Hearing (and saying) I love you never gets old – in all its forms.
As new parents, “I love you” looks like a huge grin from your infant’s sweet face, listening to their belly laugh that makes you laugh right back at them and hearing “ma ma” from their tiny lips. You say I love you to them by dragging yourself out of bed when you are bone weary.
Our expressions of love change as our children get older
As they get older, I love you looks like the ordinary rock your son gently gives to you and implores you to “keep it safe and hold onto it forever” because it is precious to him and so are you. You read Go. Dog. Go! and Goodnight Moon night after night after night because they are his favorites (god forbid you skip a page – your child will know it and will not allow it!) and because this peaceful time you spend together gives you both such joy – each of you saying I love you to the other.
Once they start school, it’s the drawings they bring home and lovingly trust you with (or slap on the table as they dig into their after school snack) and your overzealous reaction to their “masterpiece” because you want to encourage their creativity and their belief in themselves. It’s the notes they write in their barely legible handwriting that you hold onto forever because you absolutely do treasure them – the misspellings just make them more adorable and memorable.
“I luv yu Momi” are about the best words you can read after a long day when you’re not sure you know what you’re doing or you’re afraid you’re “doing it all wrong” and messing them up for life. Somehow these words make you feel like you must be doing something right – and you are, plenty.
I love you is the hugs you exchange – food covered faces and chubby arms around your neck, sticky fingers in your hair you don’t care; sweaty, filthy half-hugs you have to practically steal because everyone is always in such a hurry (and never in public because that would be “so embarrassing!”); big, long bear hugs from someone who is now somehow taller than you – much taller. Reunion hugs after being separated by time and space – no one cares anymore if their friends see these shows of I love you because we’re all adults now.
And even if our kids don’t agree, it’s staying up way past when we want and need to be sleeping, just to hear their key in the door so you know they got home okay – I’m not sure there is a teenager out there who appreciates this one but it is definitely a big I love you! Sometimes we have to remind them because it’s not always obvious – and during the preteen and teen years, we may have to remind ourselves “they didn’t mean it” when less than kind words are exchanged. Sometimes we have to read between the lines or coax it out of ours kids but we know in our hearts that the love always lives deep inside.
It’s spending time together – going to a concert, a game, a play, a restaurant, or a place that you both love. Or watching a show or movie together. Sometimes it means doing something only one of you loves and the other barely tolerates – those times have even greater meaning because one of you is making a sacrifice just to spend time together. Making memories together is a perfect way to say I love you because they are longer lasting than words, leaving an imprint on our hearts long afterwards.
Once kids are adults, I love you really changes
Once your “kids” are adults and out in the real world, I love you is the phone call saying “Can I ask for your advice on something?” or “You were right, Mom” or “I never knew how good I had it until…” or simply “Thank you” or “I was thinking of you” or “I’m sorry.”
It’s amazing the impact kind and thoughtful words and gestures have – and they go both ways. It’s the care packages we lovingly put together and send “just because.” It’s the visits we make, the flights home we pay for, the positive quotes and thoughts we send, and the worrying we do that we somehow think will help to keep them safe and healthy and happy.
It’s also a text, an email, a handwritten note (theirs sometimes a bit more legible than mine), card or letter detailing their appreciation and their feelings. These are all definitely keepers! I’ve been known to photograph them and keep them in my phone so I can read them over and over when I’m feeling down or missing them.
A few of my favorites…the one my son sent when he landed a job after law school that simply said “Mom & Dad, Thank You!” on the law firm notepad – the perfect culmination of supporting each other through those years. And another, “We’ve had some amazing trips together. I will always cherish these memories. I love you.” These heartfelt notes bring happy tears to my eyes because every one of them says I love you in a different, beautiful way.
One year we put handwritten letters in each of our stockings – a way to “say” the things we feel which might be harder to express out loud and memento to hold onto forever. Reading those were the highlight of that Christmas morning – better than any material gift ever given or received that day or any other. I can’t get through those letters without choking up – I end up a blubbering mess – those are some of the best I love yous.
It’s the gifts they buy with their own money – gifts that have clearly been thought out and carefully chosen. It truly is “the thought that counts.” Right now, I’m looking at my desk with many treasures, notes and gifts they have given to me through the years – I can’t even put into words what these “things” mean to me. I cherish every single one of them. I hope they have mine with them as well and that they know the love that went into choosing each of them.
It’s gestures grand and small – “I made you this sandwich because you’re working so hard I was afraid you hadn’t had time to eat.” “We’re going on vacation!” “I called because I just needed to hear your voice.” I love you. I love you. I love you.
Of course, there is the outright “I Love You” in a text, note, phone call or visit – those three words never get old and we should all be generous in saying them, but it’s all the other ways we “say” and “hear” I love you that beautifully enrich our lives. Saying and hearing I love you – unconditionally -never gets old. It’s one of the best gifts of being a parent and one of the best gifts of being a child. It carries us through difficult days, lifts our spirits, reminds us of our joy and it bonds us together for a lifetime.
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Tracy Hargen is a Southern girl born and bred who did a stint in NY & NJ after meeting her Yankee husband. Having known each other a mere six months they eloped! With both their sons out of the house, they are empty nesters. Still at home are their two beloved pups – Layla and Otis – gigantic 125 pound Great Dane and a tiny 12 pound Chinese Crested who are the very best of friends. Though Tracy has spent her career in Corporate America, writing is her lifelong passion! Her other passion is removing the shame and stigma around mental health issues. Her family’s deeply personal journey with depression can be found on CBSThisMorning.com…. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/moms-reaction-to-sons-depression-helps-lead-him-out-of-the-darkness/ Her work can also be found on The Mighty.com, LoveWhatMatters.com, in the book You Do You! and in the book Grown & Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults. You can follow her on Twitter @t_hargen.