What’s love got to do with it?

“Do you love me?” I ask my kids.

Talk about asking a stupid question!

Because the obvious answer is yes, right? Well it should be! Those dear children who we care for day and night, we tell them we love them, we stroke them and hold them and curb our tempers and make birthday cakes with love and care just for them… right?

Not my kids…

Perhaps I was letting myself in for it. But you see, I couldn’t help myself! I wanted to hear it from their own little mouths. I wanted to hear how treasured and adored and all round lovely this exhausted mama was. Just to make it all worthwhile. I had just witnessed a friend’s child break off from playing to come and tell her mum how much she loved her. I tell my kids how much I love them so frequently that my son says “I know that, you tell us all the time”, his tone of voice says, Duh, tell me something I don’t know!

So I ask, sure of the response.

“No!” comes the answer from the 3-year-old. “But I love the baby”… this is the baby who she tried to push down the stairs only minutes earlier, who, on a daily basis is slapped, throttled, pushed, pinched and bitten. Oh!

“Are you sure?” I wheedle. Never particularly endearing, begging to be loved by your children… “No,” she asserts “because you’re stupid!”

Ah, great, wasn’t expecting that! Ego definitely deflated now!

“What about you?” I ask my 5-year-old, “Do you love mummy?”

“No!” he says

He was my safe bet, my affectionate little boy. “Are you sure?”

He thinks long and hard, looking at my face. One thumb goes up, the other down.

“Sometimes yes, sometimes no.”

OK we’re getting somewhere. “When don’t you love me?”

“When you don’t let me watch TV or when I want to play LEGO and you say we have to go out…”

“And when do you?” He lists the opposite.

“So you loving me is about what I do?” He nods. How unconditional, I think sarcastically…But then I think of my own feelings. I feel love for my children when they are doing what I want, I don’t feel it at all when they are screaming, rude, demanding, mean. I feel love for my husband when he brings me breakfast in bed or says I look nice, I don’t feel it when he hasn’t done the washing up and it’s his turn, or when he is home late… oh, woops, so much for my mature, developed unconditional love.

I ask my daughter again. This time she says… “No. But I’ll love you when I’m bigger, when I’m big like you.”

Oh how true, little wise one, it is only now, having put to bed most of my disgruntledness about my less-than-perfect parents who didn’t do this and did do the other that I didn’t like, that I am really beginning to love them…

I see that we use love as a currency, as a bribe, a manipulator, a currency, an ego booster… “Do you love me?” we want to know… make me feel special, feel alright. “I’ll love you, if you love me” we trade with our kids and partners. We say it in the flush of passion, in the darkness of the night. But what, really does it mean?

I need you, I want you, I feel lost without you, I’m happy, I’m excited, I’m grateful, I’m scared I might lose you… all these things and more. We use I love you to bind others to us… but the old saying is true ” If you love someone, let them go, if they come back to you they are yours, if they don’t they never were.”

We speak of love, but really it is the lack of love that we feel far more, the sense of isolation, frustration, conflict with those we love… “you always hurt the one you love, the one you’d never hurt at all.” We are the meanest of all to those we are closest too… parents, kids, partners, brothers and sisters.

“What is love?” I asked my five-year-old this, so we could set our parameters to the conversation. He shrugged. “I don’t know.” And nor do I…. Love is so many intangibles. We try to define and limit it. We try to name it. To say “love is here!” But just when we think we have grasped it, it is gone…like a butterfly we cannot pin it down without killing it. We know its beauty for a moment, and it is gone. The more we try to grasp it, it eludes us. The more we are open to it, it surrounds us.

What wise children I have. They don’t brush their mama’s ego when she wants it, nor offer trite platitudes to placate her neediness. They speak their truth, which I discover is my truth too. How I love them.