I was listening to Focus on the Family the other day and the guest was Dr. Gary Chapman, who wrote the book The 5 Love Languages. The basic premise is that we all have a primary love language, or a way we receive and communicate love. Either quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service or physical touch. Most often you hear the five love languages in the context of understanding your spouse. For example, if the wife’s love language is receiving gifts, then the $50 dozen roses might be perfect. But if her love language is quality time, then spend that $50 on taking her out to dinner. And of course that works both ways. It’s as important to know your own love language as it is to know your partner’s so you’re not missing each other’s love language.
But it’s also very helpful to know your kids’ love languages as well.
So that episode with Dr. Chapman got me thinking about my own kids and what their love languages are. My wife, Kelly, and I were talking about this and we think Luke’s primary love language is quality time. Words of affirmation is probably his second, if not physical touch because he’s one of the huggiest (is that a word?) kids I’ve ever seen.
Beau, on the other hand, is clearly a gifts guy. He’s the opposite of huggy and loves to play alone.
I’ll give you a practical example of how this plays out in our own home. Over Thanksgiving we were fortunate enough to fly to Las Vegas to celebrate the long Thanksgiving weekend with some extended family that we haven’t seen in years. It was the first time our kids ever flew on a plane. If you asked Luke his favorite thing about the trip he’d tell you about some of the experiences like going to the Hoover Dam with my uncle and playing in the arcade at our hotel with my dad. “Quality time” stuff. But if you ask Beau about his favorite thing he would probably show you his new stuffed animals from the gift shops. Like “Roger” the red M&M from the M&M store and “Sharky” from the aquarium we went to.
I think I’m a quality time guy so being together with family and making memories that will last forever was the highlight of my trip. Kelly says she is a little bit of all the love languages, but she doesn’t feel strongly about any of those five, so she invented her own love language which is setting and accomplishing goals. So her favorite thing about our trip was looking back on it after we got back because we talked about it for a long time, saved for it all year, and then made it happen.
Kelly and I heard about the love languages early in our marriage and we match up pretty well, so we’re very fortunate in that area. And now that our boys have gotten older, I think their love languages have become more clear.
I recently lucked into an activity that hits both our boys square in the heart when it comes to love languages. It all started one night when I was fixing dinner and Luke came up to me and asked if we could go buy a metal detector so we could go treasure hunting. Well it turns out that ABC Rental actually rents metal detectors, so that was our compromise, but when we went to rent one they were closed. So we settled on geocaching instead.
I downloaded the app, found the coordinates for the nearest cache, and off we went, searching with my phone’s GPS for our first “treasure.” Geocaching is “quality time” for me and Luke, and prizes (“gifts”) for Beau, because usually there’s a small trinket of some sort once you find the cache and a log for you to sign your name.
I should say “if” you find the cache, because we’re not very good at it yet. Right now we’re two for four. But it’s become a new guy thing for the three of us to do that we all enjoy. And then Kelly enjoys checking them off the list when we get home and seeing all the ones we found.
We’re definitely making plans for more geocaching as the weather gets warmer.
I know it’s important for some parents to treat their kids the same and of course we love them all equally. But how we express that love can be shown differently to each child if we do it appropriately and intentionally. Which I think is part of the fun of parenting.
Because, as Dr. Chapman said, what communicates love to one child may not be received the same by another child. And even when we find their primary love language, it’s a good idea to mix it up and express our love to them in the other four ways too.
With Valentine’s around the corner, maybe that’s something to think about in the new year.