The wrestling meet was going into its third hour.
It had been 12 hours since my son had been home, which makes for a very long day. I was worried he might be tired and hungry and I wondered if he had been drinking enough water, because, well, I always worry.
So, I decided I would go make a quick “check in” with my son before his team was up to compete
I ventured off the packed gymnasium bleachers and over to where his team was waiting to take their place near the mats. My son greeted me with a smile of embarrassment, a quick side hug and a “Hey mom.” With all the other boys sitting around him, I knew he was feeling awkward about me being there, so I quickly ran through my list of questions. “Are you doing okay? Are you hungry? Did you drink enough water? Are you tired? You sure you’re okay?”
My kid responded with a hint of annoyance, but respectfully complying with my need to know that my baby was doing okay. “Yeah mom, no, yes, no …Yeah, mom, I’m fine.”
It was enough to appease me.
But, being the mama bear that I am, I began to say hi to his teammates and check on them too. I knew their mamas would appreciate it. My son, not so much. He grew even more uncomfortable with my presence and said, “Okay mom, you can go back now.” I knew I had been pushing my luck sticking around and talking to the other boys, and my son politely and assertively told me so. I smiled and wished them all good luck and turned to walk away.
Right then, my son reached out to pat my arm with his gentle way of saying “I know you care, but get outta here” and as he did, he sweetly said, “Love you, mom.” I responded immediately with “I love you too, honey” as my heart was beaming with joy from hearing him say those words.
I walked away from the team through the crowded gymnasium to find my seat back on the bleachers and little did he or anyone know, I was near tears feeling such intense gratitude for my son, who always tells me he loves me.
He tells me he loves me in front of anyone- his wrestling team, his soccer team, his cross-country team, his friends, my friends, his coaches, and teachers. It doesn’t matter who is with him, no matter where we are, anytime we part ways, he ends with “I love you, mom.”
And I’m constantly amazed and surprised by this gift I get to receive regularly from my sweet son.
What’s more impressive to me is how he says it. There is such confidence in his words and genuineness in his feelings. I often find myself near tears after I hang up the phone or walk away after responding with “I love you too”.
Do other boys do this? I wonder.
And I think, if they don’t tell their moms they love them, my kid is setting an incredible example for them to do the same.
This habit began years ago and continues every single day. Any time we leave each other, he says “I love you, mom.” I’ll be running out the door and I hear “Love you mom!” from the basement, the bathroom, wherever he is. At the beginning of every day, when I drop him off at school and every time he goes to bed, it’s our last words to each other.
And every single time he says it, I’m washed over with the most intense joy a mother could feel. Every single time. It never gets old. It never will. It’s like a gift I get to receive over and over and over again and I cherish it because I never know when or if it will end.
Each day I wonder if this will be the day things change as he grows older and further into his teen years. Each time, I take a deep breath and soak in his words, afraid this could be the last time he says them out loud.
Will he grow more uncomfortable with telling his mom he loves her in front of other people? Will he somehow learn that doing so is a reflection of weakness, of being a “mama’s boy”? Or worse yet, will he start pulling away and his “I love you”s shift to “Ugh, mom.” Or “Whatever, mom.”
And when he falls in love, will all his “I love yous” only go to her?
I don’t know how things will unfold, but I’m hoping against all odds this never changes.
We all know old habits are hard to break, so I pray this one never does.
But if or when things change, at least I’ll have a thousand “I love you”s stored up in my heart to last a lifetime.
And I’ll dream of a time when saying “I love you” to your mom is not only acceptable for teenage boys, but it’s actually the cool thing to do.
Now, wouldn’t that be amazing?
The reality is that our society continues to send a strong message to our boys that they must be strong and stoic.
Showing signs of sentimentality or deep emotion are signs of weakness and open them up to ridicule or worse. It’s a cruel and unbearable expectation that stifles our boys’ mental health and forces them to question their ‘manhood’ when they sometimes feel sad, lonely, or any other deeply felt emotion that comes with life.
It’s a culture that needs to change in every sport, playground, school, and home.
I will never stop trying to do my part in raising a man who feels comfortable expressing his feelings.
Hearing my son tell me he loves me at his age may, in fact, be a reflection of hope, of change, of growth- of which I want more for all of our boys.
This post was contributed by Christine Carter who writes at TheMomCafe.com, where she hopes to encourage mothers everywhere through her humor, inspiration, and faith. Her work is published on several various online publications as well. She is the author of “Help and Hope While You’re Healing: A woman’s guide toward wellness while recovering from injury, surgery, or illness.”
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