Are You Speaking the Right 'Language' to Your Stepfamily?
We've all had those thoughts…
"I'm not too worried…our new step-family is just gonna 'click' at some point."
"Blended families are supposed to be tough, right…so we'll just have to 'tough it out'."
But what if these are just limiting beliefs that actually hold you back from leading your stepfamily into a better future? The truth is, you can't wait around for your family to magically bond and you don't have to bide your time until all the kids have left home. There's plenty of intentional actions you can take to create connection while you're patiently living out the crockpot strategy.
Trivial or Critical?
Recently, Mike received some "step-dad kudos" from my daughter Annika when he replaced the windshield wipers on her car. Mike's been in Annika's life since she was 5-years-old. We've always noticed how she shows gratitude and affection after one of us does something for her that she can't do for herself.
I've experienced this with Annika too. Not long ago, she was complaining about the straps on her new dress that just wouldn't stay on her shoulders. I seized the opportunity to make an alteration and fix her dress. She appreciates these things so much and seems to light up every time we offer to help.
We've discovered that these seemingly trivial acts of service are some of the most critical interactions we can have with Annika. They are speaking to her what author Gary Chapman would call her Primary Love Language.
The Language of Love
According to Chapman, every child has a unique way of perceiving and receiving love. In his book: The Five Love Languages of Children, Gary states that children have "emotional tanks" and when a child's emotional tank is full, everything goes better.
Of course you love your child or step-child, but unless the child feels your love - unless you speak the love language that communicates love to them - they may struggle to actually experience being loved. By speaking each child's personal love language, you can fill their emotional tanks with the kind of love they are able to clearly receive.
When kids truly feel and experience being loved, they are much easier to relate with and meaningful connection can happen more naturally. When emotional tanks are running low, the process of bonding becomes much more challenging.
Five Ways to Fill 'Emotional Tanks'
Every parent and step-parent should read Chapman's book. In it he explores each of the five love languages and helps parents identify specific ways to fill their children's emotional tanks. The five ways that kids (and all of us) speak and understand emotional love are through:
Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Acts of Service, Physical Touch & Quality Time.
The reality is that we need to be speaking all five love languages to our children, because all of these things are important. But if we can identify which are the primary one or two love languages for each child, it can change the way we parent.
Parenting is challenging in any family! Let's get honest here - it's exhausting just to meet all our kid's physical needs every day. It can feel really overwhelming when we think about making sure our kids are getting the emotional support they need and that we're connecting with them in a meaningful way. And of course, the more kids you have the more daunting parenting becomes. I'm speaking from my own experience here - meeting all of our kids' needs can be tough.
Mike and I consistently look for opportunities to speak all five love languages to our kids. But we know that for Annika, an act of service will most effectively fill her emotional tank. On those busy days when time is short and our energy is drained, we can feel confident that serving her in a seemingly trivial way will leave her emotional tank full at the end of the day. Then we don't need to get overwhelmed or worried that we weren't able to speak the other love languages to her that particular day.
Intentionally focusing on using love languages can help you simplify parenting. It's all about making the most effective and profound impact with your limited parental resources - your time and energy. In other words: getting the biggest bang for your buck!
Key for Step-Parents
The value of discovering a child's primary love language is that it gives you the most effective means of communicating emotional love to them. Emotional love always leads to genuine connection which is essential in a blended family.
A step-parent focused on speaking their step-child's primary love language will help that child to feel more appreciation and acceptance for them. This tool can be used to build trusted bonds within your step-family and may also help ease some of the stress kids experience when a new step-parent enters their life.
When you sense that your child or step-child is having a rough day and is discouraged or feeling distant, thelove languages might be your "go to" tool. You'll be confident in knowing exactly how to express emotional warmth by speaking the child's specific love language to make the biggest impact. You'll help them feel a sense of security, belonging and meet their need for unconditional love.
Time spent in the crockpot doesn't have to be a waiting game! Discover more relational tools that promote step-family connections that lead to healthy bonding!
QUESTION: Which love language does your child or step-child need the most? Leave a comment below: