By Flora Posteraro – “I Love You!” From the minute I laid eyes on my newborn, I couldn’t stop saying it. I said it every day, several times a day. This was an intense love I had never felt before and I couldn’t hold back. It’s funny how my little sponge caught on. The absolute best? The day he grabbed my face with his two little hands, squeezed my cheeks and said, “Mommy, I love you so much I could eat a whole bowl of you.” I was done.
If we’re truly honest with ourselves, much of what we do as adults can be traced back to our family of origin and how we were raised. The way we look at life. The way we spend money. The way we celebrate the holidays. The way we raise our kids. It all stems back to childhood and what happened to us during those critical younger years.
In a way, we are raised in a bubble and think that what our family does, every family does. For example, my (very Italian) family celebrated Christmas Eve with the feast of the seven fishes and ate squid. I thought every family ate squid. I was shocked to hear that most families don’t eat squid, but my experience was my only point of reference. My parents also smothered my brothers and me with tons of affection, lots of hugs and kisses, and told us ten times a day, “I love you.” Isn’t that normal? Isn’t this what all parents do? Apparently not.
I have heard from countless adults who say their parents never said those three magic words. Never hugged them. Never showed them any affection. A 50-year-old man told me he never married and never had a meaningful relationship. He also said his mother never uttered those three powerful words. He wonders if that’s why he can’t connect with others. A 40-year-old woman told me the same. Never heard the words. Never married. Hasn’t been able to make a connection.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor Amanda Levison of Neurofeedback and Counseling Center of Pennsylvania isn’t surprised. She says love is nourishment that feeds the soul and helps children thrive. She warns if kids are starved of love and affection, it can have a negative impact on their lives.
“Hearing ‘I love you’ from parents gives children security. This security stays with them for the rest of their lives and in all aspects of relationships. If children grow up without hearing ‘I love you,’ they may grow up feeling insecure and detached from family members and in other relationships. When they are told by other people and not their parents, it can be confusing and untrusting,” said Levison.
Levison also cautions: Buying your children another Barbie doll or truck isn’t “love.” Sure, your kids will be happy for the moment…but that moment will pass. Levison says what all kids truly want is their parents’ true love and attention.
“As parents, you can show your kids you love them by telling them you love them, showing affection towards them, being present with them, spending quality time with them, and showing a genuine interest in them as individuals,” said Levison.
Playing kickball. Going for a bike ride. Playing dress-up. It’s the little things that mean so much to a child. And, based on the stories I’ve heard, not hearing those words of affection could lead to damage that’s difficult to outgrow. But there is hope. A friend of mine never heard “I love you” in her home so she’s now made it a point to tell her kids often the magic words every child longs to hear.