At the local card store on Saturday, the crowd was three deep as customers choose Valentine cards for loved ones from granny to the dog. In the section filled with cards “To Mom,” most of the shoppers were under-13. Not too many 20-somethings looking in the parents section, even on a holiday that generates $16 billion in sales.
While we don’t expect Valentine cards from our adult children (although dark chocolate is always welcome), that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t like to occasionally hear those three magic words: “I love you.” Not a tossed off “love you” or a “xoxo” in a text, but a heartfelt, sincere declaration.
Of course, in some homes, “I love you” is spoken like a daily prayer. In others, love is expressed through actions—from helping each other to gifts—rather than words.
So what’s the big deal? Don’t we know our children love us? After all, they come to visit (or move back in), call us, join us at restaurants (and even pay sometimes), and bestow birthday and holiday gifts. Why do we need to hear those words? And what about the flip side: Do they need really to hear those words from us? Haven’t we shown them love in innumerable ways, starting with midnight feedings (bottles) to midnight feedings now (food in the fridge or the grandbaby)? Don’t actions speak louder than words?
Yet, we all like to hear those magic words. To find out why—and how to say them—we consulted a love guru, Dr. Diana Kirschner, a New York psychologist and author of “Sealing the Deal: The Love Mentor’s Guide to Lasting Love.” In a recent Wall Street Journal article she explained how to express affection to friends at work too.
We chatted with Dr. Kirschner last week:
Q. Why do many of our adult children find it hard to say “I love you, mom”?
A. Adult children are very wary of regressing and acting like your little child again. They want respect and equality. Also they may not realize that you want to hear them express their love.
Q. Does texting count?
A. With texting you don’t get the full experience because you’re not physically present and you need someone’s presence and full attention for your brain to release oxytocin, the bonding hormone.
Q. So how do you get them to say those words?
A. No one can read your mind so you have to use positive shaping talk. People need to be taught how to express love and it doesn’t matter whether it’s your adult child or a romantic partner. You need to say “I would really love it if you told me that you loved me. That would make me so happy” or “I would really love it if you told me…” and then insert what you want to hear.
Q. What’s the best way to verbalize your affection to your adult child?
A. Don’t pinch their cheek! You don’t want to infantilize them. What you do is preface the “I love you” with a compliment such as “I admire you because …” Or “I respect you so much because…” and then add “I love you” to get that message across. You don’t have to do it that often; just when the time feels right.
Q. Why is it important to express our love to our adult children? Don’t they know that?
A. The child may not understand how deep your feelings are. You never know what can happen as we get older with health issues and just the uncertainty of life. And, expressing love uplifts your mood and is good for your physical health too.
And if it’s still hard, send an e-card today!