My favorite part of being a mother is being able to be a memory maker. I love being able to show my children things for the very first time, and then being able to take them to their favorite places over and over again. I can remember when I took Julia (now 10) to the library for story time for the very first time. She was only 6 months old, but she was one of those babies that was so observant and always had to be face out so she could “see the world”. She sat there on my lap mesmerized by the teacher, the songs, the stories and the other children in the room. It was at that moment I knew this was going to be one of “her places,” and I was so excited that I had been the one to take her.
I have four children, Julia (10), Mark (8), Micah (4), and Amelia (3). We have raised all of them in a Christian home. For the past 10 years, I have stayed home with little ones. I was the one in the morning to make breakfast, and then take them out somewhere to have an adventure. We filled our week with playdates, MOPS meetings (Mothers of Preschoolers), BSF (Bible Study Fellowship), swim lessons, library story time, or a homeschool co-op. We were always making memories together and doing things outside of the home because I am the type of person who loves a busy schedule and being out and about with other people.
I would often find that in the car on the ride home from somewhere or at night time, even after a very full day of seeing Mommy all day and spending time together, my children would crave extra attention from me. So I would read an extra book to Amelia even if I already read 3, or hear a long story about something from my Julia “the talker”, or I would find Mark showing me another magic trick, and I would see Micah jumping down yet another group of stairs to show me how he was a super hero. I realized that just because they were with me all day did not mean they got me all day.
I might be like you…I love to take pictures, I love to catch up with friends through texting, I like to surf Facebook, so even though I may have been with my kids maybe they weren’t getting all of me. Even though my body was there, my kids picked up on the feeling of mommy being distracted with planning another MOPS meeting, or checking on a friend, or trying to stage the perfect shot of my kids.
Each of us has a love tank.
Our children have love tanks.
It’s an imaginary tank that is either full or empty depending on how much we have shown them or given them the love that they need to get them through the day.
One of my favorite things to do is go apple picking. When we head to the orchards we are given a brown bag and a huge red bucket to fill. I like to picture a love tank like a big red bucket next to each child. Some days their buckets are full. Some days they are overflowing. Some days they are half full, and sometimes they are empty.
I would say that all of us have great intentions as parents. We love our kids and we want to give them what they need emotionally. But we, too, have love tanks. We have needs. We have responsibilities and the more kids you have the more buckets you need to fill. And let’s not forget our spouses have love tanks too.
There in lies the difficulty.
There is lies the balancing act.
How do we fill our spouses love tank, our children’s love tank, and also manage our own?
This was something that was so much easier for me personally as a stay at home mom. I had TIME each day to really pray and think about ways I could bless my kids and meet their individual needs. I had time to plan date nights with John and arrange babysitters for the kids.
But when my life changed on September 3rd of this year and I got a full time job as a principal at a Christian school, the balancing act of keeping everyone’s love tank full (and my own) became more complicated.
Sometimes children will act out to get their love tanks full.
When my son Micah (4) isn’t getting what he needs from us, he will act up negatively just to get our attention. He will jump on the furniture. He will bother his siblings. He will become whiny. All because he needs extra love, and he will do just about anything to get it.
Gary Chapman wrote an amazing book called The Five Love Languages. This book is awesome because it gives you 5 ways people respond to love:
1. Quality Time
2. Words of Affirmation
3. Acts of Service
5. Physical Touch
My husband and I read the book during our premarital counseling. John is a “words of affirmation” and “physical touch” kind of guy. When I am complimenting him and encouraging him, he feels really connected, respected, and loved by me. He also loves physical displays of affection (and I am so not that person…I am super shy), so I have learned to get past myself and my preferences to show my hubby love.
My love tank is full when I have “quality time” and “acts of service.” When everyone in the house is helping out on chore day, or offers to help vacuum my van or take out the trash, it is like my bucket is OVERFLOWING. When John takes the day off work so we all can spend quality time going to Cape May, visiting a zoo, or watching a family movie, I just adore that.
We apply these same 5 love languages to our children. It’s actually fun to think about and see which child has which love language… and then the really fun part is “filling their tank” with what they need.
I’ve noticed that at night time right before bed, if my child doesn’t have a full tank, bed time is harder. It forces me to think about the day, think about that child, and ask myself:
Did I hug them today?
Did I tell them I love them?
Did I say I was proud of them?
Did I help them with their homework?
Did I really even talk to them?
Sometimes we don’t mean to but we get so busy shuffling our children from one place to the next- school, taekwondo, bath time, bed time- that we forget to really see them, care for them, and meet their deep needs, not just their immediate physical needs of clothes, food, and shelter.
Keeping their love tank full now is so important because as they grow older, if we consistently neglect their emotional needs of love, quality time, words of affirmation, etc., I fear they may look to other people/things to fill it.
When I was growing up both my parents worked full time jobs in NYC. I barely saw them except for the weekends. My parents didn’t sit with us when we ate dinner. They cooked and then went upstairs to their room, and we were left to eat and clean up alone. I was put in public school and day care until they came home. This wasn’t because they didn’t love me. I’m sure they did. But this left me feeling resentful and lonely, and I always felt a deep desire to be loved differently than what I was getting at home.
I always told myself that when I grew up, married, and had kids I would do it differently. I would make time for my kids. I think that is why homeschooling was such a great option for us for so long. I was a stay at home mom, and I enjoyed teaching my kids at home and being with them.
Working moms just have to be more creative when it comes to filling our children’s love tanks. We may not have as much time as stay at home moms, but that doesn’t mean we care any less. Now that I am a working mom, when we are in the car, I use that time to really talk to my kids and pray with them. This doesn’t always happen, but being intentional about it helps. Our nighttime routine is longer because I know my kids need face to face time with me. I know they need that extra book (quality time). I know they need to be tickled (physical touch). I know they need to hear me say, “I’m so proud of you!” (words of affirmation) as I go through their take home folders and see the work they accomplished throughout the school week. Sometimes they need a trip to Target and some alone time with Mom/Day (gifts).
And I am also learning that it is ok to tell people what you need! It’s actually healthy. Instead of expecting your hubby or your kids to read your mind, tell them you could really use help with your car (acts of service) or folding laundry. I tell my kids I really miss them and just want to watch a family movie and snuggle (quality time). It has helped our family connect on a deeper level to just be honest about what we need from each other instead of being mad or sad when we don’t get it.
Keeping our family’s love tank full is challenging. But when you ask God to help you, He really does give you creative ways to love on the people He has blessed you with, and He also fills your tank at the same time!
Kristi is a full time wife, mother of four, and principal of a Christian elementary school. You can read more about Kristi and her beautiful family at her blog Keeping Up With Kristi.