Love isn’t a bank account, although sometimes relationships might be easier for everyone to figure out if love was neatly tallied in checks and balances on a spreadsheet. But that would defy its purpose, because who can really measure it? It doubles when it should halve, quadruples when it should quarter, and lasts years and years long past when it should have died. Love is the world’s greatest conundrum: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”
There are all kinds of love, of course. But so far the greatest love I have ever experienced has been that of my children. And I have found, that with my kids, filling their loving cups is really, really important. I’ve noticed they act out more, get upset more, MomMomMOMMOM me more unless their cups are full. And there are four of them. So you can imagine the cacophony of four kids all yelling/screaming MomMomMOMMOMOM at the same time. Try getting anything done. It doesn’t happen.
Over time I have learned, in the same way feeding them tends to be a good idea, that making sure they get enough love and attention is really important, too. Duh, you may be thinking. But it’s not that simple. Because their loving cups change sizes depending on what they are going through that day/week/month, and what they need in their cups changes, too. “Filling” them is easier said than done, and varies by child. There are books for this, but mostly I’ve found through trial and error what works best for my kids, although I am relearning it constantly because as they grow, it does change. It may be totally different than what your child needs.
Right now my babies are twin 3-year-olds and all they need is love love love in the shape of cuddles and snuggles. While watching Daniel Tiger, after a long day at preschool, after falling off their scooter or the swing, reading books before bed, and even, and especially, when they’ve been reprimanded and sent to their room or time out and need to be sure I still love them.
My 6-year-old needs us to listen. The one thing he says over and over when he gets upset is, “You never listen!!!” So I started repeating everything he says back to him and asking a follow-up question (Happiest Toddler on the Block explains the “fast food” method of talking to kids). The boy needs to be heard. He also desperately needs affection and kindness, as he wades through first grade and starts to be more independent with his friends. I try really hard to not let him get lost between his big sister and younger twin siblings by spending as much one-on-one time with him as possible, singling him out whenever I can, and listening.
My oldest child, my tween. Well, heaven help me. You adolescent parents know what I mean. Some days she needs to be cuddled like a toddler and some days she needs me to trust her and be allowed to roam the neighborhood with a group of friends on her bike. What she needs changes so quickly that I can do something right and five minutes later do something completely wrong. But she still needs her loving cup filled to feel safe and secure in our family.
I have learned my going out two nights in a row (sometimes, given work and other things, this can be unavoidable) doesn’t work for my kids. I try to avoid it whenever I can. My husband is wonderful and involved but both parents have to be tuned into what their child needs, and right now I seem to be the IT parent. So I try to stay home when I can, to spend time with each of them as they need it and in the ways they need it, to remind myself lunches can be made later and dinner can be a can of soup, just so I can read with them and love on them before they go to bed. Not rocket science, any of this. But realizing how to fill each of my children’s loving cups and that it had to be done in different ways at different ages and stages — that took a while for me to figure out. I may not always get it right, but as long as their cups are full, my cup is full, too.