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How Often Do You Say, “I Love You” to Your Kids?

I know this is a random topic for today but it’s one I’ve been thinking about lately and I’m curious to hear your thoughts. I’ve started reading the books I recommended a few weeks ago and just finished Just Let Me Lie Down by Kristin Van Ogtrop (who, full disclaimer, is the person who hired me at Glamour back when I was 23 and she was the executive editor there). I am not overselling it when I say this book is so damn good. If you are a working mother you must read it. Anyway, in one section Kristin talks about how she grew up in a house where the phrase “I love you” was rarely spoken. And now she rarely uses it with her three kids. Does she love them? Of course. Beyond words. Beyond those three words in particular. And I completely get it.

I think I can count on one hand the number of times my mother said “I love you” to me when I was growing up. And I can count on one finger the times my dad said it. I was in fifth grade and spending the weekend at a friend's beach house and I was homesick. I talked to my dad on the phone and he made me feel better and then he said, “I love you.” I could honestly cry now thinking about it. How overwhelmed I was. How I kept thinking, this must be serious, he said I love you! Or perhaps I heard him wrong...

Did I ever for a nanosecond think that my parents didn’t love me? No. Not once, not ever. In fact, their love was abundantly clear on a daily basis, theirs of the tough variety. And the fact that they helped me with my homework, made me drink milk and eat vegetables, came to all of my plays and concerts and games and didn’t let me quit things once I started was all evidence. I knew they loved me implicitly. Which is way more important than hearing it, if you ask me. But was I somehow deprived?

Needless to say, it was hard for me to say, “I love you.” And to hear it. The first time a boy said it to me, I thought I was going to die. I could tell he was about to spit it out and my heart was beating through my chest and I felt like I was going to throw up or pass out. And it wasn’t because I didn’t like this boy or that I was nervous about what it meant. It was that I was not used to hearing that phrase from anyone but my Grandma Ruth (if my sisters and I were deprived of those three words, Grammy certainly made up for it). That’s a little weird, no? Am I lacking in emotion? Unable to emote love? To receive it? Am I a robot?

Nick came from a family that said I love you all the time. I think we’ve met somewhere in the middle with each other. I know couples who say I love you every single time they leave the house, hang up the phone, walk out of the room, go to sleep, wake up, etc. That’s just not for me. I don’t feel the need. Like Kristin wrote in her book, I do think that in a way saying I love you constantly cheapens it. Because when Nick and I say I love you now, for the most part, it has some meaning. And when he sends me a random BBM or text saying I love you, my heart still does a little thump and I like that. (Although when one of us is away we pretty much always say I love you when we hang up the phone. I’m assuming it’s because our hearts have grown fonder.)

And there are some nights that we just don’t feel compelled to say it. Because although we love that person, we don’t have it pouring out of us that very minute and if we don’t feel it, why say it? Last night I was working in my office for a bit and Nick was watching a movie—a movie he’s been dying to see since it arrived from Netflix two weeks ago but we’ve just been too busy. On my way to bed, I stopped by the TV room and said, “Hey, can you pause it for a sec?” He tried to find the clicker, couldn’t, then started to get frustrated…. I said, “No problem, I just wanted to say I’m heading upstairs. I’ll see you later.” He said, “Love ya! Mean it!” in a Mean Girls tone that said, get the bleep out of my space, lady. I laughed, said goodnight and went upstairs. Not a big deal.

When it comes to my mom and dad -- and my sisters -- I can write I love you in a card, but I never ever say it. And I couldn't love four people more. My kids are a different story. With them, I can’t not say I love you several times a day. When Alex leaves for school, I tell him I love him. When he tells me I’m awesome and I make the best quesadillas, I say I love you. When he goes to sleep at night I say, “Sleep well, baby. I’ll see you in the morning. I love you.” And Nora gets I love you songs sung to her on a daily basis. We say I love you to the kids a lot. Because we do—so so so much—and it’s hard not to. Even before Alex could talk he and I made up this little game where I’d say, “Guess what?” And then I’d point to my eye and then to my heart and then to him. Eventually he learned to say I and Love and You along with me. He loved it. I still do it every once in a while only now all I have to say is, “Guess what?” and he immediately says, “No, mom, I love you!”


How could I not shower these two with "I love yous"?

Am I making up for lost time with those three little words? Is it normal or is the pendulum swinging the other way? It sort of goes against my nature to be an over-user of I love you. But I definitely plan on saying it a lot more than my parents did, if only to prepare my children to be able to say it—or hear it—without crying. Or having a near heart attack. Part of me thinks the reason I’m saying it so much now is that my kids don’t understand that the other things I do for them—wiping butts, making homemade quesadillas, playing sharks and mermaids, not letting them eat candy for breakfast, etc.—are the ways I show my love. Because they don’t get showing I have to tell. Or do I? Does it even matter?

What’s your relationship with “I love you”? How often do you say it to your kids? To your partner? What kind of “I love you” house did you grow up in? Let’s discuss!