Caring for children is one of the most powerful expression of love I believe. But just as with birth families and birth children, love has many faces. Love can be classified along countless lines. For now, I will focus on the 5 Love Languages. It’s a concept that helped me over the years to become a better person, daughter, sister, friend, girl friend, wife… and now, mother (all in progress). It’s a never ending process of course. For us, adoptive parents (especially if you, like us, adopted older children) it’s extra hard, because we didn’t have ‘years and years to find out’ nor can we say ‘he takes after me in this regard’.
A quick rundown on the 5 love languages from their website:
- Words of affirmation (uses words to affirm other people’s worth)
- Acts of service (actions speak louder than words)
- Receiving gifts (what makes them feel most loved is to receive a gift)
- Quality time (giving the other person your undivided attention)
- Physical touch (nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch)
When the boys moved in and we became a family of four after meeting and ‘dating’ only for 2 weeks, we were thrown into the deep end and survival was the most important target. Now, several months later when feelings and emotions don’t run that high any more and all 4 of us accepted the fact that ‘this is how it’s gonna be from now on’ we can look closer into this topic. We have spent now a significant amount of time together so I feel I have a good understanding now about their personalities so I feel I am in a position to narrow down their love languages from 5 to maybe 2?
I say ‘maybe 2’, because in the beginning the situation was way too complex to get a clear picture. It still is. Our family roots still run shallow. With Looked After Children (LAC) who suffered loss, trauma, neglect and separation several times in their short lives, it’s often impossible to get a clear read. They don’t fit into any category, or more accurately, they tick all 5 boxes! Their self esteem was ‘under the frog’s arse’ as my grandma used to say. They were not used to being treated nicely! No gifts, no hugs, no attention to their interests or worries, no time to play with them… They were deprived of all aspects of love!
So, naturally, Well Meaning Ignorant (WMI) people kept on advising us:
‘All they need is love!’
<style=”text-align:left;”>But what kind of love? For the sake of staying focused and keeping the length of this post under control I will only mention some of the most obvious obstacles:
- lack of trust towards new parents
- fear of the unknown
- loss, separation, trauma and their ‘fruits’
- staying in constant fight/flight mode thus not being in a position to just BE
- not being in the state of mind to act rationally / age appropriately / ‘normally’
- having the need to feel safe, secure, settled, attached as overriding emotions
- not being optimistic about their own future
- self blame or believing they don’t deserve love or any good in their lives
When I look beyond these massive challenges and occasionally, when I am able to provide a minute or 2 of calmness where the boys feel safe, their lovely personalities start to shine through. I get a glimpse of the real Snoops and real Goofs; the ones they could be 24/7 had they not have their rubbish past that locked those personalities away…
A few months ago I started to experiment a bit. Following the approach used in play therapy when they have a hypothesis and then they test it, I also assumed Goofs’ primary love language is Gifts. This is a tricky one as children do want lots of things and can nag us for a new toy. But I have never really met any 6 year old who would do a happy dance when I told him I have bought his favourite spinach leaves…
I noticed that whenever I bought them new socks or a treat or new colouring books he was always more excited than his brother. Often he would say ‘you got this for me because you love me, right?’ Well, yeah, but I also do colouring in for hours with you or give you praises or wash your clothes because I love you. But apparently, those seem insignificant in his eyes. Deep down he knows we love him, but for him to feel loved, he needs to receive gifts. So now I try to make a point every time I buy something to reinforce it with words and say it back to him ‘I got this to show you I love you’. You only need one glimpse on his beautiful face to see it light up like nothing else… 🙂
His secondary love language might be physical touch; it’s hard to know as even grown men would put this first when asked about their love language and only after careful consideration are they willing to admit that actually words of affirmation are, for example, more important than an (intimate) touch. But my 6 year old Goofs loves sitting in my lap or play with my hair or come up with new ‘clever’ game ideas that would somehow make me wrap him in my arms. He can concentrate on basically any subject as long as my arm is touching his or we sit very close to each other. He often insists on a play when he is ‘a baby who just came out of you and is so cute you want to cuddle me and feed me‘, but again, this might just be his way of trying hard to attach to me and not an actual representation of a certain love language.
Different children – different issues
Snoops is (as with everything) less straight forward. He was often used as a scapegoat and he truly believes that he is ‘stupid, worthless and beyond hope’. He said these words so many times we are certain he is repeating what he was told regularly, proving that affirming words (or the lack of it) can linger for a lifetime. Even though those words were said quickly and in anger, they will not be forgotten anytime soon.
My approach with him at this stage is still the same as on day one: to show love in all 5 languages, because, frankly, he needs all the messages he can get! I do buy his favourite things and both boys get told the same thing. I also make a conscious effort to grab him randomly for a nice long hug and we play the ‘tickly game’ a lot (and to be honest this does require lots of effort on my side as this is not my love language!). As part of our therapeutic parenting we give compliments and recognise little things in excessive ways. Extended comments like ‘wash your beautiful face so I can see how handsome you are’ go a long way with him! Even though he is 7 he really enjoys colouring in with me and I noticed he is much better at staying within the lines when I am working on the same picture with him. So, is it quality time then? I so hope so as this is MY love language so for me this would be the easiest way to show him how much I love him. The fifth one is acts of service; I think at this age they take it for granted that mummy does everything for them (make food, clean their room, change their wet sheets, wash their favourite t-shirts, fix their broken toys…etc), but because of their complex history it’s hard to see clearly and this might develop into a dominant language in the future!
As a mother my job is to fill my boys’ Love Tanks because if it’s full, he can truly develop into his Best Himself, which will translate into better behaviour, higher achievements, healthier self image and a more hopeful future for all of us!