“You can buy any outfit you want,” my dad said… and I was in heaven.
Every year I looked forward not only to my birthday, but to this day. Where I felt treated, special, and lavished with a special kind of attention.
It’s not that I normally lacked these things – I am a charismatic, performer-type first born after all – however in any family with more than one child, getting special one on one time with a parent is pure bliss.
When I look back over the years I realize that this small birthday tradition between my dad and I was one of the ways he showed me his love, his heart, and his desire to be a great father. The countless sporting events, performances, and award ceremonies he showed up for, video camera in hand, were wonderful too… but the emotion behind those memories just isn’t quite the same.
As a parent myself now I can see that showing up for something your child is already doing creates trust and a feeling of support in the relationship… But, when you go out of your way to do something for a child that you don’t necessarily like or wouldn’t do for your own pleasure and that is not attached to an outcome, achievement, or performance (like my dad going clothes shopping) speaks a different kind of love. This act says – I see you, and I love you just for who you are, not for what you can do.
I could tell that my dad enjoyed taking me on our annual birthday shopping trip purely for the joy it brought me. He had my love language down pat. He saw my childhood passions – fashion, design, and sewing – and showed me that he cared.
As I near another birthday this week, I’m reminded of the importance of speaking this kind of love to my own children.
My daughter, GloryAnne, commands, or should I say demands my attention when she is dancing… which happens literally everywhere, all of the time. My eyes must be completely on her or it doesn’t count. Sometimes blinking seems to be an issue, too. It’s easy to get annoyed as busy parents to young children when they want and need so much from us. However, I get to remind myself that I can simply share in her joy and remind her, I see you, and I love you just for who you are, not for what you can do.
My son, Viggo, is always bringing his latest Lego creation to my attention and sometimes describing – in painstaking detail – what he has built. Often his creations are “replicas” of Star Wars ships or something from a favorite show or book. Saying that I understand what he is talking about even half of the time would be incredibly generous. In all honesty, I am not a huge builder type and when I do sit down to build with my kids I make models of the human energy system or see how tall I can stack single bricks. It’s not where my creativity flourishes, but he never judges or compares. Just my presence and my awe are enough. Each time I take a moment to truly acknowledge him I remind him, I see you, and I love you just for who you are, not for what you can do.
In the book, Quantum Touch author Richard Gordon says that for a child, simply watching is considered an act of love – it transcends all languages and applies across cultures. In fact, attention and watchfulness was the gift that my dad gave me every year on my birthday as he encouraged my innate gifts and personality to flourish.
Whenever we have discord in a relationship with our children, we can ask ourselves: Where am I not showing my child my love by being consumed by their joy and in awe of who they are?
The next time your child asks for a special early morning walk alone with you (I adore when my son does this!) or is thrilled to show you their latest dance move or art project… stop and give yourself and your child the gift of your full presence.