Being a mother changed my life. I rushed home from work every day to see my son. I’d sneak into his bedroom at night to watch him sleep. He was a complete miracle. The definition of true love. Even at three weeks old his smile would light up an entire room. I couldn’t stop staring at him. I couldn’t stop kissing him. I couldn’t stop telling him how much I loved him.
I was so enamored by him that it took me a while to see that he wasn’t getting the same level of affection from his father. A few weeks after James was born I started to notice that John never said, “I love you” to our son. It prompted me to ask him about it. I knew that he rarely said those words to me, but this was completely different. This was his son. He must just be saying it when I’m not in the room because…. well how could he NOT express his love to this beautiful child?
Once again I was taken by surprise. John looked at me and said, “I’m not going to say that. He’ll know that I love him. I don’t have to say it”. Huh? Did I hear that right? Our child is just going to accept that you love him …. he’s just going to internalize that ….even though you have decided you will not say these words to him…. just because you say he will? He couldn’t give me a reason for why he would not tell his son he loved him. He just wasn’t going to do it. Period. He did not intend to change this behavior as his son got older and had a greater understanding of language either. His son will just know he loves him. He shouldn’t have to say it for him to know.
I, as a grown adult, had already noticed that John never told me he loved me of his own volition. He would say, “I love you too” after I had said it, but he would never volunteer this information on his own. And as a grown adult I questioned if he loved me. How was our child going to know he was loved? How badly will this damage him? My child wasn’t even a month old and already he was at a disadvantage in life because he’s going to have to work at hearing he is loved??? I could not let this happen. This child was already my entire life … my entire heart … and I felt strongly that this was an argument I had to have with John for the sake of my son’s future mental well being.
This argument continued for three weeks. For three weeks I would gently bring up the topic and try to explain why children need to hear that their parents love them… and for three weeks he would get angry with me and the yelling and chasing would start. I didn’t care. I would fight this battle for my son. I even tried getting a few of our mutual friends to talk to him about it. There was no getting through.
I felt myself compensating for James’ father’s lack of affection. I would hold James during his naps and whisper in his ear how loved he is. I would tell him every day that his mother and his father loved him more than the air they breathe….. even if they don’t say it. My heart was breaking for my child that his father didn’t see the need to tell his child that he was loved.
Eventually I realized that I could not reason with John and he would not be swayed. I couldn’t understand what he gained from this refusal. I couldn’t understand how it would hurt him or inconvenience him in any way to tell his child he loved him. A child should not have to earn their parent’s affection. It should be a basic right that every child has.
As James grew older and started saying “I love you” I noticed that his father did say it back… But to this day I have not witnessed John volunteer this information on his own. My heart swells when I hear my children offer this phrase up so freely to the people in their lives. At least I know I did that right. Maybe John is just incapable of giving affection or feeling love. In spite of this, I know my children know they are loved. And they know HOW to love.