Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Gift of Touch

Early on in the experiment I had my mom over for the afternoon. We spent the day as usual, talking about nonsense, watching Elijah play, and cooing over the baby. There was nothing particularly different about the day until the end of it.

That evening I was making baked potato soup and Mom was helping me with this and that. One of the great things about my relationship with my mom is that we are able to share time around the house. It doesn't matter whether it is mine or hers, we can just be "at home" wherever we are when we are together. I have to say it is particularly nice when she comes to my house though, as she quite often helps me with the kids which gives me some free time to catch up on much-overdue chores. In return for her help, I usually make a meal that she can share with our family that evening. It is an unspoken trade, one that I think we both benefit from. (For me both Quality Time and Acts of Service, as I'll get to later.)

Anyway, to get to the point of the story, that night while I was cooking dinner the urge hit me to give mom a hug and tell her that I love her. It went something like this: "You know that I love you right? *hug* I know that I don't always show you in the ways that you like, but I do." I went on to admit that at times I can be somewhat of a pain in the ass and can be abrasive, but truly stressed to mom how much I love her.

You see, the thing is that I tell my mom that I love her all the time. Everyday I call her, sometimes twice a day, and always end each call with a meaningful, "I love you." But I don't touch her. Not often, at least. I don't really touch anyone besides my husband and sons.

Touching people doesn't do much for me. There isn't a warm fuzzy feeling that comes over me when I hug people. It's more of a nauseated kind of feeling. I honestly don't know why I don't like it. I just don't. When I go in for the hug I feel awkward, when I am hugging I feel anxious and and a bit creeped out by it, and when it is over I feel much better (and not in an "ah that was wonderful" kind of way but a "thank god that's over with" kind of way).

But for some unknown reason, on that particular day, I chose to hug Mom.

In the midst of cooking, I had left the kitchen to talk to Andrew. When I came back, my mom wasn't there. She was in the restroom and had been in there a while.

"Mom?" I ask. "What are you doing?"

She took a few minutes and then came out all red-eyed. I'm thinking, "Oh shit! What did I do now?" When I ask her what is wrong I get some dismissive remark, but I won't let her alone until I get the truth. She was crying in the bathroom for Pete's sake. Then she said, "Thats the first time in years that I have felt like you love me."

I was blown away. "What do you mean the first time in years? I tell you all the time!"

And she replied, "But you never show me. You never hug me."

I hugged her again, but felt awkward this time, because touch kind of bugs me but I do love her and wanted her to know it. "Of course I love you. Geeze mom!"

And back to cooking we went.

Then the next day it hit me, "AH HA! That's it, she needs touch to feel loved."

I know that this was obvious from the night before, but the night before all I could see was that she didn't think I loved her and I tell her all the time. But by the next day I had time to process things and I got to thinking about the book The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. In it he talks about the idea that everyone has a primary love language (and usually a secondary as well) and that they are often different from our parents, children, and spouses.

That was it! In this viewpoint, she has a different love language than I do. Dr. Chapman talks about the importance of recognizing these variants and trying to show the people in our lives the love that they recognize best.

The five love languages are as follows:
  1. Words of affirmation - Unsolicited compliments can build these folks up, whereas insults can shatter them emotionally.
  2. Quality Time - Full undivided attention with the TV off and chores aside is what some people need.
  3. Receiving Gifts - Not to be mistaken for materialism, these people flourish when they are shown love through well thought out gifts. It doesn't matter if it is a handmade card or a much longed for gift, it is all about the thoughtfulness behind the act of giving.
  4. Acts of Service - Helping with chores and taking something off of their "plate" can be received as an act of love to this person. Laziness and broken commitments can be heartbreaking for them.
  5. Physical Touch - Holding hands, caressing, and pats on the back are all ways that this person gives and receives love and affection.

Note: This ties in with some other sources Andrew's been reading, such as The Generosity Factor, which indicates that two ways to give are of our Time (which relates to Quality Time and Acts of Service) and Touch (Physical Touch, obviously).

No wonder this act of affection was so important to my mom, her primary love language is Physical Touch and I haven't shown it unless I have been forced to. Because I am someone who needs Quality Time and Acts of Service, it hasn't occurred to me to touch her more often.

And for mom helping me out with chores or spending time together hanging out at my house are both things that she doesn't as willingly dish out either. We have both been missing the mark when it comes to meeting each other's emotional needs. And, in many ways, I think that we have both left each other feeling unloved.

I called her that next day to tell her what I realized and apologized again, trying to stress to her that I do love her and that I will try and show her more physical affection. I hope that she too will realize that when I ask her to hang out, or if I offer to do the dishes or bring up her trash cans, that those are my ways of telling her how much I care as well.

Needless to say, that evening taught me that while giving money to those in need is critical to improving the state of the world around us and the lives of those in it, it is also critically important that we meet the emotional needs of those we come in contact with as well. And for my mom the best gift that I could have given her was neither a meal, nor my time, nor a $100 bill, but a simple hug.