As my kids grow into adulthood, I’m learning how to love them differently.
Don’t get me wrong, I love them equally and fiercely—sometimes with an intensity that frightens me. But as they move from teenager to adulthood and I get glimpses of the young adults they’re becoming, I realize that they see and hear love in very different ways.
Take my eldest daughter, Skylar, for instance. She’s bright, cheery, and lights up a room when she walks into it. She’s also warm, affectionate, and very free with her hugs. We can converse for hours and simply telling her I love her is enough to start the waterworks.
Her sister, Elise, couldn’t be more different if she tried. She’s strong-spirited, independent, and determined. She hates asking for help, and parenting her has been a tricky, intense experience especially since she has struggled with depression in the past. Seeing my baby girl going through depression for most of her adolescence broke my heart. It wasn’t until she was on her way to recovery, and I learned how to show her love differently, that we started connecting.
Then there’s my son, Ryan. Like most teen boys, he would rather eat dirt than be seen hugging his mom. He’s uncomfortable with overt shows of affection and prefers a pat on the back or a fist bump to a hug from his father or me.
Raising kids with such varying personalities means that I needed to find new ways to show and give them love, even when it’s not always reciprocated:
I show them that I love them by being present.
Both Elise and Ryan play sports, and I dutifully show up to all their games. Most times they don’t acknowledge my presence because it’s just “not cool,” but I love being there, and it matters to me that they know they have my support. So I show up, cheer them on, listen when they talk or vent, and do my best to give them my time and attention.
I’ve learned to speak love in other languages.
Sometimes the best way to express love is with actions. I leave notes or send my kids texts, letting them know how proud I am of them. I make sure we’re fully stocked with the protein bars my son wolfs down after practice and ensure Elise’s shampoo never runs out. These small acts of service might not seem like much, but they’re my way of showing my kids how much I care.
I’m learning that love exists in small moments.
Mindful parenting has taught me that there are dozens of small, wonderful moments that I should be grateful for every day. I’ve learned to be thankful for all the awesome things my teens bring into my life. The moments Elise strikes up a conversation or when Skylar makes dinner or when Ryan, ever the comedian, has us in stitches.
For me, these are the moments that make parenting worth it.
I still say, “I love you.”
I still say these words even when they’re not acknowledged or returned by my children because no matter what, they’re still true, and it is important to me that my children can look back and know I actively expressed that I loved them.
Loving children is easy: It’s showing them love in a way that they can understand and appreciate that’s the hard part. I’m still learning, changing, and adapting as I go, but as of right now, I am happy knowing that I am always trying to let my loved ones know that I genuinely care.