A few weeks ago I was hanging out with my soon-to-be sixteen year old son and we were having a lot of fun. As we were in the car I just blurted out, “You know, I really like you. You are fun to hang out with.” I said that intentionally. I wanted for him to know that not only do I love him, but I like him. I enjoy his company and I actually want to be around him. I think letting our kids know that we like them is really important. If we do that often, it will help them develop a healthier view of themselves and help them build a strong identity.
Fast forward a week. Our son was using a new Chrome Book that we have bought for our kids to use for home schooling. Our daughter (soon to be fourteen) wanted to use the computer to connect with her small group from church. We have other devices she could have used, but she wanted that one because she claims it’s easier to use. Because he was using it for school (the reason we bought it), we told her “no” and she could use another device. That did not go over well with her and started a bit of a battle that included elevated voices, arguments, tears, and a slightly slammed door. She made a few trips from her room to the kitchen to plead her case, but we weren’t going to budge. At one moment she referenced her perception that we “always” choose him over her and he always seems to win. I told her that the story (or lie) she is telling herself is that we love him more than we love her. I did my best to assure her that we love her every bit as much as we love him. In a rather serious and stern voice she said, “I don’t think you love him more, I just think you like him more.”
Ouch. I mean, really ouch. As I shared earlier, I believe that letting our kids know that we like them is incredibly important to helping them build a healthy identity. I think about things like that a lot. Obviously, I don’t think that way enough, at least when it comes to my little girl. Here was my daughter, who I do love with all of my heart, telling me that she somehow feels less than and not as valued as her brother. She is packing some big emotional baggage that I, as her dad, have to pay attention to and help her unpack!
As we help our kids along their journey of life, they need our affirmation, a lot! They need to know that we love them with a love they will probably not understand until they become parents themselves. They need to feel it. They also need to know that our relationship with them is more than mechanical. It’s more than us directing and guiding them into a life that is “successful” in the world’s eyes. They need to know that we want to have a real, deep relationship with them both now and when they are adults. If they have siblings, they need to never feel like they are in second (or third, or fourth …) place.
Our kids, no matter what age, need to believe that we enjoy their company (even when we don’t). They need to feel like we are their biggest fan, would do anything for them, and they need to know that we like them.
So let’s tell them. And, more importantly, let’s do everything we can to show them.