Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Acts of Service

I planned to say that this blog marks the first in a series about how I don't know what I'm doing as a parent and I'm making it all up as I go along. But my whole blog kind of falls into that series, so... 

Just don't take it too seriously--I'm guessing here! 

Someone recently reminded me of Gary Chapman’s “love languages” and that got me thinking.
In case you missed the love language fad in the mid1990s, Chapman uses the term to describe the various ways people express love to each other. We all have languages that mean more to us—ones that we tend to use more often to show love and believe more easily when a loved one uses them to show affection for us. They are:

quality time
words of affirmation
acts of service
physical touch

I can tell you without hesitation that my primary love language is acts of service, with words of affirmation coming in second. But I have hang-ups—because after forty plus years on this earth, I just do—and so I’m not good at compliments. “That was a nice dinner” makes me uncomfortable. “Thanks for making dinner” makes me glow. Weird, aren’t I?

But, on the day I happened to think of love languages for the first time in decades, one question kept popping up in my mind: Is “acts of service” as a love language an advantage or disadvantage when you’re a parent?

It’s pretty easy to see how it would help. Primary caretakers perform many, many acts of service. It’s nice to be able to see them as expressions of love instead of sheer drudgery. It’s also a bit of a fairy tale—I don’t manage it all day, every day. But I definitely think it gives me an edge.

It also probably explains why I’d rather fold laundry or pack lunches than do my three MDC’s (Most Dreaded Chores): clean the oven, scrub the shower floor, do yard work. It’s really hard to turn those into an “I love you.”

Anyway, while performing my parental task of driving kids to activities (I love you, honey!) and then waiting to take them home, I overheard two parents deploring a video game (rhymes with Spineshaft) and how it’s too dark, it’s too awful, and it’s ruining kids today. I did the internal sigh/chuckle you do when you disagree, but secretly wonder if you’re ruining your kids by letting them play it.

Then, as we all left the building after the activity, I held the door for my kids. Now, I’ll hold the door for anybody. It’s an awesome act of service that makes me feel good to give and receive. It’s a moment to say, “Here you go” or “Oh, thanks for that” and smile. A moment to see someone as a person.

On this particular day, it was pouring rain, Florida-style. In buckets. I held the door for my kids while getting soaked and preparing to dash to my car. Guess what? Both the video-game-hating parents and their kids wandered through the door, too—without hurrying, without saying anything, without attempting to take it from me, without even looking at me.

You know me, so you can guess what I did. I didn’t let the door slam in their kids’ faces. But I did sigh/chuckle again.

I don’t think the problem is Spineshaft, people. Maybe, in the end, good, old-fashioned acts of service will do more for my children than a video game can take away. I hope!

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