How Do We Measure Love?

It’s been on my mind–and heart–to write about love this week. My husband and I have this thing with our kids, as I know many parents do, where we go back and forth with I love you, I love you more, I love you infinity and so on–about the only argument with my kids that I treasure! I say that I love them more and that it’s impossible for them to love me more because I gave them life. Somehow, that works!

Tonight, when I was going back and forth in this way with my 7 year old daughter, she finally and exasperatingly said, “Ugh, I wish there was a way for me to love you more!” Taken with some things I witnessed this week in my office regarding the love of parents for their children, this got me thinking: How do we measure love?

Of course, there is no tangible or objective way to measure love–“to the moon and back” notwithstanding–but there are two primary ways to show it: words and actions. Some people say words are more important, some say actions. The truth is, they are equally important. We can say that we love someone, but our actions can betray that. We can show love to someone by our actions, yet leave them guessing because we never actually speak those three, little, tremendously important words in succession.

Here’s what I’ve learned: When you love someone, you have to show them AND tell them. Here’s how to do both…

Here’s what you need to know about showing love to your kids: Just be with them. We show love to our kids by providing for them, protecting them, helping them and teaching them. These things are very important. What’s equally important is simply spending time with them. Just like adults, kids just want us to give them the time of day, to show that we enjoy their company. This can take many forms, including going for a walk, playing a game, talking about things, cooking or baking, reading a book, sharing a meal or simply sitting on the couch with them and watching something they want to watch.

In my experience, more parents struggle with speaking love than with showing it. I’ve seen unwittingly misguided parents who think their actions are enough and think they don’t need to actually speak love to their children. Truth is, when people have difficulty saying I love you, their own baggage is getting in their way. Some people weren’t raised with it, some were hurt by someone who previously said it, some think it makes them appear too vulnerable or even weak (sidebar: just like crying, being able to say I love you is a sign of strength because it indicates that you are in touch with your feelings and brave enough to express them), some were abused by people who were supposed to love them, some think it’s mushy and unnecessary, some think it makes their kid soft or otherwise not tough and some don’t say it because they don’t want their kids to think they “need” another person’s love to make them happy. (In actuality, we don’t “need” another person’s love for any reason, but that doesn’t mean we don’t very much want it or deserve it.)

So, here’s what you need to know about speaking love to your kids: Not readily and frequently saying I love you to your kids does not strengthen them or teach them to be independent; it can actually leave them guessing.

Our early interactions with our children teach them how they should be treated by others–in effect, what they deserve and what they should allow or tolerate in their lives when it comes to other people. In reality, not saying I love you to your kids can also make them more likely to land in problematic relationships because they think it’s acceptable to be in a relationship with someone wherein love is not frequently stated. Of course, not everyone who grows up without hearing I love you will be in a problematic relationship in the future, but you all know how I feel about playing the odds.

Like a doctor’s instructions, we learn things best when we hear them AND see them. I don’t know about you, but I want my children to absolutely know that they are loved unconditionally above all else, by both God and their parents.

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Image Credit: Brett Wilson