When love is measured not felt

trying to make sense of love between my son and i

I like you, but I don't love you, not even a little bit. Hard to hear from someone you care about, even harder when it is your 7-year-old child.

This is how my son responded to me recently when I told him that I loved him, and it hurt. It hurt a lot. It wasn't the first time, and he wasn't trying to be unkind. He doesn't realise that words can have an emotional impact on others, especially when it is "the truth". By truth, I mean a thought in his head.

That night I wondered does he even know what love is? Dad was dispatched to talk to him about what he had said and to try to understand why he said it. The talk revealed that he determines who he "loves" based on an assessment of what he likes and doesn't like, and the extent to which that person is similar to him or does the things that he wants to do.

He likes Lego, superheroes, Star Wars, watching TV, Asterix comic books and eating treats. He doesn't like people not listening to him, too many rules (unless he has made up the rules), being told "No",  and shouting (unless he is the one shouting).

Daddy is a boy (instant bonus points) and likes doing lots of the things that he likes - he loves Daddy. Mummy is a girl and doesn't like all the things he likes. Also, she has too many rules & she sometimes shouts. He just likes Mummy.

For him, this makes sense. He knows what he likes and doesn't like. He can work out if other people like the same things as him, and the determine how much he likes or loved them by the sum of how aligned they are to him, his wants, and his expectations.

It doesn't make sense to love someone who is not aligned with his likes, wants and expectations. How can you love someone when you don't like the same things, and they don't always behave the way you want? It also doesn't make sense that I would get upset when he tells me that he doesn't love me.

Two days later as I sat in the garden thinking about life and his views of love, I was surprised when he turned up with a plastic bunch of flowers and suggested that I sniff them as if they were real before disappearing inside. Wondering where that came from, I remembered the cake he insisted making and decorating for me on Mother's Day, and the joy on his face when he saw me at his end of term assembly.

Sitting there I wondered Do I know what love is and how see love in others? Do I need my son to love me in the same way as his Dad?

It seems like I am not the only one to have questions about love. What is love is one of the most frequently searched phrases in Google. Reading through the definitions, I realised that everyone has their own definitions of what it means to love and be loved.

love is a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes that ranges from interpersonal affection to pleasure. It can refer to an emotion of a strong attraction and personal attachment. Love is based on trust, and may take time to develop, like is an instant feeling
Reading through the definitions, I was reminded that love is not measured by words, and it has many different forms. If love can grow when there is trust and our love for someone can change, it is up to me to ensure that there is trust and that he feels loved. The important thing is that he continues to know that I will be there for him no matter what.

I don't know if my son loves me, but I'd like to think that he does. I know that I love him, and will always strive to make sure that he feels loved. I realise we may never reach the stage of kisses, cuddles or unguarded emotion, but he likes me and sometimes takes my breath away with an unexpected action of affection. I'll take that. At the end of the day, it is our actions that speak louder than our words.


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