I have twin daughters who are just finishing ninth grade high school. For the older twin (who is my oldest daughter after 2 sons), it was a great year. She had a significant part in her school production and did very well academically. I actually enjoyed being involved in her production as it reminded me of my years in high school busy with practice. My younger twin is a wonderful girl who loves doing chessed (she is the one I count on to help with the younger children in the house) and is sensitive to others, but she did not enjoy her school year at all. She felt the teachers disregarded her and did not appreciate her efforts. The truth is that although I probably should spend time with my younger twin to build herself more, I find it easier to do that with my older one. I want to be a good mother to both, but somehow it's easier to have that connection with my older twin. Any advice on helping my younger twin have a better year next year? Any advice on how to connect to her as well as I do to the older one?
You know what came to mind as I was reading your question? The five love languages made famous by Gary Chapman, the author of a book by that name.
Most of you reading this probably have heard of the five love languages, but even if you have, this column will address the five love languages specifically for teenagers. And if you have never heard of these five love languages, then here's your first introduction to them.
In a nutshell, Gary Chapman brilliantly delineated the five ways in which love is expressed. Not only that, but each of us have our own preference of how we want—how we need—others to express their love to us. So if we care about people in our lives, it would seem so simple to learn their love languages, while being aware of our own, so that we can connect it ways that enhance and strengthen our relationship. Sounds easy? It really is.
Before we get to your twin's problem of a lousy ninth grade year and your desire to connect with her despite your differences, I will identify the five love languages. Think about your twins—and your other children—as your read of them and see what jumps out at you when you think of each child.
The first language of love is called words of affirmation. These are verbal compliments, words of appreciation, praise for positive actions, and praise for one's wonderful self. It is the simple act of loving through words that convey love, appreciation, and attunement.
The second language of love is physical touch. Physical touch can mean a hug, a kiss, a touch on the cheek or shoulder, a high five, a shoulder massage. It can mean sitting shoulder to shoulder on the couch, or resting their head upon your shoulder or on your lap. It can even mean the close proximity of sitting on a child's bed and playing with their hair or holding their hand.
The third language of love is quality time. Quality time means engaging in meaningful activities together. Like a shared hobby, sport, project, or volunteer job. It can mean a meaningful conversation about stuff that is important to the other person. About their life, feelings, friends, needs, ideas, triumphs or tribulations.
The fourth language love is gift giving. Gifts for milestones like graduation or birthdays (or smaller occasions like taking off one's braces); gifts as a thank you, gifts as a I'm-thinking-of-you while I'm away on vacation or gifts as a I-thought-about-you-while-I-was-away. Gifts as a thank you for helping with the newborn, for working so hard to pass that Chumash test, gifts just-because-I-love-you, gifts just because I know you like chocolate muffins and want you to know I hold you in my heart all the time. Gifts are bought, made, or found (like a necklace, a batch of muffins, flowers picked on the road). Gifts can be also the gift of self. Your presence at your child's play, science fair, the supper table, and PTA.
The final language is acts of service. It is all those things we do for someone we love that require thought, time, energy, sensitivity, effort, and attunement to the other's needs. It is when you help your child with a dvar Torah, or drive them to a friend, or cook their favorite supper. It is a small as emptying the wastebasket in her room or finding that phone number she needs; as big as designing the
billboard she needs to create as part of her teaching job when she is totally uncreative and at a loss.
So what has this all got to do with your daughters?
Each person forms relationships with classmates, with teachers, with parents, with siblings, with bunk-mates in camp with the love languages she values most. In return, she wants to connect with others primarily through those love languages.
In simple terms, if I value quality time (which I do) above all and this is my primary love language (which it is!), then not only will I reach out to those I love to connect with this love language of quality time, but I will expect those I love to use that love language to connect to me as well. Obviously, this runs into a problem with my grandchildren whose primary love language is gifts (Bobby, what did you buy me? What nosh do you have for me) when I am stuck with wanting time with them (Come, I will read you a story; Tell me about your day; Let's bake together....and they are squirming away as soon as they have their hands on the ices I brought them!).
So let's look at you and your older twin. It appears that the love language of quality time works for both of you. Your older twin is involved in production, studying with friends, and you reciprocate by being involved with her interests. You appreciate that love language and it appears that they come naturally to you as well. Your younger twin, on the other hand, needs words of affirmation. She loves doing chessed, helping around the house; and what has hurt her most is her teacher's perceived disregard for her efforts. The words of affirmation from her teachers letting her know how much she is valued, how appreciative they are of her hard work and acts of chessed. And I wonder if as you seek to establish connection with her, it may begin with words of affirmation. Letting her know appreciative and cognizant you are of her chessed and reliability around the house. And of course, understanding your younger twin's love language of words affirmation, may make you aware of how important it is for her tenth grade teachers to do the same. To notice her efforts at her schoolwork and chessed activities.
In addition, while many of us have primary love languages, it is also true that some of us can have secondary love language, and even two primary ones. And it is possible that your younger twin's secondary love language—or even another primary one—is acts of service; evident by her sensitivity and chessed to others, her helpfulness to you. And that means, it is another way she needs your connection. By doing acts of service for her. Meaningful gestures that show her she is important to you.
Teenagers appreciate authenticity. Be authentic in your behavior even if it is not particularly your love language, and then engage in your love language as well. And if that is quality time, along with your words of affirmation and acts of service, you will deepen your bond with your daughter, and give her a backbone with which to navigate tenth grade.
(Actually, my grandson just invited himself for Shabbos. I guess quality time means something to him too because he knows I am the worst grandmother for nosh. Ha.)
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