When I was a child, my dad worked as a presser in a dress factory, where vendors would occasionally stop in to peddle their goods.  Although our family had little money to spare, Dad would sometimes buy things from the vendors’ carts to bring home to me:  a pair of embroidered slippers, a small set of wooden tangrams, a bobble-head tiger with green sequin eyes.  My father was not demonstrative, and I don’t know that he ever told me that he loved me.  But the little gifts he gave me expressed his love as surely as words ever could, and each and every trinket reaffirmed that love.

Now, forty years later, I still get the warm fuzzies when someone gives me a present.  And, although I may forget the romantic dinner that Mike and I enjoyed last June, I’ll always remember the night in 1997 that Mike brought home my favorite stromboli “just because.”

There’s a reason that I find so much meaning in trivial treats and baubles.  In my “love language,” the act of giving gifts speaks far louder than words or, for that matter, any other deed.  So, although hearing my husband say “I love you” will make me happy, and a surprise night out with him will delight me, it’s the proffered bunch of floppy dandelions that will really win me over.

Each of us speaks his own “love language,” which is his preferred way of communicating and interpreting love.  According to Dr. Gary Chapman, there are five primary love languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, and Receiving Gifts.

Individuals who thrive on “words of affirmation” need compliments and expressions of endearment in order to feel loved. “Quality time” is most valued by those who yearn for their loved ones’ undivided attention.  People who would make valentines out of vacuuming, and love notes of laundering, show and receive love through “acts of service.”  (Most mothers, by virtue of their vocation, speak this love language very well!)  Hugs, hand-holding, and pats on the back are powerful expressions of love to those who speak the language of “physical touch.”  And gift-giving is a gesture that can mean the world to someone whose love language centers on the “receiving of gifts.”

In any relationship, whether between spouses or between a parent and his child, the knowledge of each other’s love language is essential to mutual understanding and appreciation.  When I first learned this five years ago, the concept fascinated me.  But at the time I felt that I didn’t “need” the information because my husband and I had always enjoyed a loving and harmonious relationship.  And surely, my devotion to my children was so obvious that, love languages aside, they could never doubt my love.  After all, hadn’t I surprised Dominic with that sheet music he wanted?  Didn’t I buy Rose the box of rose-themed stationery that reminded me of her?  And how about the little box of Jelly Belly Beans that I left on Grace’s pillow?

Yet, as time passed and each of my children progressed from one developmental phase into another, I was stunned to learn that several of my children had actually come to question my love for them. And as a parent who, like her own father, was not overtly affectionate, I believed that I was to blame.  My precious little boats had come unmoored, and I felt as if I had unwittingly cut the ropes.

(To be continued)

Copyright 2011 Celeste Behe