Saying I love you
Making sure my kids know they’re loved is the main game in our house, says Tracy Engelbrecht.
It’s an all too common occurrence in my house. Children are summoned to appear before Cantankerous Mother. “Both of you come here immediately!” Oh boy, Mommy’s on a mean-streak…

 If you’re looking for Trouble, you came to the right place. If you’re looking for trouble, just look right into my face...

They stand in front of me, almost at attention, waiting for it… Technically, at this point they should be quaking in their boots. Mentally cataloguing everything that could have ended them up in the dwang. Perhaps the state of their bedrooms or the mysteriously broken vase. The teenage son could possibly have different misdemeanours on his mind.

But alas, they know me too well.  They play along for as long as they can, but the poker faces keep slipping.

‘Are you paying attention? Are you listening to me? Look at me, this is important!’

‘Oh mother, I know what you’re going to say…’ ventures one brave sproglet. We all know our lines.

 ‘Oh really? And just what might that be?’  Scoff scoff.

‘You’re going to say I love you.’ Cue pretend exasperated sighs.

‘What?! No, of course not! Don’t try to soften me up! I’m going to say…’

They wait… almost sure but kinda doubting… Mother makes nasty cross face for emphasis; maybe a scowl, heavy on the waggly eyebrow action.

‘What I was GOING to say - before I was so rudely interrupted – was…  (Big sigh) I love you.’

Wriggly hugs and screechy giggles all round, and to their credit neither of them rolls their eyes at the ridiculous little game we’ve being playing for 15 years.

Yes, I know it’s silly. That’s the point. It’s one of those lame family private jokes we all have which doesn’t mean anything to anybody but us. But it’s special and does us all good. We say I love you a lot.  It is, apparently, the second most spoken phrase in our house (the first is ‘Make some tea’. We have caffeine issues, a complicated roster system and never-ending ingenious reasons why it’s not my turn.)

I never get tired of saying it. There’s no such thing as too much ‘I love you’ for families, no matter how old we are. It never loses its meaning, even when we say it in passing 20 times a day. We don’t keep it for special occasions or serious heart-to-hearts.  There are no conditions, no appropriate time to say it. We say it as soon as it pops into our heads. We work those 3 words hard; spread them around, fling them back and forth like other people swear.

It’s good to say and good to hear; it’s like oxygen for your soul. But nobody says I love you just to hear it back, after all. We say it because we need our loved ones to know how we feel. Even though they already do.

The best is not when they reply with ‘I love you too, Mom’.  It’s when they look up, all serious, TV forgotten for the moment, and say ‘I know’.

That’s when you know you’re doing your job.

Do you tell your kids ‘I love you’? Or does it go without saying?

Read more by Tracy Engelbrecht

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