The Powerful Daily Words that Matter Most
By Nikkya Hargrove
Bedtime is always a struggle in my house with 7-year-old twins. As they get older, they’ve learned, rather intelligently, how to squeeze out a little more time before bed with me. There are many stories they have to share, many of them are random and are clouded by their exhaustion like “When you were born in the ’80s, were there bike helmets?” Why they need to know the answer to this question, as I tuck them into bed, I have no idea. It’s taken me a little while to realize the true reason they prolong bedtime. It is because each night, without fail, I give each of them a kiss on the forehead and say “I love you.” Every single night. Because I want them to know they are loved, for who they are just as they are. My words matter to them and to me.
Saying I love you didn’t always come naturally to me. As a child, I heard the words less frequently than I would have liked from people who didn’t have the gallon-sized love I needed as a child. I promised myself that the very moment I became a mother, I would give my kids the words that comforted me when I heard them. I got into the routine of saying it so much so that now I feel uneasy if I don’t say the words to those I love.
Saying I love you to my kids especially, and often multiple times a day, matters to me. I hope it matters to them too. As parents, we know the power our words have to both build up our kids or break them down and it’s the latter I hope we all can avoid. When we want to teach our kids how powerful words can be, saying “I love you” helps. It teaches them that they are valued. It reassures them that they have a sense of security. It reminds them that they too have love to give and can say those three little words more easily.
Three little words carry so much weight. They build and nurture relationships. There is a safe space in the room, in the air, when the words linger for just a moment. It also gives us (and our kids) the ability to be vulnerable. To not expect anything in return, except to consider what was said to them, especially when it comes from the heart. It is important for me to role model how to safely and in a purposeful way express love. I create a safe space for them to share their words, their feelings in a meaningful way, and why it matters. I too am learning or rather relearning how powerful these words can be. After I put them to bed, not always, but sometimes, I think about my childhood and my interactions with my caregivers.
In my household as a child, we did not handle words the way that I choose to handle them in my household with my kids or family today. My wife and I show our kids when we are angry or sad or some feeling in between…and if we don’t know what we are feeling we say that to them too. In my household, when an adult had feelings, big feelings about something, the kids didn’t necessarily know why. But when adults were mad, we knew, we heard it and we felt it. When we heard the words “I love you,” it was something to be held onto in fear of losing it at some point, the feeling, the security of their words. And, that is what I never want my kids to question.
I never want them to wonder if they are loved. Or if their behavior or mistake or trophy or if they win their soccer game will in any way change the love I have for them. When I tell them every morning before they go to school and every night before they close their eyes that I love them, they know it and can feel it. They can be reminded of my love for them when they open their lunch boxes and find a note from me reminding them of the same “Remember how beautiful you are and how much you are loved!” I imagine someday in the not-so-distant future, they will want me to stop putting little notes in their lunch boxes. I know they will never tire of hearing me say to them: I love you.
Nikkya Hargrove is an alum of Bard College and a 2012 Lambda Literary Fellow. She has written for the The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Taproot Magazine, Elle, and more. Her memoir, Mama: A Black, Queer Woman’s Journey to Motherhood, is forthcoming from Algonquin Books. She lives in Connecticut with her one son and two daughters and is a staff writer for Scary Mommy. Learn more at https://www.nikkyamhargrove.com.
So true. Perfect.