Great Dads know their kid’s love language
Growing up, if you were never hugged and kissed by your dad, and even if that has shaped the way you feel comfortable being loved or loving others, it’s not an excuse for not giving your kids the hugs and kisses they might want from you.
Dads today have more freedom and less judgement to love their kids the way they want to. But there’s an important challenge to go further and love your kids according to their love language.
If you’ve never heard of the concept of love languages, you’ll wonder what I’m talking about. Don’t keep reading this. Pause and watch this simple explainer video for 5 minutes. It’s a game changer.
As a reminder, there are five love languages: 1) kind and encouraging words 2) shared time together 3) gifts and presents 4) physical touch 5) helpful acts of service. My own love language is kind, encouraging words. My wife’s love language is receiving gifts. But while the application might usually be for how you love your spouse, every person has love languages – ways they prefer or particularly feel loved. And it’s no different with kids.
The way each of my kids likes to be loved is different. For one, it’s affirming words of encouragement and quality time together. For another it’s physical touch, they simply love being picked up and cuddled. It shows in the way they say hello when I come in the door. It shows itself when i say goodnight. For one, that quality time together means story time before bed is crucial in knowing they’re loved. For the other, story time without sitting on my lap is a bit of a disappointment, and long cuddles once they’re tucked up in bed is far more important.
The key insight about love languages is that we often confuse the way we like to be loved with the way others want to be loved. It’s easier for me to love someone the way I like to be loved (it just comes more naturally), and it can genuinely feel like I'm doing a good job. I can feel like I'm being a very present and attentive dad by loving my kids in a way that I'm comfortable with.
But being a great dad means understanding their love language. If your kid needs words of affirmation, they won’t feel particularly loved if you use the opportunity to share all the practical ways you care for them. When they need a cuddle, kids won’t feel loved if you’re only willing to stand at a distance and offer them words of encouragement.
It sounds demanding because it is. It’s a world away from how we might instinctively respond when our kids ask for something; offering only what we’re comfortable giving rather than what they need from us. But speaking someone’s love language means reaching for something beyond ourselves, choosing to love them in a way that we’re maybe unfamiliar with.
What makes all this even more challenging is that love languages can change, and they’re not binary. In other words, we need some portion of each of them at any given time; and in different seasons of life what makes us feel most loved can change.
Learning a love language is particularly hard with kids. First, because kids can’t always communicate the way they need love and attention with words. So that means you need better listening than you might with a spouse. Second, because behind any one of those love languages are need that are much more demanding for kids than adults. Kids need a lot more physical contact, they need many more words of encouragement and their practical needs are endless. Third, because changes in their love language are magnified by the speed at which they grow.
In short, it requires you to really know your kids. To really pay attention. To really listen and keep on doing that as they grow up. I think being a great Dad means figuring this out and learning to speak their language. I want my kids to know I love them, and I’m determined that they don’t grow up wondering whether that was the case simply because I never really showed love in the way they most liked to be loved.
It's not easy. And I think it will be doubly hard for many dads today to make that leap.
In our corner of the world, the role of ‘Dad’ in a kid’s life might be the greatest relationship change in the family over the past 60 years. What our father’s will have experienced of their fathers; what they passed onto us; and what our kids (and their mothers) might expect of us just two generations later is totally different.
In that time, the way Dads have been given licence to love, and are even expected to love, their kids has changed dramatically. And when the way you were loved as a child was different to how you would have liked to have been loved, your experience of what it looks like to be a loving dad is limited.
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