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Category Archives: Mom Diary

Are you speaking your family’s love language?

What does your spouse do that fills your heart to the brim? What do you do that makes your child’s eyes light up big and bright? We each receive love differently, so if we speak each other’s language we’ll get farther faster.

Marcello and I were introduced to Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages” as part of our premarital counseling. We will be married 10 years this summer and this concept has proved invaluable to our marriage, and as we are now finding, also in our parenting.

I am such a believer in loving people the way they receive love that I end up talking about it in everyday conversation to friends, other moms during small talk, even the kids’ swim teacher. I’m always surprised by how many people have never heard of it.

I planned to do a blog post about it in honor of Valentine’s Day and, ironically, I don’t think there’s ever been a better time for my family to revisit Gary’s studies. The past few weeks I’ve been dealing with a lot of anxiety and my kids are doing their best to trample on any live nerves I have left. One will not stop talking ever. One has an extra-strong whining game. And one is just into everything and breaking my back.

Last year I wrote a post about the week I changed the way I parent. I would say that all of those things still work for us, the biggest take away being sticking to our guns. In other words, no bajillion warnings or not following through. I need to say what I mean and do what I say. Now that the boys are getting older, the love languages build on those foundations.

Now Luca is almost six and Adriano is four and a half. Gary, who also wrote “The Five Love Languages of Children,” says this about the age when a predominate love language begins to emerge. Of course every child needs love from each of these categories, but one will overflow their love tank compared to the others.

Three things will last forever — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love.”
— 1 Corinthians 13:13

These are the five categories:

Words of affirmation

“This language uses words to affirm other people.” Encouraging, kind words build up this person. They respond to compliments, appreciation and encouraging words.

Some sample ideas:

  • “You look so handsome today.”
  • “I truly appreciate you taking the time to make this delicious dinner.”
  • “You’re so good at your job. It’s not easy to manage all this.”

Acts of service

“For these people, actions speak louder than words.” Babble won’t get you far with these folks, but doing something for them makes their heart swell.

Some sample ideas:

  • Do a chore he or she typically does.
  • Make a special dinner of his or her favorite food.
  • Think of something they do every day and have it ready for them before they can do it.

Receiving gifts

“For some people, what makes them feel most loved is to receive a gift.” The gift doesn’t have to be extravagant or fancy, but thoughtful and meaningful. The sentiment here is “You thought of me!”

Some sample ideas:

  • Pick wild flowers to give or find a heart-shaped rock.
  • Make something with your hands: paint, whittle, sculpt, draw …
  • Buy a small souvenir to bring back, even if just from the next town over.

Quality time

“This language is all about giving the other person your undivided attention.” Turn off the TV, put down the phone and get rid of distractions. These people are all about spending time together with quality conversation.

Some sample ideas:

  • Sit on the couch with the TV off and talk about the day.
  • Go for a walk and chat together.
  • Go out to eat just the two of you.

Physical touch

“To this person, nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch.” These people crave physical contact — even something as simple as a pat on the shoulder, a kiss on the cheek or tousling their hair. Kids even fulfill this need by wrestling! (Gary notes that older kids also still need physical touch, and that boys and girls should be treated the same in this regard. In other words, don’t withhold contact from boys and give more to girls because of their gender.)

Some sample ideas:

  • Sit on the couch close together watching a movie.
  • Give big hugs and kiss when arriving or leaving.
  • Hold hands or offer your spouse a back rub.

I should note also that if used in the opposite way, love languages can be damaging. For example, hurtful things said a words of affirmation person will cut deep. Slapping a physical touch person will wound their heart.

As I mentioned before, Marcello and I are very conscious of one another’s love languages. Mine is quality time — probably the most annoying of all the languages, of course. I value spending time together and talking. When he’s not able to give me this time, I tend to withdrawal, become sarcastic and cold. Sounds like a dream, right? So basically I’m mad at him for not spending time with me, but I’m acting like a jerk. So why would he want to spend time with me exactly? I know. I even annoy myself.

Marcello’s love language is acts of service. One time I said, “So let me get this straight. If I do the laundry you feel loved?” To which he answered yes. And I still don’t get it, but I’m grateful I know because I would never have come up with this correlation on my own. Your shirts are washed, feel the love.

In fact, he is always doing thoughtful things for me. Sometimes makes coffee and sets out a mug and spoon for me. Or picks cuts a rose and puts it on my desk. Or even when he gets the oil changed in my car, he’s showing me he loves me. Because that’s his love language. As a quality time gal, I think all these things are very sweet, but I’d still rather have a chat on couch or go for a walk together. You see what I mean?

You might be speaking to your spouse in your love language, not his, and be missing an opportunity. Gary says most people don’t marry someone of the same love language, so chances are you will have to learn how to best love your spouse. And just in case you’re curious, love languages tend to stay the same for a lifetime.

Now we are trying to apply these same principles to our kids so they feel unconditionally loved, which also coincides with behavior improvements. It’s very obvious that Luca is just as obnoxious as I am about his quality time. He needs engagement, eye contact, conversation. Otherwise, he says “you don’t care” and sulks off (not unlike myself). And if that is not effective, he just keeps talking and asking questions, determined to get the time together. When Marcello and I invest even a solid 20 minutes there is a clear change in his attitude. His love tank is filled up!

I used to think Adriano was physical touch, but now I realize that he was just very young and needed all of the love languages equally. He still gets lots of physical touch from us, but what really makes his heart sing is words of affirmation. Giving praise to that boy brings a sweet, joy-filled smile across his face as he looks humbly downward, soaking it all in. When this need is not met, let the whining begin.

The book doesn’t go into much detail about having a secondary love language, but I have noticed that Luca has a dominant (quality time) and another that comes underneath that (physical touch). If I have only 15 minutes to spend with him, I am trying to engage in conversation with direct eye contact and make sure to rub his shoulder or mess with his hair. It’s too soon to tell with Adriano, at four, what his secondary language will be. And Clara just needs all of them, all the time, all day long.

If you’d like to learn what your love languages are, you can take Gary Chapman’s quiz here.

The love languages have been indispensable to my marriage and I’m eager to continue seeing how they apply to my children. Because I have to be honest, in these early years I do not see much fruit from my labor, but I know it is not in vain. I’m laying a foundation for these kids and it’s hard work!

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” — 1 Corinthians 15:58

How about you? Have you ever heard of the five love languages? What is your love language or your spouse’s? Do your kids show signs of one of these yet?

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When Mama is TIRED

When Mama is tired

This is a tricky post to write. But if I don’t write it, I would feel dishonest. I’ve been going through a bout of depression and lots of I-don’t-wanna-be-a-mom-today moments for the last month. I said it. It’s not pretty. It sounds ungrateful. But it’s still true.

Depression is not a common enemy of mine, but I recognize it when it crops up. I don’t want to get out of bed. Smiles are forced. Daily tasks seem mountainous. My creativity is clouded and lacking. Everything seems pointless. I just want to be alone, but I never am.

I know I’m not the only one this happens to, but not many talk about it. I think we are made to feel guilty if we speak in honesty or have the fear that our friends have it all together. But here’s the truth: Someone will always have it worse than us. Someone will always have it better than us. But that doesn’t detract from our current suffering. I spend a lot of time acknowledging others’ heartaches, sympathizing and praying for them — and that is a good thing — but others’ suffering doesn’t subtract from my own heartache. It’s ok to experience and talk about and walk through our own troubles, even though someone else might be worse off.

So I will share with you that I’ve been having a hard time staying home with these three small children after five and half years. Maybe you would feel safe to open up about your troubles as well —  even if it is related to something completely different. Because that’s what God wants us to do, live in a community, pray for each other, not live in isolation. In fact, isolation is exactly where our enemy wants us to stay so we feel alone and left in the dark to absorb more lies.

The beauty in trials is that when we are weak, the Lord is strong. It is through our weakness when he can do his great wonders. (2 Corinthians 12:9) How long have I been trying to do this on my own until I am broken enough to ask for help and mean it? Or maybe I did it and need to do it again. When will I open my heart to hear his voice and respond accordingly? In trying to do this on my own, without fully cooperating with him, I am sabotaging myself. Tribulation is meant to strengthen our relationship with God.

It is shocking to say you consider it an honor to go through trials, but the Bible tells us to be grateful for them so we grow in faith and become mature in our walk with God. In light of this, I’m attempting to look at this battle I have before me as an opportunity to grow in my relationship with Jesus and come out stronger, wiser and more compassionate to my neighbors.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. — James 1:2-4

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However, I am taking notice there is a difference between making oneself vulnerable for the sake of sisterhood, and complaining. Complaining can take us to dangerous places, such as self pity, anger or playing the victim. So I’ll skip the whole scenario on why I’m tired because you already know it. Maybe you have a couple of stubborn kids yourself. I think you already get it.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”  — Philippians 2:14-16

There is one extremely underutilized tool we have that is powerful and life-altering to us and those around us — prayer. It changes everything if you let it, if you can allow your will to align with God’s and stop trying to control everything yourself. Because, let’s face it, the things you and I can control are very limited.

My situation is not going to change, so I have to. I can’t do it on my own, I’ve tried for a long time. It has to be through God, through his son. And the way it’s going to happen is through prayer. I know this, but I think I had to realize how broken and sin-filled I am before I could move forward with Christ on this journey of motherhood. And believe me, my kids have brought out an ugly side I didn’t even know was there. They have shown me the best and worst in myself.

I’m a practical application kinda girl, so I need to see how things work out in everyday life. How can prayer change things? Well, of course, that’s a very complicated answer, but may I suggest that our God has chosen to operate through humans, and if we are asking him to do something, he will probably ask us to help.

If you’re praying for hungry children, then what are you doing to feed them? If you’re praying for a better husband, then what are you doing to be a better wife? Me, I’m praying for strong-willed children, but the answer will surely involve me changing as a mother. You see, the answer to our prayers will often require our own action as well as his.

What effective prayer does not involve are: lists of things to ask a genie, things opposing God’s word in the Bible, things outside his will, things against nature. God cannot contradict himself.

Here are some specific things God is working on with me to pull me out of this funk — not overnight, but steadily.

Make a prayer list

Make a prayer list so you can see how God is working in your life

I’ve started a small list in my phone of things to pray for. It’s not there so I remember what to pray about, it’s there so I can see how God will answer or has answered. Because when we call he will answer, he promises this to us. (Jeremiah 33:3) Of course, it might not be the answer we expect or asked for, and that’s all the more reason to pay attention to what you have prayed — so you can see his handy work. I usually find it recognizable in hindsight.

Recognizing what God has done for you will build your faith. And faith, I’m learning, is the antidote to fear and anxiety.

Pray for your family

Each person in our family has an initial mug. I grab one at random and pray for that person as I have my morning coffee or afternoon tea.

I might not normally suffer from depression, but I do experience anxiety frequently. I worry about my kids, about family and friends, about the world. One thing the Holy Sprit has been telling me is to quit thinking, thinking, thinking and start praying, praying, praying!

Last Christmas Marcello’s dear friend from Italy gave me five mugs with each of our initials on them, one for each family member. The kids don’t use theirs, so I do. I started my own little tradition of grabbing a cup at random and praying for that person as I drink my tea or coffee. My oldest likes it when he sees me drinking from his mug. He points to it and says “You know what you have to do now.”

At night, instead of laying in bed worrying about the kids, I walk into their rooms as they sleep, kneel beside their bed and pray with all the passion that I used to spend being anxious. Instead of trying to push my worries to the side, I acknowledge them and bring them before the Lord and oh does that feel better! I pray for their early salvation, a hunger for Jesus, sleep, health, safety, future friends, future spouse, future career …

Make a grateful list

Be grateful

One thing we can control in our life is our thoughts. They might get away from us time to time, but ultimately we can control them. I’ve recently learned in Priscilla Shirer’s study “Armor of God” that the brain has “the ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections.” It’s called neuroplasticity and this means that our positive or negative thoughts can actually change the shape of our brains! (To read more look up Dr. Caroline Leaf.)

Thoughts are powerful. A positive thought can lead to another positive thought. In fact, did you know that you cannot simultaneously think a positive thought and negative thought at the same time? You have to train yourself in this way. A negative thought process in the midst of a depression or trial is a dangerous place to be. A grateful soul can guard your heart against lies, jealousy and deception.

When I was feeling the lowest, I sat down and made a grateful list. A big, long one with all things big and small. It doesn’t matter what I feel right now, the fact is God has given me so much that I didn’t even know to ask for or deserve.

This is but a season. I will be grateful for this trial, mature from it and grow in my relationship with Christ. What trial are you experiencing right now? What do you do to keep your chin up? Can I pray for you?

Teach yourself to be grateful.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. — James 1:17

Also read: The week I changed the way I parent.

The week I changed the way I parent

Brothers wrestling

The boys are three and five years old. I have shown them love with my whole heart during their short time on this earth, but I’ve also let them rule my emotions. I have let them get the better of my temper, lost control, yelled and acted like a child myself more times than I can count. But something has changed.

A couple months ago I felt a gentle rebuke from the Lord, telling me this is not the way. Luca started yelling too, and I saw that if we continued down this path his teenage years would be tumultuous and ugly. Then one day I got an email from someone dear to me and of great faith (who had no knowledge of my conviction) giving me some simple parenting advice.

She said, “Try not to ever raise your voice at them and gently tell them ‘no’ and stick to your guns.”

This was the final confirmation I needed to commit myself to changing. Marcello was completely on board with adopting a new game plan. He too could see we were headed down the wrong path. We were in a lazy groove, in a pattern of giving in to the boys after they asked enough times. And when we finally gave in, we did it with a tone and an eye roll. They saw that asking over and over again got results. And so did temper tantrums. When a tired parent can’t take anymore, it’s easier in the moment to just give in. Or sometimes snap and then make a more severe consequence than necessary. We were not in control of them or us. We had to turn this car around!

What I am learning is that I don’t have to yell to say what I need to say. More importantly, I need to say what I mean and do what I say.

I am clearly not a parenting expert. In fact, if you had seen me in action when the boys were two and three, you wouldn’t have even read this far! But I am growing, and God is showing me the way. These are four things that have pushed me into a new experience in parenting — one where I am in control of myself and the situation. Hallelujah!

The week I changed the way I parent

Confess & pray for wisdom

My transformation started with a prayer. I knelt down in my room and prayed something like this: Lord, I’m sorry for the way I’ve behaved toward my children. Please forgive me. I know they are gifts from you and I am grateful you chose me to be their mother. Teach me your way. Lend me your wisdom to be the mother they need. Change my heart and give me patience. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

As you may know, praying for patience could be risky business because it might mean God will teach you to be patient! In other words, you might have to endure some trials in order to grow. I didn’t care, I wanted to grow no matter the cost, for my children’s sake. Fortunately this time was different. He changed me supernaturally, overnight. I didn’t have to go on a journey or bury my nose in self help books. This has only happened to me two times before — experiencing an answer to prayer almost immediately — and it felt miraculous.

I tell you the next day was different, very different. And it hasn’t been the same since. God hears our hearts and honors obedience.

Changing the way I parent

Lean in

I see that when one son is at his worst, and instinctually I want to separate myself from him, the best thing to do is lean in. When he’s freaking out over and over about nonsense, I started asking him what is wrong in a calm voice. I make him feel heard. I give him a hug. I try to make him feel understood and connected. It’s truly not easy to do, but if I can fight my instinct to shout at him or throw out a threat, I reach deeper and sometimes he changes his attitude for the rest of the day.

One day he was upset about this and that and carrying on. My gut reaction was to send him to his room, which obviously has its place, but in this case something inside told me to give him a hug. He calmed down immediately and smiled.

This a great tool to have in your back pocket when your child is having a continuous meltdown day.

Brothers portrait

Ask what they’re grateful for

When I hear grumbling and complaining, now I say “tell me three things you’re happy for.” I hold up my fingers — one, two, three — as the child makes his list. And every time I get a little sliver of a smile by the end. You’ll be amazed at how this little question can shift the entire family’s mood!

Studies show that your brain only has so much power to focus its attention. It cannot easily focus on both positive and negative stimuli. It actually alters your brain activity and triggers dopamine. It always amazes me how doing what the Bible tells us will result in physiological benefits for our bodies. And it will work for parents too! Being grateful has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, as well as lead to better sleep.

Empty playroom

Stick to your guns

This is the hardest one. The phrase that kept coming to my mind was “less yelling and more consequences.” Essentially we needed a whole lot less arguing and negotiating, and a lot more sticking to our guns so our kids would listen the first time.

To get to the place where your kids know you are true to your word takes some work. In our house it looked like this one horrendous week:

  • One child threw an absolute fit over the seat he was to sit in on the way to a fast food drive-through. I told him three times if he couldn’t stop, he was going to stay home with me. He refused and I had to carry his flailing body, kicking and screaming, back into the house. He cried until they got back.
  • We warned another child that if he couldn’t be kind to his brother, he would miss a TV show and go to bed 20 minutes early. He couldn’t manage a turnaround and so, in fact, he missed the show and got in bed before his brother. You would have thought the world had ended by the drama that went down, but we stuck to our guns.
  • And on another occasion still, the boys were arguing over everything. Every toy, every game, every imaginary world. I warned them three times again: If you cannot get along I will take all the toys away for a day. They didn’t listen. So I quietly went into the garage, pulled out a few garbage bags and filled them up until the playroom was empty. (Pictured above.) At first they cried and then they were silent. What surprised me still was that they were content playing make believe the rest of the day!

By the end of the week they were seeing me as a woman of my word. I wasn’t repeating myself over and over. One thing Marcello and I realized, though, is that we need to think through consequences before we say them. Is it something we will really follow through with? Is it fair for the disobedient action? I’m home with them every day so I adapted to this quickly. I had to give Marcello grace, because even though he was willing to change, it took a little bit longer.

No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. — Hebrews 12:11

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These four things have given me back some control. A mom in control doesn’t need to yell. She doesn’t need to threaten. She demonstrates ample amounts of love to her children and does well by them as she disciplines. They even respect her for it.

As I mentioned before, if you have two and three year olds, take this post with a grain of salt and bank it for the future. I’m still not sure what one is supposed to do with two year olds, especially multiples that young! I’ll say a prayer for you ;)

No, I don’t claim to have this all figured out — far from it — but we are headed in a different direction now with the Lord’s help. We’re experiencing big changes: a calmer house, kids who feel heard and loved, and parents who feel respected. It’s a good cycle. There will be many obstacles along the way and I’m beginning to see those as opportunities to learn, grow and become better.

Is there any one time in your parenting life that has changed you? A valuable lesson you care to share? I’d love to hear it!

If love were just an emotion, then God couldn’t command it. But love is something you do. It can produce emotion, but love is an action. The Bible says, “Let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” — 1 John 3:18