My daughter asked to take this picture with me.
Actually, she insisted on it.
“I don’t have any pictures with you in them,” she told me sternly. “I want one today.”
And then one night a few months before she moved into her college dorm, when I was tucking her into bed (which, okay, involved me standing at the foot of her bed while she pulled up the covers), she sighed happily and said, “I love our family.”
We weren’t having a conversation about our family. We weren’t having a conversation about anything, really. I was just telling her good night. She said this wonderful thing out of the blue.
“I’m so glad,” I told her. “But what makes you say that now?”
She said, “I don’t know…I just love it when we’re all together.”
And I agree: the love our kids have for us when they’re small is unmatched and exuberant. Our babies and toddlers and preschoolers and pre-pre teens give it to us freely, without having to think about it. Their fierce hugs and sticky kisses belong to a season of parenting that doesn’t last forever. It has to be soaked up and stored up like the treasure it is.
But there is also no love like the love our kids have for us when they’re older. Because this kind of love is a choice.
It’s on-purpose love.
It‘s love by decision, rather than by (delicious, delightful) default.
It‘s love of intention.
Sometimes, of course, our big kids break our hearts by choosing not to give us their love (or not to show it, anyway). I know so many parents of teens and young adults have gut-wrenching stories of love that is decided against, at least temporarily or by outward appearances. My heart breaks for them. I know I could be them.
When my college student sends me a text just to tell me she loves me…
When we’re finishing up family movie night and my 14-year-old pats the space next to her on the couch and beckons me to it…
When my 18-year-old attaches these words to her post of the picture she wanted to take with me: “If I didn’t have you as a mom, I would choose you as a friend”…
When my children decide to do these things they don’t have to do, I feel loved by them in a way that has no match.
Our little kids love us without restraint or reservation, out of innocent, unguarded hearts. And that’s part of what makes their love for us so worth celebrating and cherishing. We don’t have to do anything to earn it. It’s pure grace.
But when our older kids choose to love us and choose to show it, they give us an infinitely valuable and powerful gift.
When they claim us in front of the crowd…
When they reach out to us “just because”…
When they invite us into the intimate spaces of their lives…
When they call us their friends…
When they love us like this, we get a gift we do not take for granted.
There’s nothing like it.
Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two teenage daughters. She’s been married for 21 years to a very patient husband who carries on valiantly as the token male in a house of estrogen. When she’s not avoiding housework by spending time on her blog, Guilty Chocoholic Mama, or on Facebook, she plays the piano badly, bakes chocolate-chip cookie that cover a multitude of maternal sins, and tries to keep up her lone talent of being able to stand on her head.