I do love you.

I don’t write about parenting because I think I’m an expert. I’ve learned recently that I have some sort of skill set, passion or personality type that if something works or I learn anything remotely useful—I need to share it. I need to externally process it and I feel compelled to make sure you know it now too. And in true fashion, with any parenting advice, what worked today could be scarring them in the future. So there’s that and now here goes…

I’ve been using this tactic sporadically over the last weeks. Each time I wonder, is it wrong? Is this manipulative? Or is it just honest?

My girls are rebellious at their core. They don’t take my word for anything. They know more than me. They are their own boss. They tell me no on the regular. And they definitely don’t think they have to listen or obey me. Repeat this every 10 minutes, all day, everyday.

It just came out.

“It makes me feel like you don’t love me when you speak to me this way.”

I couldn’t take it back. It was already out into the world, penetrating Jovie’s heart and running laps around her brain. It broke her. “I do love you.” She screamed through the tears.

I went on to explain that I knew she did, but when we love someone, we should show it with our actions and in our deeds. We talked about how we shouldn’t treat the people we love poorly.

One night before bed, I tried it on for size.

“Do you know what would make me feel so loved right now? If you girls just said ‘yes ma’am’ and ran upstairs when I say it’s time for bed.”

This is a nightly argument. NIGHTLY. Kicking, screaming, stalling.. it’s like pulling teeth to get these girls upstairs to start our routine. But before that sentence was even fully out, Jovie shot off the couch and up the stairs with a huge smile on her face. Remy followed quickly behind. I made much of this moment. I squeezed them, pretended to fall over in shock and thanked them. I told them that I felt so loved and I was so grateful for their effort in showing me. I read them like a million books that night in bed. We laughed. We cuddled. It was like the cheesiest most perfect scene out of a movie.

I’m very careful not to use it as leverage. Instead, always as a precursor… like I’m tipping them off to a big surprise that they can be a part of. It’s been very effective. Nonetheless, I’m constantly questioning whether I’m creating in them a people pleasing characteristic. And I certainly don’t want to be responsible for putting that on them.

But then I think about how one of the five love languages is acts of service. And I consider how I can show love to my husband by cleaning up the house before he comes home from a 24 hour shift. Or how I tell him I’m in a rut and he schedules a date for us.

Further more, how does the Bible describe love?

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

— 1 John 4:10-11

So how do we love our one anothers? I can list many ways, but the obvious one I want to highlight here is having a heart of servanthood—like Jesus. I should desire to be a good helper and friend—like Jesus. I should look for ways to show love by bearing someone’s burden or carrying someone’s weight—like Jesus.

Suddenly, it doesn’t feel so wrong that my babes might start acting more LIKE JESUS.

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