It’s always unexpected the first time your child says he doesn’t love you.
“Well, I don’t love you anymore!” Big Brother yelled from the place he’d collapsed on the floor in protest. He was three years old, and crying his little eyes out. I don’t remember what my “crime” was. Possibly I’d told him he wasn’t allowed another cookie. You know, something extreme like that.
So I just nodded. “Okay,” I said.
His tears stopped. He looked up at me. “Really?”
“Yep,” I said. “If you don’t love me, there’s nothing I can do about it. It does make me feel sad, but whether you love me or not, I will always love you.” And then I turned around and started tidying the room.
Inside, I was a lot less calm. I was desperately trying to hold it together — to remind myself that he didn’t mean it. It’s not that he didn’t know what love was (he’s always been able to explain it better than I ever could!). But it was just a way to try to get his own way. Just like when he went through that phase of banging his head on the floor. When that happened, I ignored it and refused to acknowledge his behaviour affected me at all. He stopped eight (long) days later.
I was determined the “I don’t love you” thing would be no different.
So I tidied the room as though I was completely unconcerned by what he’d said.
Less than three minutes later, an arm snaked around my leg and a tear-stained face looked up at me. “I’m sorry, Mummy. I really do love you. I love you so much.” And then he started to cry again, but this time the sobs were heart-breaking.
I crouched down and wrapped my arms around him. “Thank you, Sweetheart. I love you, too.”
It’s been a couple of years. Every now and then, Big Brother gives it another try. But yesterday there was a new incarnation.
“Mummy,” Big Brother said from the back seat of the car. “I really love Little Brother. And I love Daddy.”
“That’s lovely,” I said. With a smile, I added, “What about me?”
He considered a minute and then said, “I do love you… But not as much as I love Little Brother.”
And, you know what? I’m okay with that.