Love is in the air… must be February. In most schools, little children are drawing hearts and colouring them red. They’re addressing their cards to mothers and fathers, grandparents, sisters, brothers and friends. “Love” is carefully inscribed at least once on the page. On Valentine’s Day, the schools are abuzz with love. Even the six year old boys, who usually describe girls as yuck, labour over Valentines notes for their classmates.
Generally, younger children aren’t shy about demonstrating love. Parents and grandparents cherish the cards that are made for them and especially relish the extra long hugs and kisses that often accompany the cards. I remember when my then four, now six year old, spontaneously said “I love you.” It even surpassed the emotion I felt the first time my husband uttered those same three words. Unsolicited, they mean so much. I remember we were lying in her bed, reading a bedtime story. She turned to face me, gave me a hug and professed her love. It doesn’t get any better than that.
As children grow older, they become more awkward with demonstrating love towards family members. It takes a lot more effort as a parent to recognize signs of love. Remember when your ten year old, for example, asked if you were okay? Maybe he saw you looking sad or tired. He was expressing love. Remember when your twelve year offered to make you a cup of tea or told you to call when you arrived at your destination. He was showing love. Remember when your teenaged daughter tucked you into bed as you once did her – that’s love, isn’t it? Remember when your twenty year old called from University to let you know how he was doing and remembered to ask about your day – that’s love too.
Love sometimes seems to be a one way street when parenting. We love so much and often do not feel the same in return. It’s important, however, to keep on loving. Even when you hear more “I hate you”‘s than expressions of love, bite your tongue. Resist the temptation to say “I hate you” back or even to say “well, I love you anyway.” Rather acknowledge what your child is feeling with something like “I can tell you’re very angry with me right now.” Don’t overuse the love words either. Saying I love you every day or every time you hang up the phone with your child or your spouse means that eventually, the words will lose their importance. However, saying it and showing it when you feel it, continue to be important, no matter the age of your child.
As adults, we have an easier time wrapping our arms and our heads around expressing love to our little ones, but after feeling shunned, we turn away from the same expressions with our older, seemingly independent and uncaring older children. Forge ahead but be discreet. Of course, timing is everything with teens. Don’t shout “I love you” through the open window of your car as your son walks down the path to his High School. Or heaven forbid, put your arm around or try to take the hand of your teenaged daughter in public. At night, though, when she pretends to be sleeping, creep in and give her a little kiss on her forehead and remember to whisper “I love you”. She may pretend not to have heard, but chances are great that in the quiet darkness, she will let get away with it and you’ll both feel good.