By WENDY MAXWELL, LCSW
QUESTION: I struggle to show my daughter the love and affection she needs. How can I learn to love her better?
ANSWER: Loving others is a central tenet of how we are called to live as Christians. This can be challenging when those “others” are strangers, and ironically harder still when that person is a loved one. We often believe that our children should be the easiest to consistently love well, and when we struggle to do this, it can cause internal guilt, pain and confusion — in addition to an external issue in the relationship.
Each of us wants to be understood and heard, as it helps us feel valued and validated. As parents, it can be difficult to do this when our children display disparate personality traits than ourselves, or opinions that we don’t agree with. As an extrovert, for example, it can be frustrating and bewildering to assist an introvert child through the social gauntlet. Further, as a parent with life experience and associated wisdom, it can be challenging to permit room for our child’s perspective, especially if we can predict trouble due to that perspective.
So how can we embrace and implement understanding and validation while staying true to what we want to nurture, teach and promote as a parent? Conveying that we understand, or want to understand, requires allowing one’s child to feel what they feel, even if we don’t agree. With young adult/adult children, this can promote closeness even in disagreement. For minor children, this does not require us to acquiesce to their feelings/desires. Regardless of age, in not dismissing a child’s thoughts and feelings out of hand, we communicate love.
Appreciating differences in personality and perspective can be made easier by working toward greater insight. “The Road Back to You,” a basic primer on the Enneagram, as well as other resources, can be helpful. You might be familiar with the “love languages,” first introduced in the book “The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love.” While the original publication focused on how to apply this concept in marriage, subsequent works by author Gary Chapman and others have included the parent/child relationship.
Finally, I occasionally have clients admit that they struggle with expressing love physically or verbally, as they were raised in a home where this did not occur. I suggest intentionally tying demonstrative love to a regularly occurring event, such as giving a hug or saying “I love you” when the child is leaving the home, before bed, etc. In creating the habit, over time this will become more natural.
Parenting is a great challenge with many unknowns, but with dedication and perseverance, you can consistently love your daughter well.
Wendy Maxwell, LCSW, is a graduate of The University of Mississippi and The University of Alabama. She has a private counseling practice in Ridgeland focused on treating women and teens with anxiety, depression, and change-of-life issues. She is a married mother of two recent college graduates and enjoys working in her yard, reading, and cooking with friends.