My four year old is notorious for asking “meaning of life questions,” usually at bedtime, but also in the car. I’ve gotten pretty used to it, and have (more often than not) asked for a couple of minutes to think through my answer. However, even this question caught me off guard.
“Mom, why do you love me?”
My first thought was to rattle off a whole list of things I love about him; his smile, his love of bugs, how smart he is … isn’t that what we’re looking for when we ask other people “why do you love me?” I know I did that many times as a young college student to my boyfriend.
Then I remembered a sermon I had listened to earlier this year.
The pastor was explaining why God loves us and used the example of the love this pastor has for his wife. He said that he loves his wife simply because she is his wife. His love for her isn’t based on what she does, but rather who she is to him. In the same way, parents love their children simply because they are their children, not because they are obedient or smart or have cute smiles. That’s not to say we don’t have things we love about our spouses and our children, it’s just that the love for our kids can’t be increased or decreased based on action. We love them simply because they are ours.
So I explained to him, that I love him because he is my son.
I iterated a few times that there was nothing he could do to take my love away. Sensing his mild disappointment in my answer I launched into a “what I like about you” list.
I told him that I liked his smile, his kindness, and how much he loves bugs and lizards. Then I tried to explain that if his interests change (say, he likes birds next instead of bugs) that I would like those new things too. By the end of the list, he was beaming. This time, I asked him if hearing nice things about himself makes him feel loved. He enthusiastically said yes, and I explained that I’d be happy to fill his “love bucket” in that way.
Before we arrived at our destination, I explained again that nothing he can do can change my love for him.
And that there is a difference between love and like. I like that he is kind and enjoys bugs, but I love him, and love like that doesn’t change even if/when he changes his interests.
I am so glad he asks these tough questions, even though trying to navigate big concepts like unconditional love, and “love languages” with my toddler can be tough. How do you explain the intangible qualities of unconditional love? Further, how do you show your love in a way that they receive it? Both of my boys receive love differently, James prefers words and Asher prefers touch. Still, some days Asher will need loving words and James needs hugs.
I don’t think I fully understood unconditional love until I became a mom. There is literally no one else on Earth who can show their good and “bad sides” like my boys can, or need so much from me and still expect me to love them unconditionally. My husband is a close second on the unconditional love department, but that kind of unconditional love is grown over time. I loved my boys unconditionally the moment I held them for the first time.