“You don’t love me, Mom,” is one of the harshest sentences for us, mothers, to hear. Not only that, we want to make sure that our children know that that statement is not true, but even more so, we want to avoid the feelings this sentence brings within us. For many of us, hearing a child say we don’t love him means that we’ve failed as mothers. “If he can’t be sure of my love, then I probably did something wrong”. And then the mommy guilt, and the shame, would do the rest of the [painful] work.
Want to know what to say when your child says “you don’t love me”? Read on…
Where does Your Child End? Where do You Begin?
If you’ll think about it, your initial reaction is probably somewhere in the lines of “oh, that’s not true!” and then you go off explaining whatever happened and why your child might be thinking that they’re feeling this way. But, Mom, don’t do that. Telling someone their feelings are wrong is classical gaslighting. We can’t, ever, attend to the experience of another. Telling someone they have their feelings wrong tells them that there will forever be someone who knows better than them, even when it comes to their feelings.
You’re here because you want to raise children who trust themselves and who trust their hearts; children who know when their needs are met and when they aren’t, and who actively strive for the meeting of their needs.
When you tell your child that “you’re wrong, mommy loves you to the moon and back”, you’re saying this to soothe your aching heart, to make yourself feel better at the presence of your child’s feelings. Easing your pain is a blesses action, and there’s a time and place to soothe your heart, but not as a response to your child’s statement.
When we react to anything our children say, we want to make sure that we respond to what they’re sayings from their perspective, not from ours. This is the work of empathy.
How We Got Empathy Wrong
Studies from the entire psychological range show the effects empathy has on the human soul, on relationships, and of course – on raising children. When our loved ones emphasize with us, we feel seen and heard; we feel validated, respected for our needs and feelings, and accepted for who we are in that given moment. When our loved ones empathize with us, we get the chance to learn who we truly are, what matters to us, what moves us. The problem is that the way empathy is depicted and used is not real empathy.
Ask any parenting coach (anyone but me), and they’ll tell you that an empathetic response would be something like, “you don’t feel mommy loves you right now? I get it. You must feel so sad…”
This response is like a kick in the stomach for a little person who’s just learning what this world is all about. When we think of empathy, we think of assuming the other person’s feelings and then stating that we get it. But that makes it all about us, leaving the other person’s feelings in the dark. This response does not lead the child to dialogue or to feel seen and heard; it leads to a “what do you mean you get it if I don’t get it myself”? sort of feeling. It leads to confusion and loneliness. It leads to further disconnection between the two of you.
What Real Empathy is About
Real empathy takes you out of the equation. It takes your agenda out of the equation. Real empathy would never speak the pronoun “I,” talk about your understanding of matters, or even about the real world. One’s feelings don’t have to be represented in the real world to exist for that person.
If your child tells you that you don’t love him, this is what he’s feeling right now. This is HIS experience. What you think about it, whether it is true or not – all this doesn’t matter. These are issues you can (and should) think about later on and away from the situation.
Right then and there, when your child tells you that he doesn’t feel loved by you, he’s giving you the key to his soul. Use it right, and you’ll learn how to connect to your child in ways you’ve never known before.
What to Say When Your Child Says “You Don’t Love Me”
Remember, empathy is not about you. You have nothing to do with it. So take off your shoes (that are screaming in pain), and put on his shoes (that are screaming his own pain), and then – go deep. Real deep.
“You don’t feel that I love you right now?
How does it feel when you tell yourself that I don’t love you? Are you feeling scared?
Where else do you feel that I don’t love you?
Can you remember another time when you felt this way”?
Depending on your child’s age and feedback, go wherever your heart tells you. Learn what his experience is, and why.
How I Respond When Ilay Tells Me I don’t Love Him
The other day, Jonathan and I had a rare “fight” with Ilay about brushing his teeth and going to bed. He usually never protests either, but that day he was screaming and crying that he would not brush and that we don’t love him. We laid off the brushing and started asking questions. “You don’t feel that we love you right now,”? I asked. “Daddy,” he answered”. “Daddy doesn’t love you right now,”? I asked. Then he looked at me and said, “but why does daddy have to go play basketball every day”???
A few minutes earlier, Jon had told Ilay that he’s going to play basketball. That didn’t sit right with Ilay; he probably needed a bit more daddy time, or even merely the knowledge that daddy was there. If we were to keep the conversation on the level of brushing, we would end up fighting and going to sleep sad and disconnected. But with a little question and the openness of the heart, we got down to the real issue, solved it, brushed, and went to bed happily.
What Comes After Empathy?
If your child is cooperative and verbal, you’d be able to flip the coin and start asking questions in the other direction (after you’ve given the unpleasant feeling enough empathy).
“When do you feel loved by me?
What is it that I do that makes you know that I love you?
What would you like me to do more to feel more secure of my love for you”?
Feelings are not to be Feared
Get to know your child; get to know his heart. Don’t fear his words, and don’t fear his feelings. All he’s trying to do is to communicate to you that he’s experiencing some unmet needs. If you’re consistent and transparent in your intentions for a while, you can say goodbye to fights and power struggles; you can say goodbye to aggression and anger.
All these are messengers of unmet needs, and the longer needs remain unmet – the stronger become the messengers.
I hope you learned from this article on what to say when your child says “you don’t love me”. If this is your first time visiting my blog, let me introduce myself 🙂 My name is Viki; I’m a mother, a wife, positive psychology and mindfulness geek, and an expert on positive communication with children. I’m a parent coach, and I devote my life to parents who are eager to parent from the heart and live a family life of compassion and cooperation.
If, however, you know me by now, and you’re here because you’ve received this link with my newsletter, I want to ask you a question. What are you waiting for?
If you’re seeking change – I’m right here for you, and it’s about time you contact me (vikidelieme at gmail dot com) and start living the family life that you want to live.
Can’t wait to meet you 🙂