We All Love in Our Own Way
Updated: Mar 15, 2021
Learning to recognize love and accept it isn't always easy.
Author Dr. Gary Chapman has a theory that there are 5 Love Languages. That is five common ways that people express and receive love. He believes that if we learn our love language as well as that of those we love, we will have better relationships. He even provides online tests to help discover your love language.
Now, while I don't think it's necessary to take his quiz, I do think there is some merit to his theory. Although not intentional on their part, this is also another lesson my daughters have taught me. They have been telling me in various ways for quite some time, both directly and indirectly, that I don't love them the way they want me to. However, despite hearing their message, I struggle to understand it.
I am aware that others sometimes see me as tough, or as having a hard shell. In times of crisis I tend to have a take-charge, let's fix this attitude. In the moment I usually don't like spending a lot of time thinking about who is at fault or why something happened, I just want to find the fix. I consider wallowing to be a waste of time, pity pointless, and victimhood frustrating. I am also not much of a hugger.
For those close to me - my daughters, husband, mother - I can see how they might see me as heartless or unloving. But nothing could be further from the truth. I would move heaven and earth to protect all of them, fight for them, and help them. I would give them my last bite of food, the shirt off my back, and my last sip of water. I have proven this to all of them time and time again with my actions. And I was always taught that actions speak louder than words. But with my daughters this simply has not been the case. The love I give is not wrapped the way they want it to be, so they are refusing the gift.
I do no think that the problems between us have developed because of a lack of love, but rather because of a lack of understanding and acceptance of each other's love language. I show my love for my family through gifts and actions. Any time any of them asks for help in any way, the answer has always been "yes." I have taken care of pets, driven kilometers and kilometers, baked, cooked, painted and knitted. I have listened and given my best insight and advice. I have done free graphic design work and free editing work. I have written resumes and cover letters. I have hosted sleepovers, parties, showers and bring the family together for occasions. I have made and delivered meals and bought groceries and care packages. I have answered calls and text messages in the middle of meetings, and interrupted work days to run out and help someone at the last minute. I buy thoughtful personalized gifts and I make a point of telling them I love them every single time I speak with them.
It turns out, however, they weren't looking for any of the above. Or perhaps they were seeking some of those things but my actions lost their inherent kindness because they weren't delivered the way my daughters wanted. My youngest, for example, has told me that she that often she just wanted a hug. She would come to me upset and unload her problem. My instinct was to talk it out to try and figure out how I could make her feel better or fix the problem. Oftentimes, this led to an argument when all I was trying to do was listen and help. But she only wanted the listening and a hug, not the help.
However, even after learning this I still struggled to shut up and just hug her. It's not that I didn't want to, its just not what comes naturally to me when I am dealing with people who are extremely emotional. I have a tendency, particularly with my daughters, to absorb their energy. I am a sponge that soaked up all their hurt, upset, anger, and frustration. And as I have tried to explain to them, the sponge always weighs more than the water it absorbs. The weight of their problems was so heavy for me, I couldn't lift my arms to hug them. But I cried with them, and I empathized and sympathized with them. But no matter how much I wanted to be there for them and tried to be there in the way that they wanted, I always seemed to end up missing the mark.
It doesn't take much for me to trigger my daughters. I often feel like they spend all their time with me just waiting for me to say or do the wrong thing so they can pounce and put me in my place. They have held their hands up in front of me and told me to stop talking, they have told me to shut up, they have walked away from me mid-conversation when they decided that they are done talking about whatever is we were discussing, and they have hung up the telephone on me. All because I was saying something they didn't want to hear - even when I was only trying to be helpful and supportive. But again, not delivered the way they wanted, so my efforts were criticized and rejected in the rudest, most cruel ways.
Here is the what I struggle to understand. Why cannot they accept the love that is offered in the way that it is offered? Why do they always have to focus on what I am not doing, or how I am not living up to their expectations, instead of focusing on all the kind, generous, thoughtful things I do? In my opinion, they are choosing to focus on my flaws and paint me in a negative light. And because they have been doing this for a decade now, it has become a habit. It does not matter that I have worked tirelessly to hear what they are saying and do better, they continue to see and define me as they always have. They reject all my new efforts and approaches and tell me I never change, even as I am trying to change. But again, why? Why reject your own mother's love?
I learned a long time ago that one person could not possibly fulfil my every need. This is why it is so important that we have a wide and diverse network of people in our lives, because they all fulfil a different need. Are we not all better off when we accept all the love that is offered to us, and bask in its glow, so that all our needs are fulfilled, rather than rejecting love because you don't like how its being presented and ultimately missing out on the good part that maybe you do need?
I am hopeful that as my daughters get older they will begin to judge me less harshly and love me more easily. I also hope they learn to accept the love I have to give them, because it is big, multifaceted love that would enrich their lives if only they accepted it with the intention and open heart it is given. After all, we all love in our own way, we fair best when we accept it in all its forms.