Chapter OneLove Is the Foundation
Dennis and Brenda couldn't figure what was wrong with Ben, their eight-year-old son. He had been an above-average learner and still did his homework, but this year he was doing poorly in school. He would go to the teacher after she had given an exercise and ask her to explain it again. He'd visit her desk up to eight times a day, asking for further instructions. Was it poor hearing or a comprehension problem? Dennis and Brenda had Ben's hearing tested, and a school counselor gave him a comprehension test; Ben's hearing was normal and his understanding typical for a third grader.
Other things about their son puzzled them. At times, Ben's behavior seemed almost antisocial. The teacher would take turns eating with her third-grade students during lunch, but Ben would sometimes push other children aside so he could be near her. During recess, he would leave other children whenever the teacher appeared on the playground; he would run to her to ask an insignificant question and escape the others. If the teacher participated in a game during recess, Ben would try to hold the teacher's hand during the game.
His parents had met with the teacher three times already, and neither they nor the teacher could find the problem. Independent and happy in grades one and two, Ben now seemed to show "clinging behavior" that made no sense. He also was fighting much more with his older sister, although Dennis and Brenda assumed that was just a stage he was passing through.
When this couple came to my "Toward a Growing Marriage" seminar and told me about Ben, they were worried, wondering if they had a growing rebel on their hands. "Dr. Chapman, we know this is a marriage seminar and maybe our question is out of place," Brenda said, "but Dennis and I thought that perhaps you could give us some guidance." Then she described Ben's changing behavior.
I asked these parents whether their own lifestyle had changed this year. Dennis said he was a salesman, out on calls two nights a week, but home between 6:00 and 7:30 P.M. on the other weeknights. Those nights were spent doing some paper work and watching a little television. On weekends, he used to go to football games, often taking Ben. But he hadn't done that in a year. "It's just too rushed. I'd rather watch the games on television."
"How about you, Brenda?" I asked. "Have there been any changes in your lifestyle over the last few months?"
"Well, yes," she said. "I have been working part-time for the last three years since Ben entered kindergarten. But this year I took a full-time job, so I get home later than usual. Actually Ben's grandfather picks him up at school, and Ben stays with his grandparents for about an hour and a half until I pick him up. On the evenings that Dennis is out of town, Ben and I usually have dinner with my folks and then come home."
It was almost time for the seminar session to begin, yet I sensed I was beginning to understand what was going on inside of Ben. So I made a suggestion. "I'm going to be talking about marriage, but I want each of you to be thinking about how the principles I am sharing might apply to your relationship with Ben. At the end of the seminar, I'd like to know what conclusions you have drawn." They seemed a little startled that I was ending our conversation without making any suggestions, but they both were willing to comply with my request.
At the end of the day, as other participants at our Racine, Wisconsin, seminar were filing out, Dennis and Brenda rushed up to me with that look of fresh discovery. "Dr. Chapman, I think we have just gained some insight into what's going on with Ben," Brenda said. "When you were discussing the five love languages, we both agreed that Ben's primary love language is quality time. Looking back over the last four or five months, we realized that we have given Ben less quality time than we had before.
"When I was working part-time, I'd pick Ben up from school every day, and we would usually do something together on the way home, maybe run an errand or stop by the park or get a snack together. When we got home, Ben would do his homework. Then after dinner, he and I would often play a game together, especially on the nights Dennis was away. All that has changed since I have gone to work, and I realize I'm spending far less time with Ben."
I glanced at Dennis, and he said, "On my part, I realize I used to take Ben with me to the football games, but since I stopped going, I have not replaced that father-son time with anything.... Ben and I have not really spent a great deal of time together the last few months."
"I think you may have discovered some genuine insight into Ben's emotional need," I told them. "If you can meet his need for love, I think there is a good chance you will see a change in his behavior." I suggested some key ways to express love through quality time and challenged Dennis to build into his schedule quality time with Ben. I encouraged Brenda to look for ways she and Ben could once more do some of the things they did before she had her full-time job. They both seemed eager to translate their insight into action.
"There may be other factors involved," I said, "but if you will give Ben large doses of quality time and then sprinkle in the other four love languages, I think you will see a radical change in his behavior."
We said good-bye. I never received a letter from Dennis and Brenda, and to be honest, I forgot about them. But about two years later I returned to Wisconsin for another seminar, and they walked in and reminded me of our conversation. They were all smiles; we hugged each other, and they introduced me to friends they had invited to the seminar.
"Tell me about Ben," I said.
They both smiled and said, "Ben is doing wonderfully. We meant to write you many times but never got around to it. We went home and did what you suggested. We consciously gave Ben lots of quality time over the next few months. Within two or three weeks, really, we saw a dramatic change in Ben's behavior at school. In fact, the teacher asked us to come in again. We were fearful. But this time, she wanted to ask what we had done that had brought about such a change in Ben."
The teacher told them that Ben's negative behavior had stopped: no more pushing other children away from her in the lunchroom; no more coming to her desk to ask question after question. Then Brenda explained that her husband and she had begun to speak Ben's "love language" after attending a seminar. "We told her how we had started giving Ben overdoses of quality time," said Brenda.
This couple had learned to speak their son's love language, to say "I love you" in a way that Ben could understand. Ben's story encouraged me to write this book. My first book on the love languages looks at how our spouses feel loved when we speak their primary love language. The Five Love Languages has one chapter devoted to recognizing your child's primary love language. Now Ross Campbell and I will look at how those five love languages can help your child feel loved.
Speaking your child's primary love language does not mean he or she will not rebel later. It does mean your child will know you love him, and that can bring him security and hope; it can help you to rear your child to responsible adulthood. Love is the foundation.
In raising children, everything depends on the love relationship between the parent and child. Nothing works well if a child's love needs are not met. Only the child who feels genuinely loved and cared for can do her best. You may truly love your child, but unless she feels it-unless you speak the love language that communicates to her your love-she will not feel loved.
FILLING THE EMOTIONAL TANK
By speaking your child's own love language, you can fill his "emotional tank" with love. When your child feels loved, he is much easier to discipline and train than when his "emotional tank" is running near empty.
Every child has an emotional tank, a place of emotional strength that can fuel him through the challenging days of childhood and adolescence. Just as cars are powered by reserves in the gas tank, our children are fueled from their emotional tanks. We must fill our children's emotional tanks for them to operate as they should and reach their potential.
But with what do we fill these tanks? Love, of course, but love of a particular kind that will enable our children to grow and function properly.
We need to fill our children's emotional tanks with unconditional love, because real love is always unconditional. Unconditional love is a full love that accepts and affirms a child for who he is, not for what he does. No matter what he does (or does not do), the parent still loves him. Sadly, parents often display a love that is conditional; it depends on something other than their children just being. Conditional love is based on performance and is often associated with training techniques that offer gifts, rewards, and privileges to children who behave or perform in desired ways.
Of course, it is necessary to train and/or discipline our children-but only after their emotional tanks have been filled. Those tanks can be filled with only one premium fuel: unconditional love. Our children have "love tanks" ready to be filled (and refilled; they can deplete regularly). Only unconditional love can prevent problems such as resentment, feelings of being unloved, guilt, fear, and insecurity. Only as we give our children unconditional love will we be able to deeply understand them and deal with their behaviors, whether good or bad.
Molly grew up in a home of modest financial resources. Her father was employed nearby and her mother was a homemaker, except for a small part-time job. Both parents were hardworking people who took pride in their house and family. Molly's dad cooked the evening meal, and he and Molly washed and dried the dishes together. Saturday was a day for weekly chores, and Saturday nights they enjoyed hot dogs or burgers together. On Sunday mornings, the family went to church and that evening they would spend time with relatives.
When Molly and her brother were younger, their parents read to them almost every day. Now that they were in school, Mom and Dad encouraged them in their studies. They wanted both children to attend college, even though they did not have this opportunity themselves.
In junior high, one of Molly's friends at school was Stephanie. The two had most classes together and often shared lunch. But the girls didn't visit each other at home. If they had, they would have seen vast differences. Stephanie's father was a successful salesman who was able to provide generously for the family. He was also away from home most of the time. Stephanie's mother was a nurse. Her brother was away at a private school. Stephanie had also been sent to a boarding school for three years until she begged to attend the local public school. With her father out of town and her mother working so much, the family often went out for meals.
Molly and Stephanie were good friends until the ninth grade, when Stephanie went off to a college-prep school near her grandparents. The first year, the girls exchanged letters; after that, Stephanie began dating and the letters became less frequent and then stopped. Molly formed other friendships and then starting dating a guy who transferred to her school. After Stephanie's family moved away, Molly never heard from her again.
If she had, she would have been sad to know that after marrying and having one child, Stephanie was arrested as a drug dealer and spent several years in prison, during which time her husband left her. In contrast, Molly was happily married with two children.
What made the difference in the outcome of two childhood friends? Although there is no one answer, we can see part of the reason in what Stephanie once told her therapist: "I never felt loved by my parents. I first got involved in drugs because I wanted my friends to like me." In saying this, she wasn't trying to lay blame on her parents as much as she was trying to understand herself.
Did you notice what Stephanie said? It wasn't that her parents didn't love her, but that she did not feel loved. Most parents love their children and also want their children to feel loved, but few know how to adequately convey that feeling. It is only as they learn how to love unconditionally that they will let their children know how much they are truly loved.
HOW A CHILD FEELS LOVED
In modern society, raising emotionally healthy children is an increasingly difficult task. The contemporary drug scene has most parents running scared. The condition of our educational system has brought many parents to the point of home schooling or enrolling their children in private schools. The violence occurring in so many cities and towns causes parents to wonder if their children will even reach maturity.
It is into such stark reality that we speak a word of hope to parents. We want you to enjoy a loving relationship with your children. Our focus in this book is on one exceedingly important aspect of parenting-meeting your children's need for love. If children feel genuinely loved by their parents, they will be more responsive to parental guidance in all areas of their lives. We have written this book to help you give your children a greater experience of the love you have for them. This will happen as you speak the love languages they understand and can respond to.
For a child to feel love, we must learn to speak her unique love language. Every child has a special way of perceiving love. There are basically five ways children (indeed, all people) speak and understand emotional love. They are: physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service. If you have several children in your family, chances are they speak different languages, for just as children often have different personalities, they may hear in different love languages. Typically, two children need to be loved in different ways.
A "NO MATTER WHAT" KIND OF LOVE
Whatever love language your child understands best, he needs it expressed in one way, unconditionally. Unconditional love is a guiding light, illuminating the darkness and enabling us as parents to know where we are and what we need to do as we raise our child. Without this kind of love, parenting is bewildering and confusing. Before we explore the five love languages, let's consider the nature and importance of unconditional love.
We can best define unconditional love by showing what it
does. Unconditional love shows love to a child no matter what.