This post originally published on March 8, 2013.
One of the things that Moms want to be sure their children are confident of is their love. We want them to know how we value them, which can be sometimes be difficult and complicated. One of my young-Mom friends recently asked me how I did this as well as how my four kids turned out to be such great friends to one another. I told her I'd get back to her on that - not sure I feel qualified to answer that question -- but I do want to try.
First, I asked my children for their opinions. (Crossing my fingers that what my friend had observed was indeed true...) Apparently, it is true, so I'll incorporate their answers into mine.
Here are some thoughts. Some are pragmatic, things you can "do". Others are more principles to apply.
1. PRAY. I know, that's my answer to everything. And truly, it is. But it's the best I got. Actually, it's the best there is. Pray. Pray that God would convey your love and acceptance to their hearts. It takes Divine intervention to be sure this message gets through because I guarantee you there is UNdivine opposition to it. We all need to know not only the love of our earthly parents but also the assurance of the love of our Heavenly Father - the Apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesian church, and for us, to "have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filledwith all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:18,19)
2. Tell them all the time. When they wake up, when they go to bed, when they leave the house, when you end a phone conversation. I don't care if you - or they - think it is trite. SAY IT. Over and over and over and over. Whenmine were little, I would play a little game. I would say "you surely are pretty (or handsome!). Is that why Mommy loves you?" I taught them to say "no!". "You surely are smart! Is that why Mommy loves you?" Answer' "No!". You surely are sweet (or good or kind or whatever adjective works). Is that why Mommy loves you?" Again, they were taught to respond to that question "No!". "Then WHY DOES Mommy love you?" "Because I'm YOURS!" We did this about a zillion times per child. I'll bet if I called my grown daughter right now and asked her why I love her, she would respond reflexively "Because I'm yours!" The assurance of being loved and valued is a strong foundation for the years ahead when self-image is assaulted from all sides, particularly the mirror. And it is innoculation against false loves that promise but cannot deliver. I know for sure that I was spared much heartache from poor choices just because I didn't want to hurt my folks who loved me so much.
3. Communicate how much you love being his/her Mom. I tell mine - and it's the Gospel truth - that, if they weren't mine, I would wish they were. That I think they are the coolest kids I have ever known. And they are. They really are. If I could have a do-over, I would do one thing differently, though. I would act happier more. I have become aware of how tired I looked during all those baby years, when I view videos of those days. And I was! But I wish I had not looked like it or acted like it or complained about it. I'll bet it hurt their little hearts. They most likely figured out that my tiredness had something to do with Motherhood. And it's possible they came to a wrong conclusion or two about my joy in being a Mom. Maybe I didn't need to hold a circus every day butif I could regain those years, I would have been more intentional about displaying joy. (At least for the videos! )
4. Share specific things about them that you admire/appreciate/applaud. But also tell them over and over and over that they cannot do anything ever that could make you love them any less -- or any more than you already do. Because your love for them is enormous! I tried to praise character traits more than achievements. I wanted to avoid a "performance-based love" but I know that message gets clouded in the delivery. So I prayed alot.
5. Let them know that, in spite of how much you love them, you will fail them and disappoint them. But, ask them for grace and for the benefit of the doubt...and point them to our Heavenly Father whose love is always perfect, always strong, never failing.
6. Do stuff with them. Alot. I do NOT advocate a child-centered home. And I am NOT a good example of a Mom who plays endless games with her kids. But your kids will know your priorities by how you spend your time. I would personally like to de-bunk the "quality vs. quantity time" myth but I am not secure enough to risk stepping on the toes of a bazillion people. So I won't get on that soapbox right now. (except for just one teeny-weeny comment --- if you are starving, would you rather have 1 TBS of filet mignon or a great big juicy Bubba Burger? just sayin....)
7. When there is more than one child attached to your heart, you have the additional challenge of sibling rivalry. It's as old as Cain and Abel. How can you make sure that each one knows of their place in your heart? You know that my first answer is to pray. Psalm 133:1 says "How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity". I prayed that a bunch. Still do. Not much else can make a Mommy heart sing as when she sees her children loving one another. I honestly would rather they love each other than love me. Not much, though. :)
8. I have found that it is good to celebrate the successes of your kids with each other but avoid going overboard. My own Mom was/is fantabulous about this. And I am so thankful. I could have an insurmountable inferiority complex if she weren't, considering that I follow an amazing-in-all-respects brother. Instead of feeling negatively about him, I adore him. Borderline worship, actually. Thanks to my Mom.
9. It's normal for kids to feel jealous. Let them know it doesn't mean they are a wretched person nor does it have to mean they don't love their sibling. Allow them to express those feelings to you without condemnation. Help them work through them by letting the feelings come into the light. (Unless the sibs are older, it's probably not wise to have them share that with the sibling. Once they get older, this admission probably will be helpful to each of them, though). Affirm their own worth/value to you and instruct them in the seemingly paradoxical solution -- celebrate the other person. Applaud the other person for the very thing that causes the jealousy. I know it seems the opposite of what feels like would work, but it is what works. Something about humbling oneself to applaud and appreciate the thing that we envy loosens the vice grip on our hearts and frees us from its stranglehold. Hmmmmm, good advice for us grown-up kids, too.....
10. If they tattled on another sibling, the accused didn't get in trouble. Didn't want to encourage them to try and usurp the activity of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin and unrighteousness. So I didn't give them the pleasure of the other one getting in trouble. Instead, the tattler got a long conversation. (some people call it a lecture.....to me it's a long conversation....) Instead, encourage teamwork and cooperation.
11. Make sure that your kids do things together. Games, outings, and chores! Be mature enough to absorb the pain of being "Common Enemy #1" in order to let your kids bond over being mad at you. It's worth it. And don't worry, they'll come around. My husband does the best job in the universe at creating a TEAM atmosphere in our home. Working together vs. competing. I think I will ask him to do a guest post on this. He's the best. Honey, if you are reading this , would you write a post for me???
12. Have your kids give one another gifts. OK, so we're materialistic over here, but from the day the new one camehome from the hospital, I made sure they gave each other gifts. And that it was stuff the other one wanted. Eventually, they take ownership of this and do it on their own. But early on, see that it happens. Ibid for spending time together. If an older sibling wants to go see a movie, they have to pay for it themselves. But if they take a younger sib, then I pay for them both. Bribing does not bother my conscience at all.
13. Make memories and have traditions. Don't be a slave to the traditions and do not turn yourself into a witch trying to create some magazine-type atmosphere. The best traditions are easy and enjoyable. For instance, our family always runs a local 5K every year. (OK, so good traditions don't have to be enjoyable for Mom.....be content to just be together). And we decorate our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. And the birthday kid gets their favorite meal that day. And we always....whatever. You get the idea. Keep the memories alive, too. Those are glue for family loyalty.
14. Set them up for success in their sibling relationships. Be the example of selflessness and joy and love. Instruct them in how to serve their siblings. Make sure that they know they should serve at home before serving in public. Matthew 5 tells us we are to let our light shine so that it gives light to all who are in the house. HOME matters first. Here's a little idea that popped into my head -- when one of the kids has been gone for several days, I would have those at home make a "welcome home" banner for the returning one. Sends the message that we miss the ones that aren't here. And that its a great thing when everybody's home.
15. Random idea. I began a journal for each kid as soon as the pregnancy test came back positive. Now don't fret - I didn't write alot or even regularly. But I tried to jot down some funny things they did, some accomplishments and particularly, my thoughts and feelings toward them. When each of my older girls turned 21, I presented their journal to them. Along with their UNORGANIZED baby books and the little mememtoes I have saved through the years. Little notes and pictures that were significant (in other words - I didn't save everything they did, just a few things . and I didn't scrapbook or have some lovely presentation. Just stuffed in a bag for them to go through). Also for their 21st bday, I solicited letters from some meaningful folks in their lives. Letters to affirm and exhort them. I presented these letters (for one of them, I was even able to gather together the writers of the letters and have them read these aloud to my daughter. This was powerful. ) Written words that will anchor and sustain them through the years. I plan to do the same thing for the next ones as they turn legal.
OK this has turned into an epistle. If you fell asleep before you got through, it's time to wake up now. If I have more thoughts on this, I'll send them later. Blessings.