After school I go to my friend’s house and her Mom is always complimenting her or telling her she loves her and my Mom never says stuff like that. What’s so hard about good job or I love you?
Looking for Love
Hmm. I see your point. So then, you surely can appreciate that much more of your Mom’s life revolves around your needs than her own. That being the case I guess you’ve regularly told your Mom good job, and I love you? Maybe you have. But if she didn’t teach you to then maybe you don’t. Maybe she didn’t learn to either. And is there some special rule somewhere that says she has to go first?
I can completely understand why your ego-self would want to get verbal confirmation that your Mother loves you. Language quickly infects us with chronic insecurity. You want to hear the love symbolized in words. Weird eh? I mean, you get that the love isn’t the naming of the love… right? If and when your Mom said “I love you,” it’s not like all of the love would be downloaded to you right then, like when Neo learned Kung Fu in The Matrix.
It’s not like the words themselves actually carry some kind of magic potion called love. The love’s been given prior to the declaration—in all kinds of ways. Effort, sacrifice, patience, tolerance, expense… repeat as necessary. Even as awesome as every baby is, in your first year you were no where near worth in joy the amount you cost in money, labour, personal sacrifice and sleeplessness. All you could really do is wiggle for a lot of it. And an alert parent can take a lot from that, but still—they cleaned up your poo. You puked on them. And you were unable to show them gratitude. Enough said.
When a teenage girl yells I hate you, at their already-insecure-like-every-other-human-being mother, what she does not calculate is; what is it that heals the wound that has been caused by this deliberate slicing into the very core of a parent? The answer is love.
When a parent needs to be up early for an important day of work, but instead they are awake in bed waiting for you to either call or get home because you were supposed to be home hours ago—the agony they go through is bandaged by love, which is used to explain why Mom’s continue to endure your overall disrespect. And love is why they mostly sit idly by while you belittle their lives in various ways, like how she dressed when she was young, or what music she liked, how old she is…. You’ll have to get to their age to understand but you’ll see. We’re all pretty rude pretty often when we’re growing up.
My point is that your Mother has loved you in her own way and you did not always make that easy. She may not have done what storybooks told you she would. She may not have done what your friend’s moms did. She may in fact have even been cold and unfeeling. And while that might suck, she didn’t sell you for crack.
Remember, you can’t ask an elephant for the ink from an octopus. Nor can you ask a blackbird to swim like a fish. People can only be what they are. So rather than having some ideal that you compare your mother to, focus instead on trying to see what she actually does do as herself.
It kind of works this way: Maybe you want to hear the words I love you after you blow a test. But maybe your Mom’s family was really poor and they often couldn’t even afford food. And because of that poverty, your grandmother only baked cookies when one of her kids was feeling particularly low. So your Mom got to associate baking with the ultimate act of love. And so rather than saying I love you, (something she’s never heard said very often and so she doesn’t consider saying it herself), instead your mother very naturally bakes when she feels love.
Even your mother would be unlikely to immediately and consciously associate the baking with love. But love will either be present in some way, or the efforts to suppress it will be present. Because it’s not like every parent gives us tons of reasons to appreciate them. So it might not be baking or it might not even be anything positive at all.
Maybe they learned to hide from challenges like extending love. But it’s still innocent behaviour either way. You can’t blame someone for not being something. They are what they are. You can encourage them, but you can’t make anyone into anything. They must consciously or unconsciously choose to become whoever they end up being.
I can understand your motivation. I have taught my Mom to say I love you and I think she likes it as much as I do, although she still prefers to say it from another room, with no eye contact. There’s a less wise version of me that would be upset with her for that—as though she was only half-loving me. But now it’s cute. It shows how scary it is for her.
It’s like my Dad—he’s my hero—I admire so much about him. But he never heard I love you’s from his Dad (who I understand was quite awful), so he never learned to say that to his kids. But he showed his love in all kinds of great ways—especially his very sincere interest in whatever was interesting his kids. So when I say I love you Dad, he usually either says, good or okay, and I’ve now been able to see those responses as nice areas of his brain to be firing in response to my proclamation. Because if I’m paying any attention at all, his and Mom’s love is present all over the place so I don’t really need any specific sounds to come out of their mouths.
If you’re always looking for how you’re not loved you’ll fail to see how you are loved. You might think you’re the exception, but essentially everyone who works with me starts with the belief they aren’t loved enough and then they come to realize that…no…no, maybe they are being loved. Just not in the ways they’d expected. It’s a bit like the Five Languages of Love, but personalized for each individual parent. Again, they cannot give you what they do not have.
To find more happiness in your life your job isn’t to define an apology for your parents to give you, your job is only to be grateful. So if you believe you have an actual bad parent (and they do exist), then prove how spiritually developed you are by being grateful for them anyway. Certainly don’t leave yourself in the position of needing anything from them.
If you need l love you’s or I’m sorry’s from a parent then you know you’re lost in ego. They might be nice if they happened, but you don’t need those things. They don’t relate to how happy your life is. What you focus on in any given moment is what dictates how good your life is. So pay less attention to the words people use and more attention to absorbing how fortunate you were to have even been born so that you could experience this fantastic burst of creativity called life. Enjoy.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.