The Cycle Continues
April 17, 2015 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Are my kids forever damaged? Can I teach them to show love?

I find as my kids are getting older and as I engage in more self-reflection, I worry for my kids’ future as young adults. Because of my behavior I fear that they will not be able to function as loving adults and will end up like me, a person who isn’t so great at vulnerability or relationships. I worry that they will be mediocre parents, like I am, and will have a hard time at life. This is probably irrational thinking but I find myself worrying about it quite a lot.

I am married for over fifteen years. We are employed, have our hobbies, pay our bills, and function fairly well. Our kids function fairly well I think. They do well in school and have extracurricular activities. They don’t have behavior problems at school. They have friends. One of our kids loves video games with a fierce passion and spends most of his free time playing games or Skyping or YouTubing. This worries me. I am afraid he doesn’t have enough interaction with “real life”. I am to blame. I never set limits on video game use because he always did well in school. Now, he gets more Bs than As. I thought of it as benign neglect, maybe it’s just neglect.

My main regret/concern is that when they were in their elementary years I didn’t show much physical affection. I would lie down with them at night and we would read almost every night and I would rub them and hug them and I regularly told/tell them that I love them, but I didn’t give a lot of hugs in the waking hours and they don’t give hugs freely. When one of their friends or family tries to hug them, it is uncomfortable for them. They kind of stand there, awkwardly. I did well in their baby years but starting in their preschool years I didn’t demonstrate physical affection like I should have. I didn’t receive a lot of hugs or encouragement as a child. I was either being ignored, ashamed of, or corrected, and I repeated that behavior with my kids to some extent. I feel like I was more equipped to be a parent than my parents were but I still lacked in many ways and didn't know what I was doing.

When I see commercials and news segments showing military parents surprising their kid at their school and there is so much love and hugs are freely being given and received, it makes me sad and regretful that I suck as a parent and I am setting my kids up to be closed-off. I know the answer is to be better, to show more love, and I do, but I fear how they show and receive love is ingrained since they will be going into the 7th and 10th grade next year. Sometimes I ask my teenager for hugs and it is very hard for him to give a sincere hug. He jokes around and squeezes me very tightly or walks away without a hug.

I also worry that my husband very rarely tells our kids that he loves them. It hardly ever happens. I don’t hear it. I have asked him about it and he gets defensive. When I was kid my parents told me that they loved me and I always responded with, “I love you, too”. When I tell my kids that I love them, they do not say that they love me. The last time my kid told me he loved me was when he was 4-years-old. How dysfunctional, I wonder. I am okay that they don’t say that they love me, but I worry for that they will not verbally express love to their partners and their children.

I am aware that this sounds like a pity-party, but I don’t feel sorry for myself or want people to feel bad for me. I take full responsibility for my behavior. This is a reap what you sow situation. I know that I cannot undo the past and I’m not crying over the past, just worried for their present and future. Usually I am optimistic about the future but lately I fear my kids will be doomed when it comes to personal relationships and self-esteem, much like how I had a difficult time for my adolescence and most of my adult years. I feel a lot of love in my heart. I love human beings and living and I have friends but I still struggle with intimacy and vulnerability. My husband and I tell one another that we love each other. We are affectionate and hug in front of the kids, but not often. In their elementary years there was a lot of minor arguing. There are a lot of things I (we) did wrong as a parent(s) – not celebrating them enough, not showing that we are proud of them enough, not telling them that they are special. I don’t “brag” about my kids and sometimes I think that is a flaw. I spent a lot of time in correction mode. I am ashamed of this a parent. I have failed them and it is incredibly unfair to them that I did not teach them how to love and to show love. Once my friend told me that my son was good at xyz, and I kind of brushed it off and she told me, “It’s okay to be proud of your kids.” I will tell them that I am proud of them, or say well done, but have a hard time with being publically proud of them or celebrating them. They have had birthday parties over the years but I never made it a big deal. I think I was worrying more if everyone else was having a good time instead of making my kid feel special.

This is a complex issue. My family was dysfunctional going way back in showing love to their kids and to their partners, and so was my husband’s. There are self-esteem issues with all involved. Our family members aren't great at doting over the kids or showing affection either. I hate that we are repeating this cycle.

Daily life is much gentler and easier nowadays, I don’t sweat the small stuff and I feel like I do less correcting and more of just living life, but they are still closed off. I think as parents we did some things right. We are employed, don’t abuse substances, and we spend a lot of time with our kids. I’m not sure how much of the times is quality time, but they are mostly happy it seems. They joke around, they smile, and they share things from their day. We talk at dinner. They like their instruments and their sports and their video games and their friends. They don’t complain about school. They go along with life relatively easily, I think. They seem content, but I can’t help to think of all of the things I did wrong and how it didn’t have to be like it was. Life could have been easier. It could have gone much differently and I hate that I messed them up. Sometimes I feel ruined and I fear that I am ruining them.

I’m not sure how to best approach the present and the future.

I would like any advice on how to move forward and if there is anything I should be saying and doing that will help them to love others more freely and feel better about themselves.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Everything you're describing sounds really, totally normal and okay and completely on the spectrum of non-dysfunctional familial affection levels. Some people are not huggers and aren't especially demonstrative of their feelings. It's okay to be like that. Based on the information you've provided here, your kids sound fine.

My advice for moving forward would be to maybe look into ways to deal with your own anxiety about this.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:25 AM on April 17, 2015 [28 favorites]

You're depressed. Go see your doctor.

The problem is your brain, not your parenting. Get your brain on the mend, and your negative feelings about your parenting skills will disappear as the blinders are removed from your eyes.
posted by juniperesque at 9:28 AM on April 17, 2015 [19 favorites]

Everything sounds totally normal for your kids, especially for teenagers. What doesn't strike me as especially normal is the amount of blame you are assigning yourself for everything. You've raised what seems to be a normal family, and no normal family is perfect. I think you need to go to a therapist or possibly a psychiatrist to control these negative thoughts.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 9:29 AM on April 17, 2015 [12 favorites]

I grew up fairly similar and feels like you're putting things like vulnerability and affection on a pedestal. Just like ANYTHING, there are pros and cons, and there's a huge amount of individuality between people no less. Some do well with more affection and cuddly behavior, some do better with a healthy amount of independence and room to grow. It CERTAINLY doesn't sound like neglect. Physical affection isn't some magical panacea that signals that your family is functional. Some families are, some families aren't. Mine was along the lines of yours, where I was given the independence to do what I wanted, and I cherish that more than anything. I don't bring my emotions into decisions I make, I can behave professionally when required, and I'm cool under pressure. If I have a problem, I can discuss it like a rational person and not turn into an emotional mess.

Am I more closed off than my husband, who grew up very close to his mom? Yes, but I'll talk when I need to and self-soothe if I know it will cause him distress. (And believe me, the whole vulnerability and "people-pleasing" thing is often a major cause of stress for him because he feels like he needs to be everything to everyone...)

Did teenager-hood suck? Yes, of course it did, it does no matter who you are. You're a weirdo if you get too huggy and share too much too, just as much as if you're a robot who doesn't talk to anyone. There's extremes of everything. They have friends, and seem well-adjusted?

You really, truly don't have to be the perfect suburban family. Talk to people - that doesn't exist.
posted by aggyface at 9:31 AM on April 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Wow, see, when I read the beginning of your post I was pretty sure you had just gotten your kids back from foster care after kicking a heroin addiction or divorcing an abusive spouse or something. Instead, you described... an utterly normal home with two parents who still love each other and kids who seem to be doing completely fine?

No shit teenage boys don't shower their mom with hugs. That doesn't mean they don't love you! It means they're teenage boys!
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:31 AM on April 17, 2015 [47 favorites]

Nthing that this sounds relatively benign. Normal even.
I also agree that you might be depressed and should take a look at that with a professional.

As for your spouse, I am a believer that you can't tell your kids enough that you love them. When he gets defensive try this: instead of telling him he hasn't told the kids he loves them enough in the past, talk to him about saying it more in the future, and what benefits that can yield.

Teenager-hood sucks and none of us escape being scarred by it. That's human nature.

I don't think you've failed them. Be careful about defining it that way. Life happens to all of us and nobody escapes and everyone dies. The best we can do while we're here is be kind to the people around us, mainly by being kind to ourselves.

A professional would very likely do a lot of good helping you put this in perspective.

Good luck.
posted by asavage at 9:45 AM on April 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

You, your kids, and your whole family sound like you are doing really well. A lot of what you described shows you've done so many things right in making your kids feel safe, secure, and loved. And you are still doing it, and learning more as you go. Well done!

I'm not going to brush off your concerns, but I will suggest you talk to a therapist who can help you see what things you can work on and what things are signs of distorted thinking and catastrophizing. Because thinking you've failed your children and they will go on to have unhappy lives and unfulfilling relationships doesn't mesh with how you've described their demeanor. It seems like you are conflating too much your feelings in childhood with your kids', and projecting things onto them that aren't necessarily true for them.

You will probably discover there are still things you can work on, as well all have those, and it's not too late to be more verbally supportive or loving or affectionate to your kids, and model that behavior for them and for your husband. Best of luck, your kids are lucky to have such a caring and thoughtful and capable parent.
posted by JenMarie at 9:48 AM on April 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is probably irrational thinking but I find myself worrying about it quite a lot.

Yeah, I think this a problem you are having with anxiety and depression, not a problem with your kids or how you parented them. The kids have friends, seem content, do well in school, joke around with you, etc. Of course, all parents can do better, but it really doesn't sound like you've made some catastrophic mistake. You should see a doctor.
posted by Area Man at 9:48 AM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Data point: I hated being touched as a kid, and my parents, respecting my boundaries and needs, didn't insist on it, and rarely demanded hugs or physical affection. I still don't spontaneously hug my mother or sister - we're just not touchy people. But I've had no problem forming loving, expressive relationships as an adult, and I have strong connections with the people I'm close to. I'm just, straight up, not a hugger, and neither are my family. It's okay.

There's a lot of black-and-white language in your post that indicates that, despite evidence that your kids are happy, healthy, content and well adjusted, you're *convinced* that you've screwed them up. Your kids sound great, and you sound like you're doing a great job as a parent, but it must feel terrible to walk around believing you've screwed up.

This is a long winded way of saying you need help for the anxiety and depression underlying this post.
posted by nerdfish at 9:53 AM on April 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

My sweety was a nanny for many years. At some point she was hired to be a caretaker for a 10 year old who'd taken a pretty severe fall (ie: ~30') and was laid up while waiting for skin to heal around the steel plates in his leg and hip and wherever. Single mom, two boys, he was the elder. She became a strong part of that family.

Two or three years after that, she came into my life, and I was welcomed into that family's life. I now get Father's Day calls from them.

Anyway, the elder, the one who broke his hip, gamed. A lot. His mom had all of the usual concerns about socialization and how he wasn't outgoing and what-not. He started asking me for help with homework, so I'd head over there in the evening. One day he called and said "hey, I'm too tired, but I have this assignment due tomorrow, can you come over in the morning?", so his mom wakes up at 6 and I'm there helping with homework. Yeah, I was involved in his life.

His mom expressed concern over the gaming, over that he appeared to have withdrawn from the world, and I kept making reassuring noises, and then one day she said "whoah, his character is getting married in-game, and all of these people are in that space, and he's got all of these friends and I had no idea!"

This is the same kid who, as he got towards the end of high school, decided he wanted a Japanese girlfriend, so he learned to speak Japanese. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if his written Korean is passable. He's a twenty something now, with a rich social life and a career and whatever, but ...

Yeah. Just because you don't see his life doesn't mean it isn't there.

At some point kids need to find their own way in the world. I remember some Jungian thing about how kids have to kill their parents, not actually, but they have to make the break and build their own social structures and their own worlds, independent of their parents expectations and dreams and involvement. We prolong the living shit out of childhood, pretty much through college, and try to make this process as easy as possible for the parents, but it isn't always simple.

Your kid's just ahead of schedule is all.
posted by straw at 9:56 AM on April 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

In many cultures it would be viewed as very strange to go around hugging and saying "I love you" all the time, even to close family members, so please don't feel like that is some universal human trait. I assure you that the entire nation of Japan is not hopelessly dysfunctional because they don't hug each other very often.

My parents rarely demonstrated a lot of outward affection towards me growing up, and hugging anyone besides my spouse is still a little weird for me as an adult, but I still love and express my feelings just fine, and I had a much more dysfunctional upbringing than you have described. You sound very upset about something that does not read as abnormal in the slightest to me, so I hope some of these answers will bring you a measure of peace.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:02 AM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

This could also just be part of your kids' disposition and not because of your parenting. I've never been very affectionate and I was always a solitary kind of person since I was a very small child. Even though I had parents who were very affectionate. To this day the only people I don't feel awkward hugging are my parents and significant others (when I have one).

And even if it did have anything to do with parenting, your children are not "doomed." If they decide this is a problem, your kids can learn and improve on even the most basic life skills as an adult.
posted by Kimmalah at 10:05 AM on April 17, 2015

When I see commercials and news segments showing military parents surprising their kid at their school and there is so much love and hugs are freely being given and received,

Those are intended to sell something. That's obvious, in the case of the commercials. In the case of the news segments, they're designed to attract viewers. The commercials are certainly scripted, the news segments may not be entirely spontaneous either. If they showed less love and hugging, it might be less effective in attracting viewers to whatever it is they want to attract them to. Don't take it as a representative sample of how other families interact, because it isn't.

I remember seeing a Lunchables commercial on TV where a kid gets so excited about finding Lunchables in his school lunch that he jumps up from his desk and dances around. Do you really think this is typical of what happens when kids find Lunchables (or anything else, for that matter) in their lunch boxes? From my experience, it isn't.

There's also the fact that military parents surprising their kid at school isn't at all the same thing as you greeting your kids when they come home. You probably saw them that morning, and they expected to see you after school. That's quite different from not seeing a loved one for many months, and seeing them unexpectedly.

It's quite common for teenagers to not want to hug their parents. Many of them associate hugging their parents with something that younger kids do, and they don't want to do anything that makes them look immature. I know I, as a teenager in the early 90's, refused to watch animated movies for a while because "they were for little kids". I didn't want to do anything that would encourage my parents to think of me as a little kid, so I didn't want to hug them. As part of this phase, they may not want you to be publicly proud of them right now. I know teenage me generally found that kind of thing extremely humiliating.
posted by Anne Neville at 10:06 AM on April 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

You're depressed. Go see your doctor.

This was my first thought also. You are being incredibly hard on yourself for minor things. They used to get A's and now they get B's? They play a lot of video games? They're awkward huggers?

Parenting is all first drafts and very little chance to edit. We're all screwing something up. I think you're kicking yourself really hard and bouncing up against an impossible standard of the love shown in YouTube videos watched by hundreds of thousands or millions of people. If that were so ho-hum every day nobody would be watching it. Yay for them, seriously, but that's not the standard upon which to judge your parenting.

Also I'm not a hugger, either. But I live in Liberal Town, USA where everyone else is a casual hugger and I just suck it up and go through the motions so I don't look like a jerk.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:22 AM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think you should talk to someone because you're describing a fairly normal family, and your view of this could use therapeutic input because you do seem skewed and possibly depressed.

And I strongly hope that you're IN NO WAY passing this "I failed you as a parent" message to your kids, because THAT wouldn't be a good thing to do to them.
posted by kinetic at 10:30 AM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just want to give you a hug. You're a great parent. You care about your children and you were there for them when they were small. You love them, you're looking out for them, and you reflect on your own behavior towards them. You are and were doing your best. I'm sorry your own parents didn't give you the support and love you should have had to help you prop yourself up now that you're watching your kids pull away and start becoming young adults.

Also, military parents and kids are having a tearful reunion because they don't get to see each other for months during a deployment. This is an apples and oranges thing. My 2 year old could give a shit sometimes when I walk into the house after not seeing him for 10 hours because Mater and Lightning McQueen are yukking it up on the iPad. You're fine.

Hugs hugs hugs.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 10:39 AM on April 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Fwiw, I don't think there's anything "off" or "abnormal" about the situation you're describing. It sounds pretty common. So I don't think you should beat yourself up about the past.

But, it doesn't feel right to you now. And that's the crux of the issue. So if you want to make a change, I suggest talking with your kids about it. Start lightly. Talk to them one on one. Have a conversation about how you were raised, and how you've been thinking you might like things to be different between the two of you (for each of your children).

You might ask "Would it be okay if we hugged a little more often?" You may slip in an "I love you" or more casually "love you buddy" during these hugs. You may wish to re-introduce 5 minutes of quiet time in the evening with each child before they go to bed.

A relationship takes in the input of both parties. You may find that one or the other of your children are more responsive. You may find that it takes a while to see any change. And I think it's important to remember that teenagers and pre-teens are in the developmental stage of separating from their parents, so they may not respond with hugs or "I love you's" at all.

But they will remember the fact that you are making an effort, that you are being demonstrative, and when they get a little older and past all of that weird teenager I-don't-want-to-be-around-my-parents stuff, that they will surprise you and begin to be demonstrative. Or, even if you don't see too much of it between the two of you, in the future you may very well see them being way more demonstrative with their kids, because they learned it from you and it has been normalized for them.

I think you should leave your husband out of it. Don't nag him about his relationship with his kids. You are not in that. He may see you modeling this behavior and come around himself. Or he may not. But either way, it's between him and his kids.

But the kids will still be learning it from you. And they will be learning that relationships grow and change, that they don't have to be stagnant. That they don't have to continue doing things a certain way because "that's the way we've always done it".
posted by vignettist at 11:20 AM on April 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

One more thing; I do think you should check in with yourself and see if some of this about your kids starting to separate more. If your older son will be going into 10th grade, that's not too far away from college age. Are there some beginnings of empty-nest thoughts here? Some fears around that? It's worth thinking about, and talking to someone about if it seems like it might be true.

And, as much as I hate to say it, are there some hormonal shifts going on for you? Have you talked with your doc about the possibility of the on-set of menopause? Because our hormones can have such a powerful influence on how we perceive things in our life. It might be worth having a think about that too.

Even if one or both of those things are true, there's still plenty of time to make changes in your relationships if you feel that would take them in a more positive direction.
posted by vignettist at 11:31 AM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

+1 to all the 'everything seems mostly normal, in Modern American Life' above with "Sometimes I feel ruined" the only thing that sticks out (well, and the length of your anxiety)

You have not ruined your children, nor are you ruined. If you feel that way, even occasionally, that is likely something a therapist or even your PCP can probably help with.

Remember to take deep breaths sometimes :)
posted by Jacen at 12:16 PM on April 17, 2015

The best thing you can do to demonstrate love to your children is to demonstrate love for yourself. Forgive yourself. You did the best you could with the resources you had available at the time. Put your focus on the small, positive changes that you can make now.
posted by aniola at 1:26 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just to chime in, I grew up in a super affectionate huggy, love you-love you too, home. Me and my sister did. I love and thrive on affection and she absolutely hates hugs and expressing any kind of lovey emotion (though she is very lovable and loves on people in different ways.) We were brought up in the same house but you'd never know! My boyfriend on the other hand sounds similar to your household--not much physical affection, I've only heard "I love you" on birthdays or long goodbyes. It took a while for us to adjust to our styles, but now he's an affectionate powerhouse just from it rubbing off from me.

So, I just want to say even though you might not have been the pinnacle of affection for your kids, that doesn't always determine how they come out and you shouldn't blame yourself for these things. People still learn and grow and adapt after childhood!
posted by buttonedup at 2:38 PM on April 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

You are doing just fine! But it sounds like you want to find a way to connect with your kids a bit more. That can be so hard with teenagers. But here are some ideas off the top of my head:

1. Go camping somewhere with no phone signal, no electronics. Let them pick the destination.
2. Ask them if there is somewhere in town or a nearby city they have been wanting to go, and go together. Maybe a new museum, restaurant, arcade, park, anything.
3. Play video games with them. Really. They may roll their eyes at first but they may enjoy it!
posted by mai at 2:43 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

And, as much as I hate to say it, are there some hormonal shifts going on for you? Have you talked with your doc about the possibility of the on-set of menopause? Because our hormones can have such a powerful influence on how we perceive things in our life. It might be worth having a think about that too.

This occurred to me also, but I didn't say it, because I was afraid it was dismissive. I've got some hormonal things going on with me now that are messing with me -- I know this -- I know my brain isn't totally trustworthy and I have to get outside reality checks from my husband on a not-infrequent basis.

The reason I didn't mention this, and the reason I often don't mention such things, is out of fear they reflect poorly and unfairly on women. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. When a man beats the shit out of another man, or declares war, or invades a country, or enters into a conference call pissing contest, or fires some guy for taking photos in the middle of a meeting, nobody goes 'Hormones. I don't think he's thinking straight. That makes no sense.'

But I think that shit accounts for an awful lot, and our social agreement that women might be knocked around by hormones but men are not does no one any good. I think men *are* knocked around by hormones, and we don't attribute it to that. We attribute it to natural competitiveness, masculinity, 'you need brass balls' (I mean, how telling is that?)

So I think it would be nice to offer up the possibility that for all of us occasionally our brain's chemicals feed us some bullshit.

You might be privately having a reckoning with your childhood, and looking back upon your history and parenting. If so, that's understandable and I hope that you get comfort out of all of the people telling you that you're normal.

But I wanted to offer this up as a possibility in agreement with Vignettist, that it's not some great undercurrent of female shame to say that maybe sometimes hormones matter.

Furthermore, it's not either/or. Every single thing that you mention and consider might have fundamental truth to it, it's the despair that goes along with it that might be suspect. So it's not that the brain is lying, exactly, it's that the subsequent processing could be distorting things into something much harder to process.

Sorry if this has zero to do with you; just disregard, I could be projecting. But you do seem to really be beating yourself up awfully hard and I think it's worth taking a look at, or at least considering.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:23 PM on April 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

It sounds like your kids are likely to grow up and be like you: Loving, well-adjusted adults who worry about not being affectionate enough with their kids. This is practically a tradition in many families.
posted by General Tonic at 7:30 AM on April 18, 2015

I agree -- this all sounds normal and the issue is more with anxiety and depression. You can always grow as a person and as a parent. Even as an adult, I found that changes by my parents help me grow and change. But I don't think changes coming from this anxious and depressed mentality will be good for anyone. I'd work to feel better and work on your own growth and over time that will also benefit your sons.
posted by salvia at 10:07 AM on April 18, 2015

I'm not going to brush off your concerns, but I will suggest you talk to a therapist who can help you see what things you can work on and what things are signs of distorted thinking and catastrophizing. Because thinking you've failed your children and they will go on to have unhappy lives and unfulfilling relationships doesn't mesh with how you've described their demeanor. It seems like you are conflating too much your feelings in childhood with your kids', and projecting things onto them that aren't necessarily true for them.

I agree. I don't think you've ruined your kids, plenty of families are non-demonstrative but still love each other, and that's what this sounds like to me. But only you truly know your situation and its finer details, and I think talking through it with a therapist can help you narrow down the things you can work on externally (i.e. developing new behaviors with your kids) and things you can work on internally (i.e. managing your anxiety about this), and how to start work on those things. If you're employed and have health benefits, check to see if they offer some counseling sessions -- some plans provide access to an "employee assistance program" designed to help employees through personal problems and connect them to the right resource for longer-term help if needed.

And, as much as I hate to say it, are there some hormonal shifts going on for you? Have you talked with your doc about the possibility of the on-set of menopause? Because our hormones can have such a powerful influence on how we perceive things in our life. It might be worth having a think about that too.


So I think it would be nice to offer up the possibility that for all of us occasionally our brain's chemicals feed us some bullshit.

Also this. Again, only you know the finer details here. But I'm noticing that recent hormonal shifts are doing weird things to my emotions and my thought patterns and honestly sometimes it's a weird k-hole of anxiety and self-recrimination. Everyone's brains do weird things when the hormone balance changes. It's just something to consider, disregard if it doesn't apply.
posted by palomar at 11:23 AM on April 18, 2015

As you look to the future, you don't have to start more hugging and "I love you"s. You can do other things to show that you love them and are proud of them.

My favorite is to catch them being good, and make a specific appropriate comment: Thanks for taking out the trash/helping your sister with her homework. Good job at the game today - you really hustled to catch that ball in the third inning.

You could also ask for their help with something they are good at - computers, games, exercise, whatever.

Occasionally leave a small trinket or treat on their bed to thank them for something or just because you love them.

Treat them with respect and dignity, and they'll figure out that you love them, no matter whether you say the words or hug them.
posted by CathyG at 4:46 PM on April 18, 2015

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