“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.