Contrary to what they may say, if our kids had to choose only a handful of things to receive from us, the list wouldn’t start with an iPhone or an endless supply of sugary treats (well, hopefully not). Luckily, they won’t require superhuman strength or the brains of a nuclear physicist, and perhaps the best news— it won’t cost us any money (not directly anyway).
What these five things will require is something worth far more than we can imagine. It's impossible to put a price tag on them because, truthfully, it will require both selfless living, and enormous amounts of time.
1. Attention - yes, ours.
Regardless of how old they are, whether we are rocking babes to sleep at night, or arguing over the length of our pre-teen’s skirt, what our children desperately long for is our attention. That means putting down our phones, being present at the dinner table, and getting on the floor to play Legos. It means splashing in the pool instead of reading in our chair, playing tag at the park instead of supervising from afar, and tuning into the kids movie that they are begging us to watch instead of working in the next room during family night. It means showing up for the games, listening when they flop onto our bed in a melancholy way, and learning the art of texting, even if that’s not our preferred method of communicating. They desire to be seen and heard, just as we do as adults.
2. Approval - this one is hard—because we won’t always be able to give it.
But whenever possible, hand it out generously! This is obviously a bit easier when the kids are younger, and will get more difficult to navigate the older they get. If your daughter wants pink hair, let her do it! Your under-five-foot tall son wants to try out for the basketball team, grab your pom-poms. When they start talking about “a special friend” and you want to lock them in their room—wait. Our approval of their good choices will put the deposits into the relationship so that when it's time to hand out lectures and say "no" later, it will be greeted with less disdain. Unless what they’re doing is morally corrupt, life-threatening, or illegal, be the parent who says “yes” and champions them, more than the one that doubts them and says “no.”
3. Security - in the place they call home as well as the family unit.
They need to feel that they are a priority regardless of our marital status. Even small children pick up on relational stress in the home and will question whether things are “okay” between mom and dad. They want to know that we aren’t going anywhere and that our feelings for them are not dependent on the status of our marriage. As they get older, they need to know that their conversations with us won’t be shared the next time we are chatting with friends. They don’t want to worry about the neighbors whispering about them behind their back. They need to have a safe place to return to, both physically and emotionally—a place where they can be themselves and recharge, as well as share their deepest desires, secrets, and fears.
4. Acceptance - do they feel it?
Do our kids know that they can come to us with any information, and we’ll still love them, even if it’s not what we want to hear? Do they know that they are worth more than their grades, accolades, sports statistics and other talents? Or do they live under pressure to perform, make us proud, and live up to every desire we have forced on them? Regardless if your son loves the outdoors, or being the kitchen, or your daughter wants to work on cars or heads of hair, they both need to feel accepted for their talents and their dreams. This might require a little more effort if they are naturally skilled at something that is foreign to us, but at the end of they day, they want to know we are cheering them on in whatever they doing (again, as long as it's non-life threatening, legal and a good moral choice).
5. Love - this goes without saying.
At the end of the day, everything else flows from this one. Do they know that we love them unconditionally? Have we told them, shown them, blessed them in ways they feel it? Understanding how our children best receive love (acts of service, gifts, words of affirmation, physical touch, or quality time) is a key to making sure their love tanks are filled on a regular basis. Small tokens, special time one-on-one, hugs and backrubs, making things together, speaking words over them—these things seem so simple, but when they are intentionally sprinkled throughout the day, we take great strides at communicating our love and filling their deepest need.
It takes effort. It sometimes means swallowing our pride. Almost always it will require selfless giving and time we feel we don’t have. But the deposits we make into their lives will pay dividends in the future when they stand as adults who are secure, accepted and loved. When we hand out our approval and lavish them with attention, it shows them that they are a priority to us.