QUESTION: I often struggle to show my daughter the affection she needs. How can I learn to love her better?
Loving others is a central tenet of how we are called to live at Christians. Admittedly this can be challenging when those “others” are strangers, and ironically harder still when that person is a loved one. We often believe that our children should be the easiest to consistently love well, and when we struggle to do this, it can cause internal guilt, pain and confusion, in addition to an external issue in the relationship.
The key to loving our children in a way that they can appreciate is the same way we ourselves generally feel cared for and loved. Each of us wants to be understood and heard, as it helps us feel valued and validated. As parents, it can be difficult to do this when our children display disparate personality traits than ourselves, or opinions that we don’t agree with. As an extrovert for example, it can be frustrating and bewildering to assist an introvert child through the social gauntlet, potentially leading to miscommunication and frustration. Further, as a parent with life experience and associated wisdom, it can be challenging to permit the room for our child’s perspective, especially if we can predict trouble or failure due to potential choices related to that perspective.
So how can we embrace and implement understanding and validation while staying true to what we want to nurture, teach and promote as a parent? Conveying that we understand, or want to understand, requires allowing one’s child to feel what they feel, even if we don’t agree. With young adult/adult children, this can promote closeness even in disagreement. For minor children, however, this does not require us to acquiesce to those feelings/desires as we are still tasked with sheparding our kids. Regardless of age, in not dismissing a child’s thoughts and feelings out of hand, we contribute to their sense of being heard, communicating love.
Appreciating differences in personality and perspective can be made easier by working towards greater insight. The Road Back to You, a basic primer on the Enneagram, as well as other resources, can be helpful tools in assisting us better appreciate our own perspective and motivations as well as our child’s. You may be familiar with the “love languages”, first introduced in the book The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love. While the original publication focused on how to apply this concept in marriage, subsequent work by Chapman and others have expanded that to include application to a parent/child relationship.
Finally, I occasionally have clients admit that they struggle with expressing their love physically or verbally, as they were raised in a home where this did not occur. I suggest intentionally tying demonstrative love to a regularly occurring event, such as giving a hug or saying, “I love you”, when the child is leaving the home, before bed, etc.. In creating the habit, over time this will become more natural.
Parenting is a great challenge with many unknowns, but with dedication and perseverance, you can consistently love your daughter well.
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