We love because he first loved us. ~ 1 John 4:19
When I first held my precious first-born daughter, the agape (unconditional) love I felt for this beautiful new baby was indescribable. She captured the depth of my soul in such a new way and became a permanent fixture in my arms. I was captivated by this 8 lb. bundle and I wanted her to know how deep and wide my love, and her daddy’s love was for her. When she was little this looked like lots of playtime together, attending to her needs, narrating the world to her on walks, or making a silly face to make her laugh. As she got older, I realized that the ways I had been loving her required me to pivot and pursue her heart in a new way.
“Every child has an emotional tank, a place of emotional strength that can fuel him through the challenging days of childhood and adolescence.” –Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell
If you get a chance to read the The 5 Love Languages of Children, by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, I would HIGHLY recommend it. As a mom, it gave me a framework to understand my daughter’s evolving love needs through a different lens.
The 5 Love Languages outlined in the book are:
- Physical Touch (Cuddles, hugs, kisses, holding hands)
- Words of Affirmation (“I love you,” words of encouragement, words that affirm his/her giftings)
- Quality Time (Intentional time that is spent device free. Play a board game together; read together; do a craft/art project; play a sport together; enjoy a coffee date, etc.)
- Gifts (Genuine, thoughtful, heart-felt expressions given in love. Select a special item for your child while away on a business trip or bless her with a meaningful birthday gift.)
- Acts of Service (Showing compassion or valuing others’ needs ahead of one’s own, both inside and outside your home. Plan a festive tea party in your home for your daughter and get dressed up for the event; plan to put a care package together for a neighbor that just had surgery; volunteer together at a local homeless shelter.)
“We need to fill our children’s emotional tanks with unconditional love, because real love is always unconditional.” -Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell
Because giving gifts is one of the ways I like to show love myself, I assumed that it would be a meaningful way to pour into my oldest daughter’s love tank. I could not have been more WRONG! While I enjoyed giving the gift — to celebrate a holiday, for her birthday, or even just because — these physical objects held absolutely NO value to my daughter’s heart.
There was a light bulb moment several years ago on Valentine’s Day when my daughter was in her early elementary years. As I was tucking her into bed, I asked her what her favorite part of the day was. Her response was, “cuddling with you right now.” I had put love notes on her door over the previous two weeks; I had made special meals on valentines day; I had picked a small gift out for her, but none of those acts of love resonated with her heart like spending time together and cuddling. This was pivotal in our relationship and it taught me an incredibly valuable lesson.
I learned that I needed to pursue her in a language that connected to her heart.
I speak from my own personal experience (as well as from many moms who have shared with me) that pursuing a daughter’s heart in preschool and elementary years comes a lot easier. However, as our girls get taller, more hormonal, and perhaps more vocal, our confidence and courage as moms, to pursue our daughters in the same way we did when they were younger, may feel lacking. There may be barriers between the two of you where once there were none.
Mommas, our growing daughters need us NOW more than ever to pursue their hearts. Whatever age and stage your daughter is in, there is opportunity to lay a strong foundation of love — to pour into her heart in a way that will sustain her love tank through these developmental years. In fact, we need a full court press from both parents to love our daughters in the language they understand. They might not sit in your lap and cuddle like they did when they were preschoolers, but their hearts are just as hungry to be loved unconditionally through affirming words, touch, device-free time with you, a thoughtful well-intentioned gift, or meaningful acts of service.
“The dangers of adolescence are threatening enough in themselves; but a child entering this time with an empty emotional tank is particularly vulnerable to the problems of the teenage years. “- Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell
Terra Mattson, therapist and founder of Courageous Girls, reminds us that spending 30 minutes per week in our daughter’s world can drastically affect her level of trust and her “feeling” of being loved. In turn, she learns to love others well, too.
She will know how to love well if she has received such a love. Know you are enough, through His power and purpose, to pursue that precious daughter’s heart.
The days are long, but the years are short. Let’s pursue our daughter’s hearts with a boldness and fierceness, mommas! Let’s show our girls the agape love that was first shown to us by our Maker.
Written by Stephanie West
Courageous Girls Leadership Coach