THEM
We all have to talk about our kids to someone. But too often, I’ve heard parents complain loudly about their kids . . . while their kids (or siblings) are in the room.
Ditto for social media. I’ve seen exasperated parents get on Facebook to vent about how awful their kids are behaving.
Perhaps they’ve forgotten at some point, their kids will learn to read and maybe even navigate the interwebs, only to discover what Angry Mom really feels about them.
Few wounds pierce as deeply as unkind words spoken by a parent.
If you have a problem with your kids, talk to your kids about it, in love. Or discretely talk to an adult who can actually help you solve the problem.
You’ll be so glad you did.
5. PURSUE YOUR SPOUSE
Almost by default, your kids become the center of your life.
If you’re married, one of the best gifts you can give your kids is a healthy marriage.
I’ve heard it said that it’s more important for your kids to know you love each other than it is for them to know you love them. There may be some truth in that.
A loving home creates a stable base.
No kid wants to see their dad cheat on their mom, or their mom to roll her eyeballs every time her husband walks into the room. What might be funny or entertaining on a sitcom can be devastating in real life.
Date your spouse. Work through your issues. Pray for each other.
Take vacations without the kids.
Don’t abandon the romance. Pursue each other passionately.
Your kids will be far more secure as a result.
These are only five ways you can show your kids you love them. What are some other ways you’ve seen work? Leave a comment!