Monday, 19 August 2013

I wonder...

... will it be different for our children?

I know my parents love me.  They have shown me - and my siblings - that they do, in a million different ways.  The effort that they put in to giving us the right opportunities, the unceasing support, the sacrifices that they made for us; what child who benefited from these and so many other unspoken, unnoticed and un-recorded actions could ever doubt that they were loved?

So I don't, not for a heartbeat.

But parenting, when my parents - themselves products of the austere post World War II years in 1940's, '50's and 60's Britain - was different when they were thrown into it, barely out of their own teenage years, to how it is now.

And one of the things that was different was the frequency of use of the phrase 'I love you'.  Looking back on my childhood, it wasn't something we heard very often.  We knew we were loved, but mum and dad didn't bandy the verbal expression of that fact around.  Our very existence, our lifestyle, how our parents behaved to us, was seen by them to be enough proof of their feelings for us.

I know that my experience may be unusual, but I don't think so.  Back then, 'I love you' was just not something many parents said to their children (or even, I suspect, to each other that often).  It was almost as if by saying it out loud, they might cheapen their emotions, put them on display.  As if they were risking bringing the wrath of the gods down on their heads by using the words.

Thirty years later, however, I don't stint with the verbal expression of my love for my boys - and as far as I can tell, neither do my friends, to their children.

I tell them I love them when I drop them off at school in the morning, and I tell them when I tuck them in at night, and on a myriad occasions in between.  I even manage to shoe-horn it into disagreements sometimes, especially with Boy #2 who has recently begun to state (as I insist on his getting dressed / leaving his lego upstairs whilst he comes downstairs for breakfast / tidying up / doing his homework) that he doesn't like me 'very much at the moment, Mum' - to which my stock answer is 'I can see that.  But I still love you...'  (which of course infuriates him still further...).

So I wonder, by wrapping our kids in this knowledge - this security blanket - that whatever else goes on in their lives we love them: are we changing the way they will view they world?  Will they be better or worse off for our constant assurances?  Will they be more self confident well-rounded individuals as a result, or will we have turned them into egotistical monsters?

It's a rhetorical question, you understand;  I love my kids, and I plan to keep on telling them that.  Because I'm the mum.  And it's my job.


  1. Very interesting. Like you, I wasn't brought up with parents who said it, but it never occurred to me that I wasn't loved and I had a happy childhood. Being a Brit in the States, I didn't throw those words around with gay abandon and I think it really bothered my oldest for a little while. I tried to explain to her that it's a cultural and generational thing, and now, were I to say the "L" word she would probably recoil. I will say it now to her and the older boy when it's "comfortable" for them, but I also made her a card when she went to college and it said "Love is - a hand-made Christening gown, hand-made halloween costumes, etc" - all the things you can do t show real love. (The Little Guy says it every night and I say it straight back. Not sure how that has come about and I did used to say it to the others when I put them to bed at night.)
    I have a hard time with the throw-away "I love you"s that I hear in the States. People say it to me sometimes and they hardly know me. I do think it's cheapened by being bandied about but I also think, in the right circs, it can never be said too often.
    Phew - I need a lie down now!

  2. Potty I am just like you. I cannot remember my mother EVER saying I love you as a child. She also wasn't/isn't affectionate. My dad didn't really say it so much as show it with affection and he would end phone calls with 'lots of love' or 'love you lots'. My mother showed it with the things she did for us.

    I say 'I love you' to my boys a lot. In fact, when we were younger, I used to say: 'Do you know what?' They would then say 'What?' and I'd say 'I love you' - we did that so much that when I started saying 'You know what?' they'd say with some exasperation, 'Yes, we know, you love us....'

    But I don't care - I feel as though I want to make up for a lifetime of not hearing that myself. I don't think saying it makes a difference really to a child - as long as they know that they are loved and are taught how to be loving and kind, that's all that matters.

  3. I do remember my mother saying it, although certainly not every day. Like you, I say it a lot more to my boys, and I do think it's very important. But it tends to be at bedtime or snuggling up time, rather then when I put them on the school bus. (For some reason that always makes me think of the Little Britain USA sketch where the mum keeps saying " I love you more than....xx" until the child says something really obscene.) One thing I have noticed is that my husband hardly ever says it to the kids (although he clearly does love them). I wonder if it's a male vs female thing, or whether he is just more traditionally British?

  4. Why is it that when you've written a long comment, which you've thought about properly, Blogger loses the darn thing?

  5. Oooh, I've rescued it!

    My Mum DID tell me that she loved me, often. My Dad, not so much.

    I think it's really important to say it - but to show it too. It could just become a formulaic thing ("don't forget your homework, have you got your bus fare? and I love you") - though I think that is still better than not saying it.

    I think this generation will grow up emotionally richer, but yes, also egotistical. Children have never been so much the centre of family life, and danced around by their parents. If I had my time again, I'd give toddlers and small children less choice, more rules, less negotiation. We all thought we were loving them, and being kind to them, but I think we probably ended up giving them fewer boundaries, and therefore less of a feeling of security (until Supernanny came along!) I'm quite a believer in tough love.

    So what would you do when your 16 year old, as a joke (though maybe not?), keeps asking "How much do you love me, Mother?" in a baby voice. And has been doing so for months (actually years). I've got into the habit of a jokey stock reply, and I say "1 out of 10", and then sometimes "1 and a half out of 10". Then every now and again, I get serious and say "you know it's about a million out of 10, don't you?" But of course in 30 years time, when he's in the therapist's room, he'll only remember the "1 out of 10" and forget that it was a joke.

  6. I'm working on the roots and wings strategy - to give mine strong family roots, knowing that they are loved and accepted totally for who they are so that they can grow wings and fly off when they want to

    I reckon telling them you love them lots has to be a good thing, my parents didn't and there have been times when it hasn't been totally clear how unconditional that love is

  7. I don't remember my parents ever telling me they loved me when I was a child, nor each other. I say it to my kids all the time, and my mum now says it to me and my kids. And frankly it feels odd hearing her say it.

    I think there's a line though. Even though our kids are cushioned in us telling them we love them, we also have to be doubly careful to give them boundaries. Yes, our love for our children should be verbal and unconditional, to stop our kids craving the words and accepting them from just about anyone, but we still need to expect respect and boundaries.

  8. My family were very loving, my mum to the extreme, we were always hugging and kissing each other and saying I love you, and I can't imagine it any other way. I like to think I am a confident person, certainly I am confident in my mothers love, however I am definitely not ego-tistical, I like to think I am pretty normal, with one less thing to worry about.
    Interesting post!


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