Love Languages: Happy Birthday To Me and other Love Songs
So, I just turned 50.
But, this isn’t about my birthday. It’s about my kids’ birthdays. In fact, that moment right there is about all the attention my birthday has received in the past 18 years. You see, my oldest son’s birthday falls two weeks before mine, and since he typically enjoys a “birthday month”, I enjoy a figurative Passover instead of a holiday of my own. Couple that this year with his 18th and then his high school graduation, and well… well, enough of my griping.
I really want to talk about my kid’s big day. And his brother’s big days. Sure, they were months ago, but that means they’re coming back, right around the corner, right? But, in regards to my oldest, according to the law, my little buddy is now a full fledged adult. He can enlist in the military, he can vote, he can donate blood, he can buy lotto tickets, he can drive up credit card debt, he can elope, he can get divorced, he can be sued and charged as an adult, he can fall victim to predatory lenders, he can legally do illicit things in Mexico and get a life-long regrettable tattoo. Yup. He’s a grown up.
Yet, he’s not done growing up.
Luckily, for me at least, he still needs my wife and I to pay for his college, his cell phone, his insurance, and his room and board. In fact, just last week, he still needed me to tie his tie, press his shirt for prom and go with him to traffic court. (For a really bogus bluetooth ticket, but we’ll save driver’s safety for another episode)
Anyway, my point isn’t about what makes a kid an adult. My point is about the needs of my nine-year-old, my 13-year-olds and my 18-year-old sons. They need me. Yes, they need my money. But, more importantly, they need my time. They need my efforts. They need my words. They need my hugs, high-fives, arm around their shoulders and even kicks in the butt.
Gary Chapman calls these Love Languages, and he boils life down to five of them: Quality Time, Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Receiving Gifts, and Physical Touch. In a nutshell, they’re the ways that each of us express and respond to love and acceptance. As a parent, the trick is to figure out each of our kids’ primary languages and grow fluent in each of them. And, to make the trick even trickier, you have an 80% chance that theirs is different than yours, and there’s no such app as a Relational Rosetta Stone.
I can vividly recall when my relationship with my own dad broke down. At its core, I needed my dad to tell me he was proud of me, while he wanted me to voluntarily clean the pool or mow the lawn. Plus, he thought I took all his efforts for granted while I thought he never heard a word I said. And the ugly merry go round went round and round.
Then we read Chapman.
And no, we didn’t live happily ever after, but we have learned to understand each other – and others – better than ever.
So, now, I’m the one driving the minivan.
My youngest’s love language is quality time. So, among other things, I make it a priority to go with him to the skatepark every couple of weeks. And not just take him there and read a book, but to actively be part of the experience, even though my hard core skating days are but a speck in my life’s rear view mirror. Additionally, any time I run errands or take the van to the car wash, I offer to bring him along. That’s all it takes and this kid is on cloud nine.
But, his older brother is quite different. It’s pure joy for me when I hear my teenager offer to take his little brother out on the back of his bike for an afternoon ice cream run. “My treat” is his code for “I love you, little brother… just don’t tell anyone.”
However, love languages go the other direction, too. While a steady stream of “atta boys” and “I love you, sons” builds up my other 13-year-old like nothing else, a negligent, “Stop being so useless” cuts him to the quick in a heartbeat. You see, if you withhold or simply don’t express love in a way that they understand, it actually says to THEM that you DON’T love them.
Now, I agree with what you’re thinking right about now… it can be exhausting trying to figure all this out. Imagine being tossed into the world’s most critical job and you have just a handful of years to become fluent in five different languages. And worse yet, if you don’t, you’re fired and forced to see your replacement speak, write and sing with an eloquence rivaled only by Shelly, Keats, or Lennon/McCartney… or for my teenagers, Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun
You see, the best advice my father-in-law ever gave me was an answer to a question that I asked long before we had any kids of our own. I was marveling at how all three of his adult kids were not only considered “golden children”, but they undoubtedly had a love and respect for their parents like I had never seen.
“How’d you do it?” I asked. “What’s your secret?”
“It’s really simple actually”, he said. “Love and accept each one of them in such a way that they never have the need to run around looking for it somewhere else.”
Yeah… simple he says. I’ve never felt so “simple”.
But, what he meant was basic at its core: If your kids aren’t feeling loved and accepted at home, they will run around looking for that feeling of love and acceptance, and not always to the most healthy of places. On the extremes, this partially explains why a 13-year-old would join a gang or why a 15-year-old girl would sneak out and lie about where she’s been and who she’s been with.
And, as I just said, it’s about THEM FEELING loved. The fact that YOU feel like you’ve provided for them or have always said the right things doesn’t matter at all. Strictly speaking your love language to your kids is like waxing poetic in english to someone who only understands Silbo Gomero (Google it… Silbo Gomera… it’s actually a really interesting language).
Then, there’s the issue of the totality of their world, especially their friends, teammates, girlfriends or boyfriends. The better you can connect with the other people influencing your kids’ lives, the more comfortable your kids and their friends will be around your home. And this will all pay off when the “fit hits the shan” in any of their lives and they feel at ease coming to you for comfort and even advice.
Like I said… exhausting, right?
And I haven’t even scratched the surface on THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT of all this. You can work feverishly, night and day, day and night to figure out and become fluent in all your kids and their friends’ love languages… but if you’re not setting a constant example of connecting with your spouse – speaking their love languages and them speaking yours, visible for the world to see, then all your work with your kids is in vain. You absolutely MUST not just speak, but shout, sing, LIVE OUT your bride’s love languages for her and all the world to see and hear.
Now, I can hear some of you right now: “Holy cow, this is too much. My kids are already in high school or even fully grown with their own families. It’s just too late.”
Sorry. You don’t get to skate on that one. It’s never too late. As I mentioned earlier, this stuff didn’t even dawn on my dad and I until I was in college and we have a phenomenal relationship today. And, in full transparency, there was a terrible breakdown in all this between my oldest son and me last summer, but with some very intentional work, my “little buddy” is now my “big buddy”… partly because of our relationship, and partly because he’s now taller than me!
So, now you’re arguing, “Where am I supposed to find the time for all this?! I’ve got a mortgage and a car payment. Plus, my kids can be downright annoying sometimes. The last thing I feel like doing is some nonsensical touchy feely garbage.”
But, this isn’t about what you feel like. It’s about the character that you’re developing in your kids today so that they can be strong men and women of character tomorrow. It’s so that their spouses and children – your future grandchildren – will do whatever they can to spend time with you, not out of duty, but because they want to. Because they’d love to.
And, I never said any of this is easy. But, it’s necessary.
It comes down to priorities. If your only incentive is a possible payoff 20 years from now, becoming fluent in multiple languages in record time may not land on your life’s front burner. But, what if I offered you $5,000? $10,000? A week in Cabo? If the reward is great enough, I’m certain you can make it a priority. And, I guarantee you that if you choose to reach out to your spouse and kids by learning their love languages, the payoff headed your way FAR exceeds umbrella drinks and sunburn.
On a final note – my primary love language is Words of Affirmation. My oldest son’s is Giving and Receiving Gifts. So, on top of the presents we already gave you for your 18th birthday, son, all I have left to say is: “Happy birthday, Buddy. I love you and I’m proud of the man you’ve become.”
This is Parent Like You Mean It. Thanks for watching. Thanks for indulging me. And son… you still owe me a birthday present!
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