“Guess what girls?” I ask. “What?” They shouted back? “Chicken butt,” I say to them and cause them to laugh. They look at me like I’m crazy. So I repeat. “Guess what?” I ask them. “What?” They respond louder and more annoyed. “I love you,” I say and smile at them. “I love you too,” they reply simultaneously and smile back at me.
This is a conversation I replicate with my children almost daily. Though it’s silly, it has become my way of taking in the moment and letting them know that I love them. Since just saying “I love you” may be cumbersome or lose its merit after awhile, I do two things to add more depth to that three-word phrase. I display impromptu affection and provide opportunities to nurture within my family.
Display Impromptu Affection
Hug and kiss your family members whenever the moment feels right. Do this as often as you (and they) can stand. You can even show affection in more creative ways. My nine year old asks me for “backwards hugs.” This is when she puts her arms behind her and hugs my waist. I cannot see her face but I can kiss the top of her head. It’s just a variation from the traditional bear hug. Now that she’s maturing, I take any and all handouts she gives me. Sometimes I just run up and tickle my daughters, out of the blue and for no reason, other than to surprise them. On occasion I catch my girls playing happily and cordially so I will walk up to them and whisper a compliment into each of their ears. We still hold hands in parking lots and inside crowded stores. This is not only a safety precaution but also a chance for me to feel close to them. I squeeze their hands. We point out things we see around us. I skip with them or pull them around in a wacky manner too. Sitting on the sofa, I may play with my girls’ hair or invite them to snuggle close while we watch a movie. I don’t ever want them to forget that I love them. I want them to know and feel my fondness for them. I hope they always remember what compassion is like and how it can carry them through their lives.
Provide Opportunities for Nurturing
In order to show real love to children, we need to provide opportunities for our kids to nurture and care for another thing or being. I didn’t realize the significance of this until recently when we welcomed a puppy into our family. Our previous dog died three years ago and it took us that long until we felt ready for another pet. Finally two days after Thanksgiving, we went looking for a dog. As a family, we spent a whole day visiting several places and looking at options until we picked out the right one for us. Since then, both our girls have had the chance to feed, bathe, and care for this animal. We have also cleaned up his mess, scolded him for chewing and been knocked over and scratched numerous times. Yet here’s the incredible thing – it has bonded us all. I’ve seen my kids laugh more, play outdoors more and open up in refreshing ways that I hadn’t seen earlier. My husband and I even joke and look more lovingly at each other and the dog too. Now does that mean I think every family needs a pet or a dog in order to do this? No, certainly not. But the act of looking after another thing can teach families a lot about love. If a pet isn’t right for you, then it could be a plant. Perhaps there is a mentoring opportunity that could build a loving relationship. Our area has so many great volunteer opportunities with people in need, such as Reading Pals or Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida. If you ask around to schools, churches, hospitals and charities, you’ll always find an individual or group in need of a little tender loving care (TLC). Finding a person, place or thing that your family can give TLC to will strengthen the capabilities of love within your hearts.
Live and Think With Heart All Year Long
February is known as “heart month” for many good reasons. As parents, we should lead with love all year long, not only during Valentine’s Day. To help your family grow and connect more, display random acts of affection with your children. Then foster nurturing relationships through a method or means that is right for you. Open your arms, mind and heart with purpose.