How to say the hardest words
Love is easily felt, but harder to express.
“What’s this?” Hannah asks, holding up a piece of paper next to my bed. “It’s a note Karen wrote to me”, I say. Hannah reads it out: “Dear Scott, I love you, xxx”. Karen’s quite sentimental (and so am I), and she’d scribbled it before she left for work, knowing I’d find it when I got home. Hannah didn’t get it. “Why did she need to write it?” she asked, “didn’t you already know?”

So I tried something with each of them:

“I love you, Jonah!”

Blank look.

“I love you, Hannah!”

Raised eyebrow.

“I love you, James!”

He ducks into the bathroom.

Stating the glaringly obvious

Love isn’t easy to express. Certainly, it’s more than three words adequately convey. It’s more than the words you use to substitute “goodbye” with at the end of a phone call, and meaningless unless it’s backed up with actions. For my kids, though, it seems silly to say it, because, well, duh- they know I love them, apparently.

They understand the concept of love-expression as a means of thanks: After a rare trip to a restaurant, or a particularly successful outing day, they’ll say “I love you!” but they really mean “thanks!”

That in itself is a progression. Remember whispering into your slumbering baby’s ear “I love you”? You just needed to say it, and you never expected a response. Then you stayed up nights, washed outfits, made meals, ran baths, all without so much as a “ta, dad”.

Hannah asked me why I tell her I love her, because she knows it already. Well, it’s for me, too, I guess. I need to say it, because otherwise it won’t be, er, said.

Kicking off a lifetime of conversation

Just a single phrase- but it’s one of the primary bases for communication. If I can teach them to express the obvious, then they won’t make assumptions.  Assumptions are communication killers. If you imagine I’m cross with you because you feel guilty, then you may not feel the freedom to open up. If you wish I was more impressed about one of your achievements, and I don’t seem to be, it’s probably because I don’t know about it. Express the obvious, and then the less-obvious will be easier to get to. Rather work at it than let things fall apart.

There will probably come a day, in their teens, when a refused sleepover or an instruction to turn off the TV will be met with "I hate you", but, as easy as it seems to be for teens to express that, if we're also expressing our love, then hopefully we'll be able to fix things up quite quickly.

We’re not quite at the “don’t say that in front of my friends” stage, and, when I dropped the children at school this morning, Hannah came close to me as she said goodbye. “I love you, dad”, she said, in the smallest voice, a whisper almost as quiet as the one I used to use next to her cot.  And there was no confusion: I knew she did.

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Do your kids find it easy to tell you that they love you?

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