I love my three girls so much it hurts. Some days I walk around bursting with the love I have for them. It’s a physical condition, loving my children, one that fills me with wonder and leaves me in awe of the infinite capacity of the heart. These are the days I wear my love on my sleeve where the girls can plainly see and feel it. I laugh and joke around. I ask for a full report of the day and listen closely as they go into detail. I bake cookies just because.
Other days, I’m depleted. Maybe everyone woke up late for school, and we never fully caught up with the day. Maybe the dog vomited all over the living room rug. Or maybe I simply need to recharge and haven’t had a chance. This is when I’m on autopilot, dragging my butt through the day and counting down the minutes until bedtime. I’m not paying attention to my kids as much. I’m not being mean, but I’m not actively lovin’ all over them either. While my actual love for my kids doesn’t change, the level at which I’m outwardly expressing it sometimes does.
Here’s the thing: While we know we love our kids unconditionally and always, unless we show them how we feel, they don’t necessarily experience that love. Every kid receives love differently — one might respond more to words and another to physical affection, for example. It’s our job to learn what they need and give them all we can, whenever we can.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or monumental. It’s the little things, truly.
1. Say the words.
Can you ever tell your child you love them too many times? Nah. If your kid is in the “you’re embarrassing me” stage, you can always set up a code. We sometimes just say “1-4-3.” I’ll let you figure that one out.
2. Show your affection.
At a loss for words? Show your kids you love them with a hug or arm around the shoulder. Ruffle their hair, give them a kiss, or my favorite, hold hands. Even a high-five or fist bump works. A physical connection that reminds them you care.
3. Really, really listen to them.
Put your phone down. Stop puttering around the kitchen. Close your laptop. Devoting a few uninterrupted minutes of listening time to your child helps them feel valued. Plus, you’ll probably learn something cool about them you didn’t already know.
4. Goof around.
My kids love it when I’m silly, probably because I’m usually the more serious parent. The never-fail kitchen dance party is a favorite way for us all to let loose. My youngest daughter likes to “do” my hair and put on my makeup for me, and we all like to roll around tickling each other. Sometimes I have to remind myself to get goofy, but I’m always glad when I do.
5. Spend one-on-one time with them.
I feel like I’m always telling my kids I’m busy when they want to hang out with me, so we have to plan out our time together. I swear my girls are like different people when they’ve gotten my individual attention for a few hours. It’s like a little light turns on inside of them and sets them aglow. They need the connection, and I do too.
6. Keep in contact.
I tuck notes into my kids’ lunch boxes or write on their tangerines and napkins. I send my older kids funny texts and photos. Taking the time to communicate with them, in whatever mode they prefer, lets them know they’re on my mind and in my heart.
7. Let them do stuff by themselves.
I know it’s a pain in the ass and can majorly slow you down, but letting kids do things for themselves shows them you believe in them. It takes my 5-year-old a solid three minutes per shoe to tie them, but she’s so proud of herself once she’s done it — and I am too. So I grin and bare it.
8. Show up.
You don’t have to go to every game or performance — can you imagine?! — but it makes an impact when you do. My kindergartner is always thrilled when I drive for her field trip or serve hot lunch at her school.
9. Let them choose.
Whether it’s picking the activity, what to eat for dinner, or which movie to watch, letting your child make choices about how to spend time together is a great way to make them feel special. You might end up having mac and cheese for the third time that week while watching Moana (again), but your sacrifice will be deeply appreciated by your beaming kid. And that makes it totally worth it.
I have what I like to call “resting mom face.” By 5 p.m. my face is entirely slack and devoid of emotion. I’m usually just exhausted, but my kids sometimes think I’m sad or angry, even when I’m not. That’s when I look them in the eye and flash them a big, gloppy, grin, which makes them crack up. Smiles are like yawns: totally contagious.
11. Set boundaries.
Believe it or not, kids feel safer and more confident when they know what they are and are not permitted to do or say. Letting them have free rein over their schedules, food choices, or curfew can be overwhelming for a kid or young adult. Knowing someone cares about what they’re doing makes them feel loved, even if they complain about it. So let them have some choices, but let them know their parameters too.
There are so many ways to show our kids we love them — countless ways. The good news is, you can’t overdo it. Love doesn’t spoil anyone. It just helps kids become confident, happy people who know what love looks like and how to pass it on.