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Explaining Love to a 12 Year Old

Kids can't imagine the the depth of what love can be. So they focus on what they understand which can be the visual and superficial. It doesn't make her feelings any less real to her. Dismissing them will only make her reluctant to share them again.
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Beautiful Love shape hands - heart on yellow field and blue sky
Beautiful Love shape hands - heart on yellow field and blue sky

An interesting conversation spawned from a moment I thought was innocuous. It reminded me of that parents and children see the world from different perspectives. My wife said something and I rolled my eyes at her. My intent was not to be mean or vicious but rather it was to say, "OK, OK. I get it." I'm vulnerable enough to admit there were better ways to handle my mild frustration.

My 12 year old became upset and said, "You guys are always grumpy lately." We were both taken aback by her comment because our relationship is wonderful. It's full of joy and laughter. I had told my wife I love her ten times in the hour I had been home. We aren't perfect we always try to make things better, together.

We took the opportunity to talk about it why she was feeling this way. We can all be selective about the cues we choose to focus on. This is one of those cases. Kids can't imagine the the depth of what love can be. So they focus on what they understand which can be the visual and superficial. It doesn't make her feelings any less real to her. Dismissing them will only make her reluctant to share them again.

It's also important to point out that she's lost a mom. And a family. Her biological mother and I separated about a year and half before she died. She committed suicide after a long struggle with bipolar disorder. It's only natural that a kid that has been through that would be sensitive to the slightest perceived disruption in peace and harmony.

We talked about how love doesn't have to look like what she thinks it looks like. There are infinite possibilities and Disney didn't create them all. We talked about how we have a million interactions a day - almost all wonderful. We talked about how people disagree and that's OK and healthy. When we challenge each other we grow as people, partners and parents. Finally, we explained that our love and respect for each other underpins everything, even our disagreements.

She wasn't satisfied with any of these answers and she made that quite clear. Her and her sister went upstairs to put laundry away. What can I say? They are great kids :)

But I couldn't leave it at that. I wanted them to understand more of what love means to me. I went upstairs and we sat down and I told them I was going to try to explain what it meant for me to love their mom.

"I used to have a really big problem with alcohol. You know that. But what you don't know is why I stopped. I stopped because Mommy helped me see what I was doing. She believed in me when I didn't believe in myself. She loved me enough to convince me that I could be better. A better dad and a better husband, friend and son. And she never gave up on me. Think about what it would mean to you if someone loved you that much.

"You know all this stuff I'm doing? Speaking, writing, getting a book published, helping people...all of that? I love it and I'm so, so excited about it all. I'm doing it because Mommy helped me see all the possibilities around me. She helped me start to believe that I was capable of doing great and wonderful things. She taught me how to see opportunities instead of obstacles. She helped change the way I look at the world. Try to imagine how that makes me feel about Mommy.

"And, she was happily willing to become your mom and she loves you so,so much. She has made me a better person and changed my life for the better, forever. I'm a better everything because of her and I am so grateful. I have never felt this way about another human being. Ever. And it feels incredible. That's what my love for mommy is. Love isn't always easy and it's different for everyone. But I love loving mommy and I love loving you. So don't get too hung up on the odd eye roll. :) "

I think they got it.