I love you even when you don’t listen
After yelling at Keener right before reading books the other night, I quickly gathered myself together, apologized, and told him I love him all the time. I love you all the time, even when you don’t listen. I love you when I am overwhelmed and yelling at you and when you are sleeping. I love you when you are super silly and when you are eating breakfast. There is never a moment that my heart doesn’t love you.
While this started after I had lost my cool, I realized that this was something that I wanted to continue telling him. It was also a reminder to send this message not just after I lose it. I want my children knowing that they are loved no matter what. The way I am feeling, or the way they are feeling, does not impact how much I love them.
I remember asking my mom questions growing up about unconditional love. There is NOTHING I could do that would make you stop loving me? I distinctly recall that blowing my mind. Knowing that even at my worst, my parents still loved me provided me with significant comfort. Because not only did I know that they always had my back, they also helped me develop arguably the most important skill of all — self love.
Teaching Self Love
By continuing to model unconditional love for our kids, we are teaching them to love themselves unconditionally as well. Being our kids biggest cheer leaders teaches them to be their own cheer leader. There is confidence in knowing that, even in moments when kids might not love themselves, our love for them is present. To me, that’s the beauty of being connected humans — loving ourselves and loving each other.
You don’t have to earn my love
Letting my kids know they don’t have to earn my love is essential as my words and actions may suggest otherwise. When my kids are not listening and I am losing it, I could see why they would question if I still loved them. I am human, have big emotions, and my kids see that every day. By explicitly telling them I love them even when I have big emotions, I am letting them know that my big feelings don’t interfere with my love. That my kids not listening and me getting frustrated is not at all relevant when it comes to me loving them.
William Stixrud, Phd and Ned Johnson wrote in their book, What Do you Say? that we want to use language that prioritizes the relationship we have with our children. Saying, “I love you completely no matter how many rules you break,” lets our kids know that the relationship is what matters most. Similarly, the authors offer the saying, “I love you, but I don’t like being around people when they’re mean to me. I’ll come back in a few minutes and maybe we can try talking again.” This informs our kids that there are natural consequences in relationships. We can let our kids know we love them unconditionally and would never abandon them, however we don’t choose to be around them when they are acting rude or disrespectful.
This is just as true for interactions between my kids and me as it is for their own behavior. I think about how we inadvertently send the message to our kids that their success or failure impacts our love. Getting good grades, eating their carrots, scoring a goal in soccer, or learning to read are all great, but have zero impact on my love for them. I need to be mindful of this and make sure to explicitly tell them that their behavior, successes, or failures do not earn or lose my love. My love for them is constant and unwavering.
Saying this might feel weird
I started telling Grace the other night, I love you when you are too rough with Mack. I love you when you are sleeping. I love you when you talk too loudly and I’m constantly reminding you to use a quieter voice. I love you all the time. She responded with, “‘Ohhh, cute!” and I busted out with laughing. It might feel uncomfortable as the parent, or as the child to say or hear this. I’m finding bedtime to be the best time to have these more intimate heart to hearts. There is no formula or perfect time of day to explicitly tell our kids how we feel about them. The important thing is to make sure our message — My love for you is constant; I love you no matter what — is clear, and most importantly felt by our kids.