One of our most important jobs as parents is to teach our children the fundamental skills they will need throughout their lives.
We think about it even before we can hold them in our arms: First, I’m going to start teaching him how to walk. Tomorrow, we’ll practice learning how to say mom. Next year, I’ll teach her how to tie her shoes.
But rarely do you ever hear a parent say, “today I’m going to teach my child how to love.”
How do they learn this imperative trait? How exactly are we teaching them to intentionally love themselves, their neighbors, their enemies? We so desperately want them to be these incredibly awesome human beings, but exactly when do we find the time to add a lesson such as how to love to the to-do-list?
Most of us, unfortunately, just don’t. This one thing that will affect every facet of their life and it seems like society goes for the “cross your fingers and hope they pop out a decent adult on the other side” approach without ever really grasping how important it is to teach love on purpose.
Here are my favorite ways to show love, teach love and love on purpose!
- Figure out your children’s love language. We all have a certain love language that ignites our soul more then other acts of love. My 5-year-old desperately needs snuggles as much as my 8-year-old needs quality time. Figure out what your family members need and fill the love tanks accordingly. I’ll love them both in 100 different ways a day, but knowing how they feel love best allows me to love them the way their little hearts desperately need.
- Create a healthy narrative about yourself and your identity and radiate that in front of your children. If we body shame ourselves, they will come to quickly fall victim to finding their worth in a body that will inevitably diminish the older they get. We must speak positive truths. Their inner voice is being shaped right now by the words we speak about ourselves. Self love matters. Toddlers don’t walk around talking about everything they’d change about themselves. They walk around with their hands on their hips like they own the place. At some point, they learn there are things about themselves that people may not like. We can love our children by loving their flaws, and by loving ours too.
- Slow down. This is key in a society that thrives on the hustle. It’s so easy to get lost in the sauce, when the list never ends. Sometimes I realize it has been days since I was intentional in loving my family. I go back to a 12 hour work shift and wonder how I’m already away from them again. Life is clearly not slowing down for me, so I have to believe one of the greatest acts of love I can show them is simply just to slow down for them. Kids want to sit at the table, they want to play the board game, they want to have ridiculously silly conversations with us. They want us to leave the dishes and wrestle or cuddle or read. Whatever it may be, let’s just do it.
- For goodness sakes, lets put our phones down. Our kids want to see that we are watching them. Our spouses as well. We aren’t raising drones, so we need to be fully present in these ever fleeting moments. I’m convinced putting your phone down in somebody else’s company is one of my favorite ways to say I love you. It’s saying “in this moment, there is absolutely nothing more important than you.” Big statement for a little fella who just wanted you to see the picture he drew or how high he swung or how pretty her dress was. No Facebook update is more important than our spouses or our kids, I can promise you that.
- Have the hard conversations about love and forgiveness. I love that I have situations in my life where I made big mistakes that I can use as a leading example for my kids. My heart is so stinkin quick to be mad when someone does me wrong, and it’s no coincidence my son and I have that in common. I think it’s human nature to hold a grudge, stay bitter or want revenge. We must teach them — by example — when they are little that forgiveness matters. I heard many times in my adult life that love is an endless act of forgiveness. We must practice what we preach daily and walk in the knowledge that if we want the generations to follow to not be bitter, angry, grudge-holding beings, we must as well show grace upon grace.
Love around here lately looks nothing like Hallmark love. It’s not found on the top season of the bachelorette and its not even felt the most when the roses and chocolates come.
Our love is found in the mundane. When I go to unload the dishwasher and it’s already empty, when he goes to do the laundry but it’s already done, when he’s the first to say I’m sorry. I can’t help but think if we practice this sacrificial love our children have a front row seat to just maybe they’ll practice it too.