I Have 4 Kids Under 10. Here’s One Thing I Know.
It took me a while, but I finally figured it out.
I lie awake, reliving all the little moments from the day in my mind. The ones where I was patient, and the ones when I snapped. The ones I was truly present for, and those where I was a little more distracted. And it often feels impossible to be satisfied with my performance – with four kids ranging from two to nine, the details and moments of our current life are chaotic, and messy. So at the end of my mental recap I ask myself one question, Did they feel loved today? And if the answer is yes, I sleep soundly. Because showing them my love, and them feeling it, is my most important motherhood responsibility. And it looks different with each of them.
With my two-year-old daughter, it looks like snuggles and smooches. It looks like tickle parties, dance battles, and monster hide-and-seek. It’s picking her up when she clings to my ankles whining “hold you!” and staying calm when she tantrums on the floor over an empty container of apple juice. It’s offering her choices and letting her take the lead. It’s going on walks around the neighborhood and allowing her the independence to walk ahead when she wants, but carrying her when she is tired. It’s validating her emotions and comforting her when she’s upset. It’s letting her take a long shower because it’s her favorite, and not forcing her to wear the mittens that she doesn’t like. And it’s rocking her every night before she goes to sleep while singing “Castle on a Cloud” from Les Misérables in an extremely off-key hyper baritone voice.
And then there is my five year old — my confident, social, independent little fashion queen. With her, showing love is letting her have friends over and allowing her to pick out her own clothes. It’s snuggling, rubbing her back very lightly with my fingertips, and giving her hug breaks while brushing her hair. It’s playing princess and letting her put bright pink blush on my cheeks and glitter on my eyes. It’s bringing her big brothers to her gymnastics practice, to show her that her activities are important. It’s riding bikes around the neighborhood while she sings “Girl on Fire” as loud as her voice can carry. It’s playing school, making hot chocolate, and going out of my own social comfort-zone when she is bored and wants an activity. And it’s staying calm when she accidentally spills the cereal milk that she tried so hard to pour herself.
And for my seven year old, it’s something else. It’s getting him his favorite egg sandwich at the local breakfast shop and laughing at his jokes. It’s finding little bursts of one-on-one time where I can really listen to his stories. It’s watching “YouTube Hacks” together and learning new recipes. It’s validating his feelings and listening to his complaints that makes him feel safe and understood. It’s empowering him, letting him feel in charge, and staying calm when he explodes with frustration over a pair of socks. It’s giving hugs often, and never pushing him before he is ready. And it’s watching him play video games and asking him questions about the landscape and the levels.
And then for the leader of my crew — my nine-year-old son. It’s complimenting good behavior and validating his emotions as they come up with friends, coaches, teachers, and family members. It’s giving him space when he wants independence and helpful advice when he needs it. It’s learning how to play video games and letting him win in a game of Horse. It’s Googling “NFL Trivia,” trying to stump him on the fiftieth question and smiling big when he so impressively knows all the current stats. It’s making chocolate chip pancakes, giving him some extra screen time when he is tired, and cheering loudly for him at his game even if it is a little embarrassing. It’s following his lead with friendships and choices, and telling him the truth when he asks for it, even if it’s hard. It’s holding the hug a little longer than he wants, saying “I love you” every time he leaves the house, and making sure his water bottle is always filled.
The way I show them love is different, because they are different, and it changes as they do. And with four of them, I don’t always feel like I have the time or opportunity everyday to carve out all of the special little moments that I might like. So every night, as I lay in bed, all I can hope is that they felt loved. It doesn’t need to be perfect, or Hallmark — it just needs to be. And I will work to maximize those moments as long as I am alive. Because showing them love is very simply all that matters.
Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.