Loving takes effort and planning.
In his book, The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck sheds light on what love is and what love isn’t, and how we can use real love to powerfully alter our lives and our relationships. He says, “Love is not a feeling. Love is an action, an activity. . .Genuine love implies commitment and the exercise of wisdom. . . . love is the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another’s spiritual growth.” These words ring true to me - real love takes effort, planning, wisdom, and commitment.
I confess, I dish out a lot more planning, effort, wisdom, and commitment to getting my kids fed and clothed than I do to getting my kids loved. In order to love our children well we need to take time to sit down and think. We need to have a plan.
Learn you’re child’s love language.
As mothers, we need to learn to speak the love languages that our children speak. This is not an easy task. It requires real analysis, thoughtful discussions with our parenting partners, meditation, and trial and error and sometimes doing things for and with our children that we don’t particularly enjoy. It’s up to us to be the “love” experts and to ‘speak’ love to our kids in a way that will sink right down to their core.
Make love routine.
We must build love into our lives. In her book, I Love you Rituals, Becky A. Baily makes a compelling argument that building a relationship where your children feel loved above all else, is key to raising smart, adjusted and happy children. She suggests that one way to make sure your children feel loved is to build “Love Rituals” into your daily routines. Love Rituals can be anything you do deliberately and routinely that help your children feel your love. These rituals have no other agenda except to connect and be with your children. I love the idea of building slices of time into your days and weeks where really loving your child is the only thing you’re trying to accomplish - nothing else. Essentially it puts loving on your to do list.
For me, the only way love rituals have really stuck is if I plan them to coincide with other already scheduled parts of my life, if they are genuine, and if they fit my personality as well as my children’s needs. A foot massage for Hazel after her Sunday morning bath, a lunch date after a yearly physical, a silly tickle with Charlie at bedtime, greeting Emmeline's little toes with a kiss each morning as I take off her footy sleepers. Love rituals can be serious or silly, active and crazy, or soft and cuddly. But since touch is so important to children feeling secure, love rituals should often involve touch.
The beauty of love rituals is that they can be simple and take little time. To this day, when it’s time to say goodbye to my dad after a visit, he looks deep into my eyes for a full five seconds; like he’s looking right into my soul. He’s done this since I was a teenager. It is his way of acknowledging that he sees, cares, and knows who I really am. Although it is a little strange, it makes me feel his love. It only takes 5 seconds.
Other love rituals might take a little more time, but they can be attached to things you’re already doing.
Let love creep into the spaces that are often filled with busyness and distraction. A friend told me that one of her best memories of her childhood were the fifteen minutes each day when she got home from school. Her mom gave her and her siblings their after school snack and just sat with them while they ate. No agenda, no homework, cooking or cleaning. It was just an available mom and something yummy to eat. I’m sure there were times that this didn’t actually happen--times when babies were crying and times when my friend didn’t really want to sit and be with her mom. But I love that she doesn’t think about those times. What she remembers is the feeling that sunk into her through this routine expression of love.
Because families as a whole, not just individual relationships with mom and dad, can provide children with a powerful source of security and unconditional love, love rituals can be designed to include the whole family. Family traditions around birthdays and holidays help children feel a sense of pride and belonging and can cast a powerful net of love over children that will help them navigate their world.
Love rituals can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. We need to find the ones that will speak to us and to our children. In my experience this means trying on a bunch of different love rituals. Some have felt pretty cheesy and inauthentic. My kids have even laughed at some of the things I’ve tried and can tell that they don’t exactly come from my heart. When we land on one that feels right, I try to embrace it and work hard to make it happen regularly. It takes extra effort, but I’m convinced it is through these rituals that love gets written into our relationships, and I can’t think of anything I could possibly put on my to-do list that would be more important.
(excerpts from my chapter in Deliberate Motherhood)