Tuesday Toolbox – I Love You Rituals

by:  Gari Lister

Mother and DaughterI think one of the most challenging elements to having multiple children who suffered early trauma is the dance of building both a cohesive family  and one-on-one connections with each child. My younger girls no longer have severe attachment issues, but I have found that taking steps to enhance our connection goes a long way to preventing crises when life happens (e.g., puberty, school problems etc.). I have a simple ritual for each of my girls. Originally, I came up with one with my now 13 year old when she was going to kindergarten, and yes, I developed it not in some brilliant effort to build attachment but rather in a mom’s difficulty to let her go to school without one last hug, one last wave. . . .

For that middle daughter, I say “I . Love . You ” and the words are accompanied with hand movements – a simple pointer finger to my eye (for I), then to my heart and then to her. The beauty of the movement is that it can be done really really quickly over and over again so it becomes like a secret handshake – which makes it fun for a five year old . . . and acceptable for middle school carpool dropoff. (But my 13 year old asks that you please not tell her classmates.)

Here’s my mom fail. Until three or four months ago I only had this with the 13 year old. After all, my youngest was always with me. I homeschool her, and we have been through years of attachment therapy, so surely I don’t need to give her a special message? Or so I thought.

This past fall, my youngest started asking me about the special “sign” my middle one has and I realized what any third party would have told me in an instant . . . OF COURSE my youngest needed something special; just because she’s in my presence doesn’t mean she doesn’t need a little love reassurance.

So I came up with a three sentence ritual I use at bedtime. Here it is: “Do you know how much I love you? This much? This much? This much?”  That part can go on for a while before the closing:  “I love you all the way to Urbanna and back. I love you all the way to the moon and back. And I love you all the way to the end of the Universe.” And then I say, with hand movements, “A kiss” (I kiss my hand) “from my heart” (hand on heart) “to you” (send the kiss to her).

And like my “I Love You”, I can do the kiss movement quickly and over and over again — across a skating rink or over the phone or anywhere. And every time I send her the movement, I get a BIG smile. And that’s pretty awesome.

Do you have an “I Love You” ritual? If not, think about coming up with one . . . it doesn’t have to be fancy to feel special!

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