What do I mean when I say I love you?
After I became a mom, I experienced love in a very pure way. I was smitten and overcome by something divine. I found myself telling my baby girl “I love you” quite often. It occurred to me on one occasion after whispering “I love you” that I needed to be more verbal and expressive about what that truly meant. I could not say with all certainty that she knew what I meant. I knew that she was just a toddler, but I had the thought that I could plant the seeds of my intent and keep watering it through the years until it took root.
What does love look like? My message about love would be the first that she would see and hear, and I wanted it to be a balanced message. It would also be a pure and fruitful one, just like the one she brought me on the day she was born and looked up at me with those seeking eyes. I’ve heard the words “I love you before.” Yes, I had heard them many times. More often than not, it was a complete thought or message by itself, and I was left to assume all that it meant. Also, “I love you” seemed to come when I had done something pleasing or had a praiseworthy moment.
I did not have much experience with random moments when love was being expressed clearly and eloquently with words. I assumed I was loved because of what I had done, what I was given, or how I behaved. It was a conditional kind of love that needed the fuel of performance. So I adapted and accepted the brief verbal repeats of “I love you.” I believed that it was more important to express love by doing, and that verbal expressions beyond “I love you” were not necessary. My flawed perspective contributed to some feelings of insecurities, and to an engagement with performance to gain acceptance and more of what I defined as love. This perspective followed me for quite some time. I had to acknowledge and unlearn it so I could be a better parent to my child.
Being a parent causes a spotlight to shine on every heart issue. Chances are, there are times when you’ve feIt that you did not have it all together. As parents, we are often left to examine ourselves, and make internal and external adjustments to provide the pure sustenance that our little ones need. I did not have all my daughter needed at the time we first met, but the love she brought with her gave me the courage to seek it out. My daughter looks to me to be fed and clothed. She asks to be nourished not only physically but also spiritually and emotionally. Something about her presence demands it in a constant, compelling, and yet gentle way. I believe it is the same yearning of every child. You may not have it all together as a parent, but it is possible to seek out whatever it is.
Love, when it is conceived, changes everything and everyone. It effortlessly transforms us into a better version of ourselves. So, having been changed by love, I have the need to find random moments to say and to explain “I love you.” When I tell my daughter that I love her, I sometimes ask, “Do you know why I love you? Do you know how much you are loved?” In the moments when she spills the juice and it splatters everywhere, I am reminded of what love really looks like. What a beautiful moment to say I love you. Really? Yes, a beautiful moment to show that love is a decision, and it is not a sitting on a mountaintop experience, or skipping around on days when we feel we are at our best.
Now, I wish I could say I never had a meltdown when the “the juice was splattered everywhere.” But I would not be sincere. As it turns out, those moments of missing the mark are quite useful. I usually seize the opportunity and say, “please forgive me, I was wrong. I love you.” You’ll find so many opportunities to show and tell your little one what love really looks like. When I sat down to write my first children’s book, of course it was about love. A love that changed me. I needed to express that love that comes without condition, limit, conflict, or regret. A deep, abiding, constant love that would always embrace to dispel all shame. A love that changes everything for the better.