The Twists, The Turns

Mommy? Do you love me?”


I cringe. Not because I hate the question, but because I hate she has to ask it.


I used to ask my mom the same thing, over and over again, every day, and I never received a satisfactory answer. Seems my daughter isn’t either.


I’d always thought my mom was too guarded, too closed, too unaffectionate to give me the love I craved, but now I’m beginning to think my constant need for reassurance were — is it possible? genetic.


As a child, I was painfully unsure of my lovableness, much like I am now. I was raised by a mom who was underconfident herself and a dad who made sport of teasing us. He didn’t mean any harm, but he didn’t affirm me, so busy was he poking and pushing my buttons.


I overcompensate with my own children. I slather love on them daily. I snuggle, kiss, hug and rock. I’m often reprimanded by my oldest that I’m “smooshing her,” but I can’t help it. I love my kids something awful. But some days, I think it’s more about me, than them. I crave overt validation, I push and push as if I can force them to love me back.


Either way, despite my best efforts at constant loving, my four-year-old is as I was, or am.


So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to where and how we end up these days. What makes us who we are, what we become, that kind of thing. It’s nothing new, but now with two children of my own, I am painfully aware that every little thing can have an impact on them. And that despite everything we do, sometimes a trait is just imprinted in our DNA.


Like I said, I always imagined I was a product of my environment. Up until recently, I believed with every fiber that I didn’t get enough love as a child. But after hearing Toots ask me the same question — Do you love me? — that I did as a kid (and still do as an adult, God help me), I think maybe despite my far-reaching validation and daily affirmation of her beauty, her lovability, her herness, just maybe, she’s going to be like me.


And I hate it. I don’t want that for her. I want her to be comfortable in her skin. To not need to be loved, or at the very least, to not care. To be herself and let the chips fall where they will. To be confident and secure. My heart breaks when I see myself in her. Other things — my love for the spooky, my crazy imagination, my empathy — she can keep. But that insecurity? I want to break it wide open, scatter the pieces to far corners, sweep them up and throw them the hell away.


It’s not as if she sees my insecurity. I’m not a role model for it. First of all, I’ve come a long way, and feel much stronger and valid than ever before. Secondly, I’m hyper aware that what she sees is what she does. I never let her see me doubt myself or question my right to be loved. Rather, I conduct these things in secret. Sure, I bet some of it seeps through and she picks up on it, but my husband cancels so much out. He’s just as loving as I am, and our girls have no reason to wonder if we love them.


So why is Toots asking?


I pore over photos of her. Looking for something. So many pictures show a girl with a thousand-mile-stare, an intensity a four-year-old shouldn’t know. I remember this girl. I am this girl. And perhaps I should be thankful that she has a guide, a mom who understands. I can downplay the doubts, pump up the confidence, minimize the thoughts that plague her. Or maybe let them play out, and continue to love her as I do, and know it all turns out OK.


Because it does. And she shall.


Toots in repose


20 Responses to “The Twists, The Turns”

  1. first, we have the same parents. and i’m not just saying that. i really mean it. my mom never really seemed to “like” being mom, and i my dad lived to give me shit.

    i, too shower my children with affection. but i also see my mom come out in me a lot of the time. the times when it’s HARD to love them… the whining, the bottle-washing, the laundry, the constant clutter of the house. you know what i’m talking about.

    my 4 1/2 yr old son asks me “do you love me?” on occasion and it breaks my heart. what am i doing wrong? is it in HIS DNA too? WTF can i do to turn him into the unflawed human being i want him to be?

    love you, deb. rock on.

  2. With those blue eyes and that smile, I can’t imagine Toots won’t grow to have the perfect balance of humbleness sprinkled with confidence and strength.

    We all have insecurities. Some season’s in life, they’re just louder than others.

  3. Mrs Mogul says:

    I never asked my parents if they loved me. We just didnt talk like that.

    Nice photo!!

  4. i was a kid just like you. just like her. and now i’ve got one too, in Six.

    the fragility of these kinds of children breaks my heart. i want to spare them the emotional pain they’re sure to feel.

    i know.

  5. You are doing everything JUST RIGHT. She just loves hearing it because you say it so well.

  6. Myra says:

    There’s no question that Toots knows that she is loved, but who doesn’t like to hear it every now and again? You are an amazing parent. I love reading your perspective on parenting and how you handle tough questions. You are navigating through these waters so well. I think that like me, you’re intent on not repeating some of the mistakes that shaped you. I’m sure you’re accomplishing that goal.

  7. Your daughter is adorable! This photo is precious!

    I read this trying to recall the type of affection my parents showed my sister and I while we were growing up. I know that we were loved, but I don’t recall ever hearing that. Even now, we never, ever, ever tell each other we love each other, and even when I try, it just is like I’m stumbling over words that sound foreign to me.

    But that only feels that way with them. I am all over the love and the saying how much I love them when I am with my kids and husband, and even with my friends. I’m forever scooping up the boys for hugs and kisses, and I end most phone calls with my friends and we say we love each other.

    My husband has a harder time with it, and I sometimes wonder if it’s fair to chalk that up to the fact that he’s a guy and the whole ‘nature/nurture’ thing, but I do hope our sons grow up feeling secure and comfortable in hearing and expressing affection for us and others.

  8. Funny how I was just visiting this same theme tonight; I craved a certain validation and never really felt it. I’m trying to make sure my kids feel the love & satisfaction & general okayness I missed, but sometimes it does feel like I’m going overboard, smothering them.

    Your babe is darling – that gaze is really intense, huh?

  9. It’s tough to see our kids exhibit any kind of insecurity. Your girls are great. Smother away.

  10. Karen says:

    Kailtyn (16) asked me this in the car yesterday: “If I decide I just can’t stand Dad anymore and move really far away for, like, 15 years, then move back again, not in the same house but the same town, would you come hang out with me and drink coffee and stuff?”

    I said: “Are you asking me if I would stop loving you if you left?”

    Her: “Yeah, I guess so.”

    Me: “I can NEVER stop loving you, any more than I can stop breathing.”

    But I’m thinking – if she really moved away from me “for, like, 15 years” I would be dead of a broken heart before she found her way back. So, yeah, I totally understand.

  11. Kelly@SHE-POWER says:

    This post really speaks to me because my son is very sensitive and a deep thinker like I am and have always been. He is hurt easily and needs LOTS of love and attention. This used to freak me out because I would remember how hard it was for me growing up being overly sensitive and dreamy and different. I didn’t want that for him. I wanted him to be hardy and confident, the type to barrell his way through anything.

    But I’m slowly coming to see sensitivity and soulfulness is such a gift and just because our kids need more reassurance doesn’t mean they will not grow up with a healthy self esteem. The thing is that unlike you, Toots has parents who will nurture and consistently reassure her sensitive nature so she will grow up knowing her place and her worth and she will not be needy because over the coming years you will be there with your love and show her everything is okay and she will learn to meet her own emotional needs. And that will breed a strong self identity.

    Don’t worry. It’s all good.
    (BTW this is a pep talk for both of our sakes!)


  12. mandy says:

    That’s a very honest post. I suppose I fall in the “needy” category… goodness only knows why. My parents were always affectionate to me and my brother. I suppose it could be genetic. It will be interesting to see how my young ones turn out, if any inherit my propensity to ask or to wonder, “Do you love me?”

  13. I love how you are so in touch with her.

    My kids have never asked if I loved them; I never thought of it at all before reading this.

  14. ilinap says:

    This reminds me of my little one. 3-year old Deal always asks me, “Mommy, are you happy with me.” Oh, it crushes me to think he think I am not happy with him. It makes me realize how much I must yell and sound frustrated. I smother my boys with love, and it never feels like enough to truly express to them the overwhelming painful love I feel with every fiber of my being. I think they won’t understand this until they have children of their own.

  15. San Diego Momma says:

    You all made me feel so much better. Maybe I will turn out normal after all. I mean, Toots. I meant Toots…
    Yeah, that’s it.

  16. tinsenpup says:

    The question might arise from a genetic pre-disposition for insecurity, but the all important difference between you and Toots is that HER mother gives her the right answer every time and often before she even feels the need to ask and her father doesn’t inadvertently, but consistently undermine her confidence. To some extent, she is who she is, but what you do with that will make all the difference in the long term. (IMHO)

  17. Green Girl says:

    She is so adorable! I am like you–loving and hugging and ruffling hair because I don’t remember getting a lot of that and both me and my kids need it.

  18. Da Goddess says:

    Kids just ask. That’s part of who they are and the things that run through their minds. It hurts us to hear that, thinking we’ve failed them somehow. But we haven’t. They. just. ask. At some point, they stop asking and that’s actually worse.

    Sometimes, I think I overstate my affection for my son. But then again, how is that possible? I mean, I don’t say it in front of his friends or yell it across the playground. I think maybe I worry that I tell him too much because I’m afraid he’ll forget.

    Of course, OUR insecurities are the real issue here and the best we can do is provide constant affirmation of our feelings for our kids while they’re still listening and hope they understand we will always love them. And then we need to get over ourselves.

  19. Steph says:

    I think, my friend, that this is something kids just ask. Sort of like a status check, maybe? At any rate, you’re a good mom. She’ll be alright.

  20. Shelia says:

    I can relate to this struggle. I never felt like my mom loved me. I still don’t and I KNOW in my head that she does. She just doesn’t really have the capacity to love if that makes sense.

    I am nearly 43 years old (I have to start practicing saying it a few months in advance), and every night I go to bed with the intense insecurity of wondering if anyone at all loves me or sees me or cares to.

    I deal with it better, acknowledge it for the insecurity that it is, but it still haunts me.

    Toots is lucky to have you b/c you do get it, because you do SEE her, and because you do LOVE her. You two will work together to see that she grows to live securely in your love! I’m confident of that!

    Blessings on your journey. And, can I just say that SHE IS GORGEOUS!

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