Every so often – lately it’s been fairly often – nine-year-old Christopher will seek me out with a particularly deflated expression. It’s been an Alexander Day (you know, a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day…”), and only a proper cuddle is going to fix it.
This, I tell you, is one of my very favorite parts of parenting. “Looks like SOMEBODY needs his Love Banks checked,” I say.
“Yep,” he grumps, a tiny flicker of a smile twitching at the corner of his mouth. So we settle ourselves comfortably (he’s getting a little too big for my lap, but we manage somehow) and I solemnly feel the bottom of his foot, right along the instep. “Hmmm… the Hug Bank feels a little low … What do you think?” I murmur.
“Yep,” he glumps again. We wrap our arms around each other …. “MMMM!”
“Check it again, Mom. Does it feel full now?” Gently I probe again. “Well… maybe another little one. What do you think?”
“Yep. MMMMMMMMMMM!” (Grunts while I squeeze him tight.) “Okay, now the Kiss Bank,” he reminds me. We specialize in kisses at the Saxton House. Butterflies and Piggies, Eskimos and Fairy Dust (blow on the hairline before planting it gently on the widow’s peak). If someone is REALLY ornery, we bestow the dreaded “Puppy Kiss.” Maddy is only too happy to oblige.
“Now the Tickle Bank.” This time I probe the ball of his foot, right beneath the toes. He squirms and giggles.
“Nope. Empty! RAUGHHHHHHH!” Fingers fly – gently and with restraint – up the back and behind the knees, finishing with a thorough foot treatment. It lasts a couple of seconds, but the smile from a good tickle can last all day.
“Don’t forget, Mom … the Rub Bank.” My son keeps his hair short because he likes it when I rustle it up. When he was really little I would sit by the side of his bed and rub his head gently to put him to sleep, and even now – a Big Boy of Nine – he needs that soothing.
Affection and the Adopted (or Foster) Child
I’ve heard it said more than once that adoption is a life-long experience, not a one-time occurrence. The feelings of loss and grief continue, sometimes more actively than others, and it is up to the parent to figure out how to meet the needs of that child.
Children with attachment or bonding issues may not respond positively to such prolonged or intense cuddling … We had to start slowly and build up gradually. On the other hand, the human body craves positive touch and affection, and so as parents we need to find ways to meet the very real needs of our kids in ways that feel safe and nurturing to them.
A shoulder squeeze as you pass by … a gentle back rub at story time … feeding someone their favorite snack, one piece at a time … even the rough-and-tumble physicality of “Daddy Monster” or touch football. Children who have been abused physically or sexually may have boundary issues requiring extra sensitivity and restraint. But finding ways to say, “I love you” or even “I’m glad you’re a part of our family!” are a critical part of helping your child build a healthy sense of self … and demonstrate more powerfully than words ever could the reality of the Heavenly Father who loves them most of all.
Are You Getting Your “Daily Seven”?
Just as our children have emotional needs that can only be met by physical touch, so do we. “Significant touching” – the squeeze of a hand, a pat on the back, a hug – is something we all need every day. (Some say the ideal number is seven touches a day, others put the count much higher.)
If you find yourself getting aggravated by your kids, then, the best solution might not be to hole yourself up in the bedroom to punch a pillow. Instead, you might consider getting down on the floor with your brood for a family cuddle, or maybe even a (gentle) pillow fight!
As parents, we sometimes get so caught up in the dailyness of family life – the appointments, the chores, the schedules, the lists – that we forget to enjoy one another. During the season of Lent, as we are looking for ways to simplify, let’s remember to lavish our time on the only thing that will last forever … the bond we have with our families.
Now … go and fill those Love Banks! You’ll be glad you did.
Heidi Hess Saxton is the author of "Raising Up Mommy" and creator of the "Extraordinary Moms Network."