‘The most important thing a father can do for his children is…’
How would you finish this sentence? Perhaps you might say, ‘to give them a quality education’, ‘to set them up financially’, ‘to introduce them to as many extra-curricular activities as possible (sport/music/arts etc.) or maybe ‘to provide them with a good moral compass’.
Theodore Hesburgh – former president of the University of Notre Dame, recipient of over 150 honorary degrees, board member of Harvard University, Chase Manhattan Bank and Chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation completed the sentence this way, “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother”.
With Mother’s Day just around the corner, retailers have gone into advertising overdrive and would have us believe that the way to show love is to buy mum this outfit, that piece of jewellery, and take her to lunch at that restaurant.
I believe that any opportunity is a good one to recognise and celebrate the amazing role that mothers play. However, I don’t think Hesburgh was referring to love as portrayed in the mountain of glossy Mother’s Day catalogues filling our letterbox lately. Why did he say that loving their children’s mother is the most important thing a father can do?
I find it curious, because Theodore Hesburgh was a Catholic Priest and therefore neither married nor had any children of his own. His quote wasn’t something he wrote to win ‘brownie points’ with his wife, or to explain to his children why he loved their mother so much.
This is pure speculation, but having read about this man, I think the origins of his quote can be found in his years working with disadvantaged groups and dealing with adolescents and young adults at the University where he was president for thirty-five years. I suspect that he saw first-hand the difference that it made to children when their fathers loved their mothers.
How do we demonstrate love in such a way so as to benefit ourselves and our children? Here are several keys that I’ve discovered…
Appropriate displays of affection
Yes, your teenager might cry, ‘G-R-O-S-E’ when they stumble across you and your spouse sharing a lingering kiss in the kitchen, but deep down they’re reassured that ‘there’s still a spark there…our family’s all good’.
Regularly service your relationship
We all understand that our cars need to be serviced regularly to provide years of fuss-free motoring, but what about your marriage? Hopefully you want that to last longer than your car; when was your last marriage tune up?
Our goal is to do at least one activity each year that invests in our marriage. It could be a retreat, attending a course or reading through a book together (currently we’re reading through John Gottman’s ‘Eight Dates – Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love’). It’s healthy for our kids to see us investing in our relationship.
Marriage experts recommend dating once a week. It doesn’t need to be elaborate or expensive. Regular dating not only enhances your relationship with your spouse, it also sends a clear signal to your children that their parents’ relationship is a priority.
Kids derive a great sense of security from knowing that their parents love each other.
Keep your love maps current
The five-minute daily download: Set aside time with your spouse each day taking turns to share how you felt about your day. This is less about listing the events in your calendar and more about sharing the things that moved you emotionally.
The truth is, people change over time and like a car GPS which hasn’t been updated in a few years, you could be trying to navigate your relationship based on outdated information.
Know her love language
Dr Gary Chapman’s landmark book The 5 Love Languages talks about five different ways we prefer to receive love: quality time; physical touch; gift giving; acts of service; and words of affirmation. The default is that we typically show love the way we prefer to receive it.
So, if I love receiving gifts and therefore buy my wife lots of gifts as an expression of my love for her, I could be short-changing our marriage if her love language is spending quality time.
Take the 5 Love Languages online test to discover your love languages. It might just unlock a new level of effectiveness in communicating your love to your spouse. TIP: you can also build a richer relationship with your children when you discover their love languages.
I certainly don’t claim to have mastered these keys and I am very much a work in progress. We have phases of being diligent in practicing the five-minute daily download and then we lose momentum during a busy period. The important thing is not to feel condemned, but to recognise we lost momentum and start again.
So, Dads, this Mother’s Day, rally the family and go out of your way to communicate love and appreciation for the mothers in your life. But remember that in putting your wife first and honouring her, you’re also giving your kids the greatest gift; it’s the ultimate win/win.