Last night I was listening to Happier, a podcast by author Gretchen Rubin and screenwriter Elizabeth Craft, and they mentioned that they’ll be discussing The Five Love Languages (the bestselling book by counsellor Gary Chapman) in an upcoming episode. [Edited to add: the episode is now online here.] As they listed the five ways in which a person ‘hears’ love from another person, I thought of my daughter Joanna, and the ways she ‘hears’ love.
The theory is that people tend to have one preferred ‘language’ that is particularly meaningful to them, and if you show love primarily in the way you like to receive it, it might not be hitting the mark for the recipient. You need to work out what they need to receive and no that in order to connect – to make them feel loved.
The languages are:
As I thought about Joanna, it occurred to me that she displays a need for all of these, constantly. When you consider The Wall and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need and all those exercises we do in adoption preparation, this makes a lot of sense. None of these needs were met in the first three years of her life. She craves everything, all the time.
She can never have enough time with me. Ideally one-to-one – that’s what fills her tank. A weekend away together, just the two of us, makes her feel loved.
This is the one which comes most naturally to me. I tell my children constantly ‘Of course I love you – who cooks your meals, washes your clothes, buys your toys…?’
Joanna loves to sit close to me. Really close. Both the girls like to wedge themselves into any tiny space on the sofa, no matter how uncomfortable, in order to be close to me, and especially closer than their sister, of course. Both want to sleep in my bed with me, and whenever Pete’s away with work they ask if they can take his place.
Oh, the gifts. The girls have a major case of ‘Mummy can I have…’. If I bought them a pony at 10 o’clock, they’d want a castle and a unicorn by half past. It is a bottomless pit of want.
‘Mummy, do you like my picture?’ ‘Am I pretty?’ ‘Did I do a good job?’ (Subtext: ‘Am I better than my sister? Am I your favourite?’)
The thing I find hardest is that the need is never fully met. As soon as I think I’ve shown her, definitively, that she is loved unconditionally, with the biggest gestures of love I can provide, she makes it clear that she wants more from me. More time. More presents. More praise. It’s rare that it lasts more than five minutes before she’s asking for the next thing. The unspoken request: ‘Show me that I am the most important person in the world! More!’
Is this true for your child too?
All of this leads me to speculate that this is is likely to be similar for many children who have experienced neglect. Does this resonate with other adoptive families? If so, how do you address all these needs when it seems like everything falls into a bottomless pit? I’d love to have this conversation – please add a comment below, on Twitter, or on Facebook.