One of the most powerful ways you can express love to your children is to give them a gift that is, sadly, in short supply for many families, namely, time. The message you send when you are with them, mind, body, and spirit, is that you love them enough to make them your number-one priority. Unfortunately, like most families, our life can get pretty hectic, to the point that there seems to be little down time where Sarah and I can really connect with our girls. So, we make sure that we set aside "special time" in which we collectively and separately devote time to our girls. For example, beginning this month we decided to commit every Sunday morning to time with the family. We don’t run errands, do personal activities, and, importantly, we disconnect from our technology. Additionally, Sarah and I make it a habit of separately spending time with Catie and Gracie. The specific activity matters less than the time you spend together, but something out of the ordinary conveys an especially powerful message to your children. For example, Sarah and I have alternated taking Catie to The Nutcracker the last several years. And we take turns taking Gracie to the zoo (which she loves).
But special time doesn't have to be a major affair. It can involve playing a game, going for a walk, having a picnic, or just sitting and cuddling. Sarah allows Catie and Gracie to decide how they want to spend this special time. Catie loves to do art work with Sarah. Gracie likes to play with her stuffed animals and have Sarah read to her. Because my work can be time consuming, I make an extra effort to have special time with each of them as well. When they were young, I took them individually in the baby jogger when I go for runs. I take the girls on bike rides. But the most special special time for me though is also the simplest, when I take each girl for a walk around the neighborhood just holding hands, talking, and exploring nature.
Activities that turn into traditions are a wonderful way to send the message of love to your children. A friend of ours, Eliana, has established a tradition of taking her daughters for tea on Valentine's Day. They dress up, she makes Valentine's Day cards for each of them, and they spend an afternoon celebrating this day that represents love.
Ted was definitely not the artsy type, but one day while his son Arnie was painting with his water colors, Ted started using them too. When he showed his "work of art" to his son, Arnie went bonkers with joy. And Ted found that, despite his very limited artistic capabilities, he enjoyed producing his little creations. So, before a work trips, he creates a painting, a drawing, or even a small play-doh sculpture that he leaves for Arnie to find after Ted has left. Arnie treasure these gifts and has a bookshelf devoted to his dad's art collection.
Renny's mother was a real storyteller when he was a boy. She would create the most amazing tales that would entertain him for hours. So he figures that explains why he loves telling stories to his two children. And Renny has found that his storytelling is a great way to send messages of his love for them. He creates elaborate yarns of adventure and excitement in which his sons are the main characters. Then he incorporates love and support into the narratives, between his two boys and with the characters' parents. The conclusion of the stories end, of course, with triumph over the bad guys, but also with the characters' families together hugging and kissing.
Sometimes removing an activity that is sending unhealthy messages about love is an expression of love. Marcy used to be so disdainful of her friends who had children and were always chatting it up on their mobile phones with their kids around. But then she had two children of her own and, before she knew it, Marcy had become one of those mothers. She saw the attraction to the phones. However much she loved her children, being with them full time was often boring. To entertain herself, she would call or text friends, check her email, or explore Pinterest. Then one day, her three-year-old, Sami, and one-year old, Jessie, wanted her attention, but Marcy was talking to her mother on her mobile phone. After several attempts at getting her mother's attention, both of her daughters started crying and Sami yelled, "You love that phone more than me!" Well, that cry was a slap in the face for Marcy and she got the message from Sami. Thereafter, she made a rule that she wouldn't use her mobile phone when she was with her children except for short and necessary communications.
In addition to no-tech Sundays, Sarah and I realized that, almost reflexively, we would check our email or searching the Web on the laptop computer on our kitchen counter when we were with the girls. Sarah or I would often open the laptop while Catie and Gracie were eating, figuring we were being very efficient in the use of our time.
But after a while, our girls started to complain, telling us that we were ignoring them. And they were right. We realized that we were with them in body, but not in mind or spirit. Neither Sarah nor I had the willpower to resist the Sirens' cry of the laptop calling out to us every time we entered the kitchen, so we took drastic measures. We removed the laptop from the counter and placed it around the corner on a high shelf with Sarah's cookbooks. It was close enough for Sarah to conveniently pull out to access online recipes or for either of us to check email or surf the Web when the girls weren't around, but not so ever present that we were constantly draw to it. Our belief was that "out of sight, out of mind" and it worked!
So, give your children the gift of shared activities and, most importantly, time. I can assure you that your children will benefit from it and will thank you for it.
This post is excerpted from Your Children are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to hear from You.