I'll never forget the first time my son said "I love you," unprompted and for no reason. We were sitting on the couch, having just had dinner as a family, when he came up to me, put his little hands on both my cheeks and said, "Mama, I love you." I almost died; I definitely cried; I instantly gave my son what had to be the longest, strongest hug I've ever given anyone. However, my son is a two-year-old toddler who is as defiant as he is sweet, so there are moments when I question if my kid loves me at all. I mean, he can say "I love you" in that sweet little voice all he wants, but his throwing and hitting and ambivalence to my presence, at times, says otherwise.
Yes, rationally I know that my son loves me and him acting out is simply him acting out. I know that his toddler brain is still developing, and that can make the world a frustrating, confusing, overwhelming and scary place. I know that he gets wrapped up in his little world of toys and books and games and, in those moments, I don't seem all that important. I know that my son gaining more independence and refusing my help doesn't mean he doesn't care about me, but that I'm actually doing my job and he is becoming the person he is meant to be. You guys, I know all these things, but my feelings get in the way of reality and, well, I can't help but feel like my kid doesn't love me at all. I mean, he does, but ugh. When he's throwing fits and doesn't even care that I'm not around, emotions take over and I lose all perspective.
Motherhood is an emotional rollercoaster of masochism. You love this tiny person so much that you're willing to be completely vulnerable; vulnerable in a way you actively avoided through most of your young adult and adult life. You are willing to put yourself out there for your kid; you're willing to let them hurt your feelings; you're willing to put up with more than you possibly would take from anyone else, because you love them. So, if you find yourself in the trenches of the following situations wondering if your kid about you at all, know that they do. They just, you know, don't do the best job of showing it, sometimes.
When You Leave For An Extended Period Of Time, And They Hardly Notice
Recently, I took a work-related trip to Seattle (on the opposite end of the country from where my family currently lives). I was to be gone for three days and, while I was very much looking forward to the trip and somewhat of a "break," I was pretty bummed I would be away from my son for that long.
Yeah, he couldn't have cared less. He was excited to spend time with his father and play with his toys and watch Toy Story 3 and play outside and I don't think he even noticed that mom wasn't around. I came home, and it was like nothing had happened and no time had passed. Obviously, this is ideal. I mean, it's not like I want my kid to be upset or cry every day or have me leaving equate to some traumatic experience. But, you, know, something would have been nice.
When They Don't Want You To Help Them...
For the most part, I find this endearing and kind of awesome. My son doesn't really want mom or dad to help him with much of anything, as he is learning to be more independent and to figure out how to do things on his own. Still, sometimes it is a painful reminder that he is growing up so quickly that, eventually, he won't need me at all anymore.
So, to hear my two-year-old-son tell me, "Mama, no help!" all defiantly and with absolutely no remorse, makes me wonder.
...Or Touch Them...
When my son says he doesn't want to be touched, he doesn't get touched. It's that simple, as my partner and I believe that everyone has the right to have complete control of their own body. Of course, sometimes we have to go against our son's wishes (like when he is getting vaccinated and when he needs to be adequately dressed before he braving the elements), but if he doesn't want a hug or a kiss or a snuggle, we don't force him.
Still, it's a little sad when my son doesn't want me to give him a hug goodbye or a kiss in the morning.
...Or Even Really Look At Them
Sometimes, my son will act out completely irrationally if I even look in his general direction. This is normally during his "witching hour," when he's tired and nearing bedtime and just trying to keep himself away by any means necessary. But to not even be able to look at my kid? I mean, come on. I made you, child.
When You Make Them A Wonderful Dinner They Refuse To Eat
Taking the time to make my kid some elaborate, healthy meal only to see him turn his little nose up at it and walk away, refusing to eat, is the thing nightmares are made of. I. Get. So. Freakin'. Angry. However, I won't force my child to eat, so it is what it is.
I have to wonder, though, if he cares about me at all when he arbitrarily decides that what I make him isn't good enough. If only he knew how much effort it takes his "used-to-burn-water" mother puts into making something edible.
When They Want Someone Else, Instead Of You
Usually, whenever my son is upset, scared, hurt or tired, he wants me. I can see how much it hurts my partner's feelings, because he will ask for mom until he gets mom and, well, dad just won't do.
However, there are moments when my son just wants his dad (or his grandmother or a visiting friend) and not me, and that stings a little. I mean, I'm the mom. He is supposed to want me and only me all the time and why is he pushing me away already, at only two years old? Isn't he supposed to start rejecting my love when he's, like, a teenager? (I know, I know. I need to calm down.)
When They Refuse To Say "I Love You" Back
My son tells us that he loves us on a pretty regular basis, and it melts my heart every single solitary time. However, when I say "I love you" and he doesn't say it back (or refuses to say it back in his defiant, I'm-a-toddler-I-do-what-I-want attitude), I'm a little bummed.
I mean, yes; rationally I know my son loves me even when he refuses to say it. I know that emotions are fleeting and if he is upset that I took his toy away after he threw it at my face for the third time, and now won't tell me he loves me, his anger will go away eventually and he'll forget the entire ordeal and say "I love you" again, per usual. Still, fleeting emotions don't make them any less real and my fleeting feelings of sadness and defeat are, well, real.
When They're Throwing An Epic, Public Tantrum
Nothing says, "I absolutely don't love you and want to torture you endlessly because I can," like a public toddler tantrum. I'm serious. The screaming and the kicking and the yelling and the crying and, well, it's just the worst. Yes, my son still loves me even when he's embarrassing me to no end, but it's hard to remember that when he's grabbing things off shelves and aisles and making everyone around me wonder if I am fit to be someone else's mother.
When You Come Home From Work And They Just Don't Care
Sometimes, I really look forward to going to work and don't mind being away from my son. I love my job and I love my coworkers and I love my career, so I don't see it as a "sacrifice" to be away from my son when I'm at work.
Other days, though, it's really hard. Like, the most hard. On those days I can't stand walking out the door and leaving him behind and usually, on those days, he couldn't care less. I'll come home, so excited to get a hug and a kiss and hear "Hi mama!" only he's paying attention to his toys and doesn't even acknowledge that I've walked through the door after a long day at the office. Thanks, kid.
When They Don't Want To Spend Time With You
Because I'm a working mom, I consider the time I spend with my son to be precious. I look forward to the lazy days that are few and far between, when we can do whatever we want to do together; go to the park, take a walk, play at the playground, read all the books and try our hand at some arts and crafts.
Sometimes, though, my son doesn't want anything to do with me. Instead, he wants to play by himself and will get upset if I even try to engage with him. On the one hand, it's kind of nice because I get some time to myself, too. On the other hand, it makes me feel so very far away from my son, and like he would probably be fine if I wasn't around at all. (Again, I know that isn't true but feelings you guys.)
When Your Kid Thinks Throwing Things At You (Or Even Hitting You) Is Fun
I swear almost every toddler goes through that throwing and hitting phase and I swear almost every single parent wonders if it's their fault. I did, at least, and it was so hard to think my son had a sweet bone in his little body when he was hurling legos at my freakin' face. Or hitting me for absolutely no reason. Or spitting. Don't get me started on the spitting.
When They Straight Up Say, "I Hate You"
I have yet to experience this inevitable situation, and I'm grateful. I know that, one day, my son is going to tell me he hates me. I imagine he'll be in middle school or high school and it will have something to do with me not letting him go out with his friends, although I'm not surprised if it happens much, much earlier.
Either way, it will probably be devastating and heartbreaking. It will also be just another moment that passes. I know that even when my son tells me hates me in a fit of frustration or disappointment, he doesn't actually hate me. I know that any of the aforementioned moments aren't indicitive of how much my son loves me, but just indicitive of a toddler being a toddler and life being hard and unsettling and even a little confusing. Still, it's easy to take things a little too personally and, perhaps, that's one of the hardest parts of motherhood: the vulnerability. We love these little human beings so much that we're acutely aware of just how much they can hurt us. We love them anyway, though, because that's what it means to love someone unconditionally.