By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT
Because I pretty much never heard the words myself or even really felt loved growing up, I’ve been telling my boy/girl twins I love them since they were born a little more than 2.5 years ago. In the beginning, I felt kind of silly and uncomfortable; fortunately they couldn’t understand what I was saying anyway. But by the time that they could understand, I was so comfortable telling them and felt it so strongly that it felt natural to me. Thank goodness I started practicing early. What I didn’t realize was that by showing them love from early on, I was also teaching them how to love, creating a loving family I never experienced.
Saying “I love you” is not enough – especially for children. They need to feel it completely. Both my wife and I are very affectionate people – with each other and, of course, with our children. Our children get so many hugs and kisses from us everyday it would be hard to keep count. There’s the Morning hug and kiss when they wake up in the morning and after nap. I give them a hug & kiss if they are awake when I leave in the morning and again when I come home from work. When I take them upstairs to bed, they have their Special Mommy Hug. When I tuck them in to bed I give them a Special Daddy Hug and kiss goodnight.
Even beyond the hugs and kisses, we are always touching each other affectionately, always expressing love through our words, our compliments, and our joy of spending time together. I will always worry about whether my children feel loved because of what I went through, but I feel as certain as I am able that they understand that we love them completely and unconditionally.
I don’t actually believe they know what “I love you” means, yet. But they know it means something special and important between me and each of them. I know this from the way Dorit, my daughter first told me she loved me.
Somewhere she had learned about secrets and one night we were out having dinner and she turned to me and said, “Daddy, I have a secret for you.”
I looked at my wife. I had never even heard her use those words. My wife raised her eyebrows and shoulders slightly.
I leaned close to my little girl with my ear to her face.
She leaned right up to my ear so when she talked I could feel her breath and whispered each word as if it was a separate sentence, “I…love…you.”
When I lifted my head up I had tears in my eyes and I looked at my beautiful little girl and she met my stare. I smiled at her and told her the exact same thing. Did she know what she was saying? I wonder, but I do believe she knew she was saying something important to me, something of substance.
Very quickly this became Dorit’s and my way of telling each other we loved each other. When I put her into bed at night, I say,
“I have a secret for you,” with a smile.
She turns one ear to me and I say, “You’re my sweetie girl,” and she turns her other ear to me so I can say “And I love you.”
When I pull my head back and look at her face she is always smiling at me. Then she tells me,
“I have a secret for you,” and I lean my ear to her mouth.
“I…love…you,” she whispers in the exact same tone, making each individual word carry its own weight.
Ironically, the first time Lucas said “I love you” to me, I almost missed it. I was putting him to bed one night, like every other night, and I told him that I loved him and gave him a kiss. As I got up to turn off the light, he lifted his head up from the bed and said, “I love you, too, Dad,” and put his head back down as if he hadn’t really said anything at all. I didn’t even catch it until I had turned the light off.
The next night, as I was tucking him into bed, I told him I loved him as usual and he again responded by saying, “I love you, too.” But this time I was ready and I gave him a big smile and another kiss on the cheek. My boy has such an angelic face that it can literally make me cry or break my heart. He smiled back at me and closed his eyes.
But in the same way that my wife and I don’t only tell them we love them with those words, my children show their love in other ways as well. It is the utter joy and excitement they display when we share my cereal together in the morning before I have to leave for work. It is the way Dorit caresses my face or mimics rubbing my back. It is the way Lucas looks at me with his beautiful brown eyes. Or the way he reaches out to hold my hand and skips alongside of me when we’re walking somewhere. It is the way they share with each other. It is the way Lucas asks Dorit if she wants some of the food he is eating. It is the way Dorit reminds him of his happy thought when he gets scared at night to help him fall back to sleep.
Everything I have done, everything my wife has done, the way we treat each other, ourselves and our children has been watched by them, observed by them, absorbed by them. When they watch love, they learn love and they share love. This only makes our family more filled with love and only increases the gulf between my family now and what I experienced growing up.