As a therapist who has worked with many families, I have frequently heard parents say, ‘we love our kids unconditionally’. This sense that a young person is cared about just because they are part of family is so important. They don’t have to do anything to earn love from parents. All they need to do is just be and receive love (although there are some families that struggle to offer unconditional acceptance and love for children. Sometimes addiction or mental illness can make it difficult for a parent to behave in ways that demonstrate unconditional love). Family is frequently the only place in which an individual can receive that sense of love and belonging without condition. This is critical for development as young people go out into the world and learn how to belong and have their value ascribed for a skill set or a personality trait they might have. As young people struggle to define what their contribution to the world will be and how they will bring value to world around them it is critical that they have a place to return and be reminded that even as the rest of the world may not yet see their value, they do in fact have immeasurable value and are loved without condition.
Valentines day is an opportunity to remind not only our partners and spouses that they are loved, but our children that they are loved unconditionally. Dr. Gary Chapman, author of the “The 5 Love Languages, has given us this concept that we all speak and receive love, but in different ways, dialects if you will. In a follow up book to the “5 Love Languages”, he wrote “The 5 Love Languages of Children”. He discusses ways in which we identify our children’s particular dialect of love language and then with intentionality speak it too and with them to remind them on a daily basis that they are unconditionally loved. We speak, words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, gifts, or quality time. If we understand which of these “fills our children’s bucket” (Don Clifton, “How full is your bucket?”) we can be more intentional about reminding them that they do in fact have at least one community in which they are loved and belong unconditionally.
This Valentines day, instead of buying those silly valentines cards at Target and putting them in your children’s lunchbox, see if you can identify your children’s love language and speak it to them as you remind them of their unconditional worth within the family (okay, put those silly valentines in their lunch box too).
Other blogs by Mathew Meyers, MA, LMFT