How were you shown you were loved as a kid?
April 3, 2019 3:16 PM   Subscribe

How were you shown, as a child (up to, say 18ish), that you were loved? Besides saying “I love you,” were there things that your family (or other important adults in your life) did to show you that you were loved and appreciated?

I didn’t have the best family growing up and always thought it was cool when other kids’ families would go to IHOP every week or send a note on the napkin in their packed lunch. I didn’t really get that sort of thing, so I’m curious what being loved looked and felt like for other kids. No gesture too big or too small, and can be material or not. Thanks!
posted by stillmoving to Human Relations (53 answers total) 129 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I love this question! There are some things my parents and grandparents did for me growing up that I do for my son, and will continue to do throughout his childhood:

1. Always pick him up from school/ activities on time - I'll be waiting for him when he gets out
2. Celebrate end-of-school-term, academic milestones, achievements that he's really proud of himself for, i.e., milestones other than birthdays, by going out to dinner
3. Apologize if I've been impatient or have been too harsh or have genuinely made a mistake in implementing consequences for him
4. Occasional spontaneous treats waiting for him when he gets home from school - a little toy or book on his pillow
5. Making an effort to cook food he likes to eat
6. Soliciting his opinion on things like what to do on a Saturday morning and then actually doing the thing(s) if they are reasonable, or, if we're not doing what he asked to do, explaining to him why we're not able to it.
7. Going to his favorite food place after extracurricular activities
8. Friday dinner or Sunday dinner out
9. Encouraging him to have friends over
10. As he gets older, trusting his decision making for himself
posted by Everydayville at 3:33 PM on April 3, 2019 [22 favorites]

Best answer: before i was old enough to go to school, my dad would take me to lunch at Orange Julius on a weekday.
just the two of us.
any one-on-one time with a parent was very special in a four-kid family.
posted by calgirl at 3:39 PM on April 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: What a nice question. I had a pretty epically bad childhood but, even so, I was shown love in sweet ways.

Out playing in the yard as a little girl, my mom would bring me a plate of orange slices and tell me they were little sailboats.

The year I was into dolphins, she sewed me a stuffed one for my birthday.

For a while she would tuck love notes into my lunchbox.

When I started hitting puberty, my grandma bought me copies of teen magazines like Seventeen, Teen, etc.

My grandpa would take me to look for stuff at the beach, or to watch the planes take off at the airport (he was dying of cancer and there was no money, so these were the entertainments that were possible).

And very importantly, as I started becoming a teenager, my mom was always very admiring of my looks, praised my fashion choices, told me I was cool, etc., so that despite being maybe only slightly above average, I’ve always felt basically okay about my appearance.
posted by HotToddy at 3:41 PM on April 3, 2019 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Supporting my interests even if they didn't share them. I was a big reader but neither of my parents were. But I owned hundreds of books, was brought to the library regularly, etc.

We lived on the outskirts of town; there was a lot of driving me around that I didn't even realize till many years later was probably a huge pain in the butt, because my parents never seemed put out by it.

This is a small thing, but my family's pretty physically affectionate. Sitting on the couch, my feet might be in my mom's lap. Standing next to each other at a workbench, we might sway back and forth and bump our hips.

Expressing enthusiasm and pride at my accomplishments, not just big wins, but, say, joining the high school literary magazine, having the teacher praise my essay in class, getting a part time job at the grocery store. Just basic steps into the world, they were genuinely and proportionally happy for me.
posted by gideonfrog at 3:42 PM on April 3, 2019 [14 favorites]

Best answer: My mom used to help me fall asleep by talking me through what was essentially progressive muscle relaxation.
My grandpa wrote all his grand kids' birthdays on a calendar attached to his fridge. We'd each get a $20 check on our birthdays and an index card that said "Happy Birthday".
My dad said "I'm proud of you." when we brought home good grades.
My grandma made us our own little fruit cocktail cups during the holidays when all the adults had shrimp cocktail in fancy glasses.
posted by smuna at 3:45 PM on April 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My sister and I walked the one block from school to our parents’ office. Dad’s office was at the front of the building, and he would often get up from his desk and go to the window to wave at us as we walked, even if he was on a phone call or dictating.

My mom would rub my back when I was sick or distressed. She still does it sometimes. It feels like love.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:05 PM on April 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

Best answer: My mom once said offhandedly that she tried to make a home where we could always bring our friends without embarrassment. The house was always clean (not scary touch-nothing clean, just like "other humans may come to my dwelling" clean), there were always snacks, there were places for kids to play, and she was relaxed about minor disasters like spills and mud. She would say things like, "It's not a big deal, it was an accident, we can clean it up" and "Things are just things, they can be replaced." She also just had a real sympathy for children's concerns and worries and fears. As we got into junior high and high school my friends would go to my mom for sympathy or information.

My mom was by far the strictest of all my friends' parents (I had an early curfew, wasn't allowed to see R-rated movies until quite late, etc.), but all my friends thought she was the coolest mom because she made such a comfortable, kid-friendly home and had such sympathy for the business of childhood. Like they still talk about it on Facebook! We're 40! My mom will say something on my timeline and suddenly everyone I knew between the ages of 5 and 18 is going, "Oh, Mrs. McGee, we loved going to your house! You had the best snacks! You were so funny! You let us just hang out!" I definitely did not appreciate at the time how much work went into making a home like that, and how successful she was at it! But that's a lot of love.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:10 PM on April 3, 2019 [118 favorites]

Best answer: Hugs and kisses for hellos and goodbyes. Being “tucked in” at night. Birthday cakes to delight the celebrant. Attendance at school functions, sporting events, etc. parents paying attention to my homework, schoolwork ( in a supportive way, not a scolding way). Having meals together at a table where we all got to talk to each other. Camping trips. Supporting me in things I wanted to do, like having a paper route, or having a part time job, or being in a club.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:10 PM on April 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

Best answer: My mom always let us have pets (dogs, cats, small animals), even during times when (I now realize) it was probably significant extra strain on her, in terms of money, time, and responsibility. Similarly, she always kept us involved in extra-curriculars (I think between my brothers and me we played every sport under the sun, including horse-back riding--not cheap!) and indulged our hobbies...I am sure she went into debt making sure we always had neat toys, arts and craft supplies, books, etc. We wore nice clothes too, even when we were definitely poor. Some of this was probably to keep up appearances and made her feel better too, but I think in general she just never wanted us to "do without".
posted by lovableiago at 4:11 PM on April 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My dad sincerely got a kick out of just being around us, chatting with us, hearing our thoughts and concerns and theories about things, playing us music from his childhood and seeing what we thought, etc. He took everything we said seriously and even as little kids he treated us as smart and capable. My mom was always busy and overscheduled or on the phone chatting with people (almost like today’s parents with smartphones), but my dad just wanted to be with us and hang out. He is an older dad and is stern about other children (he doesn’t like fuss or mess) but it was very clear he just loved being with us more than anybody in the world. And he’s not openly loving at all, I don’t think he ever said “I love you” and still doesn’t.

That and having dinner as a family every night was a really important part of our childhood!
posted by sallybrown at 4:42 PM on April 3, 2019 [8 favorites]

Best answer: My parents arranged for me to have horseback riding lessons and flute lessons starting in elementary school. And drove me to them every week without fail. None of my older siblings were interested in those two things, but I was, and damn if my parents didn't do their best to make sure I got them.

And then the smaller things: "Watch out for the cars and buses. Look both ways." every morning as I left for school.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 4:50 PM on April 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: We got lots of hugs and kisses. Any toy we wanted. My mom paid for any activity I was interested in (although she usually wasn’t able to be present as far as getting me there due to long hours at work. But I took classes in piano, ballet, gymnastics, horse riding... I think she bought me a saxophone I might have played twice? Sent me to France for a summer language class, paid for trips elsewhere in Europe with friends...) We were outrageously spoiled in lots of ways. If I was upset or couldn’t sleep, my mom tried to comfort me (always took my anxieties and concerns seriously).

I didn’t have a super engaged relationship with my dad, but he never said a harsh word to me, always believed in my abilities, supported me in anything I wanted to do. If I needed to be picked up in some obscure neighbourhood at 2 in the morning, he’d show up, no judgment, no questions asked. Twice helped me move apartments across provinces by himself (carried a couch on his *back* down a three story walk-up, in the rain, in his early 60s [he was already middle-aged when I was born]).

Both my parents would do pretty much anything for us, really. (That’s not to say there weren’t issues, for sure there were.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:54 PM on April 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My dad was in the Air Force. He wasn’t always around. When he was, we built model airplanes together. I have some great memories of those “build sessions”. He build models until the day he died. (Literally, there was an unbuilt model on the table when my sister found him. He had a coronary.). We also worked on a model HO train set together.

My dad spent time with his kids. That’s how he showed his love.

I build models with my son and play golf with my daughter. The idea is the same.
posted by Colonel Sun at 4:55 PM on April 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The first things that came to mind for me: I went vegetarian at age 15 and my mom made a lot of effort to make a vegetarian version of whatever meal she was making - so if she was making chili, she'd do one pot with meat and a smaller one with soy crumbles. It was extra work (especially because we didn't have a dishwasher, so someone [usually me or my siblings] had to do extra dishes) but I never felt left out of a favorite meal.
I also learned as an adult that she found my high school close friend pretty much insufferable. Said friend had a pretty lonely home life and was over at my house a lot and I really had no idea my mom didn't like her.
posted by SeedStitch at 4:58 PM on April 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: In my childhood, love was affection and attention.

My dad showed love in many ways, particularly in the teaching of all his best skills. His love came in the form of attention, praise, and entertainment. He taught us all the card games he knew, (poker, blackjack, casino, gin) and really enjoyed playing with us, indoors and out. At the age of 9 I recall playing catch for hours with him at the local high school with a baseball. He taught us all kinds of catches: shoestring, over the shoulder, and pitches: knuckleball and fastball. He drove us hysterical with laughter by throwing the ball as high as he possibly could in the sky. When I caught one of those balls, he made me feel like the most important person in the world.

My mom showed love in a very complementary way to my dad. She the most empathetic person in our lives, always making sure to understand and honor our tastes and interests. (Even if that meant making three separate dinners) Another way she showed love was by incorporating my and my brother's own made-up words into our family's vocabulary. Not only did she teach us how to speak, she delighted at every new word that we invented. I can't recall ever being told that something was not a word. If we spoke it, it became our language. She really understood the importance of creativity/imagination, and to this day is one of the best people to riff ideas with.
posted by oxisos at 5:43 PM on April 3, 2019 [16 favorites]

Best answer: I was an only child for most of my childhood, and my best friend was invited to dinners/sleepovers/family trips very often, even though her family didn't much reciprocate. I'm grateful that my mom kept being generous and never made it a thing that for whatever reasons, her family didn't invite me very much.

On the flip side, I was in band in high school and my mom very rarely went to our concerts. At the time, she would have had to get a babysitter for Younger Sibling, and I kinda inferred that she wasn't much into High School Band, and I kind of participated in an "oh no it's fine it's not a big deal" dynamic. But it was a big deal. It would have meant a lot if she came.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:48 PM on April 3, 2019 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I have a lot of siblings so the idea of asking for things we wanted was a foreign concept... except on our birthdays! Our parents worked hard to make our birthdays feel special and reflect what we each liked and wanted: a special cake (or non-cake), the meal of our choice, the gifts we wanted (although I remember these less than the other things), parties with friends and/or family (lots of photos, too), and activities of our choice. I remember my 8th birthday particularly fondly: my mom took me to go swimming before school at the fancy indoor pool, I got a box of donuts for breakfast (we never got treats like that so early), and I could wear the family's "8 is great" sweatshirt for a year. There were many ways I felt loved as a child (as well as ways I didn't feel loved, admittedly) but our birthdays were always made to feel special and, therefore, loved. In fact, my parents still do a good job on our birthdays even as adults!
posted by smorgasbord at 6:11 PM on April 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I can’t think of a time when my Dad said “I love you” but I knew he did because he always listened and knew what to say when I was in distress, he would drive me all over town at all hours so I could safely hang out with my friends, he taught me to play cricket in primary school so I wouldn’t keep getting teased for being hopeless at sport, he patiently taught me to drive (despite me being awful at it - he had nerves of steel), when I was 16 and on exchange in Germany he always looked up what the weather was there and mum told me he was thinking of me, he let me borrow the car and forgave me when it came back a bit worse for wear!! He worked weird hours in a job that didn’t pay much and sacrificed a lot so my sister and I could have nice things. I think I am lucky to have him.
posted by EatMyHat at 6:33 PM on April 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Nice question. One thing that comes to mind was how my dad made up songs with my name in them. Nothing big, just like he had one song that went, "slidell and daddy are going to the store." Just visibly enjoying that we were doing it together. Similarly, when I woke up from a nap or in the morning (at any age really), it felt like both my parents would celebrate my appearance ("look who is awake! can I get you some juice?"). Just the first two things that came to mind.
posted by slidell at 6:38 PM on April 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My mom made me feel loved all the time. She put notes in my lunch, she made me scavenger hunts, she played Legos with me, she told me bedtime stories, she sewed me Halloween costumes, she went to my band concerts, she joined the PTO, she asked about my friendships, she commiserated with me when I felt sad. She made an effort to understand me, even though I wasn't exactly like her, and she advocated for what I needed at school when the default settings weren't a good fit. In my adulthood we haven't always gotten along perfectly, but when I was a kid she was just the best mom I could have asked for.
posted by eirias at 7:13 PM on April 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I was afraid of lots of weird, stupid things as a kid. I'm sure these things frustrated my parents beyond imagination, but they worked with me so patiently to overcome the fears (and in the meantime, often very kindly helped me avoid my triggers.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:17 PM on April 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: In high school, I went through several days when I just felt really sad, like so sad I couldn't get out of bed. It might have been "just" teenage feels, but I remember it being bad enough that it might have been a meaningful bout of depression. Either way, I remember telling my parents I just didn't want to go to school. So... they let me stay home. For days. I was a super responsible kid, and they said I had earned their trust and respect. If I said I couldn't go to school, then I couldn't go to school. My family is incredible, and quite physically and emotionally demonstrative of affection, so I could have listed pages of lovely things they did, but man, this is the one that still knocks my socks off.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 7:59 PM on April 3, 2019 [15 favorites]

Best answer: My mom gives really good hugs. She always lets you let go first so you know there’s lee where that came from.

Both my parents have always made it clear that no matter what they are my safety net. You’re willing to take a lot more leaps when you know there’s a net below you
posted by raccoon409 at 8:03 PM on April 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My mother used to read to us. We were all capable of reading but she read books out loud to us in the evening - several Dickens, the entire Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Mistress Masham's Repose, The Sword in the Stone, all of Narnia...

My mother would draw for us - she had a particular drawing of an alligator with a band-aid, with all the scales carefully drawn on the alligator, and the dots on the band-aid that were the tiny holes they came with.

My mother crocheted trolls for us.

My father brought home books for us. No particular reason. For our birthdays one year we each got a two pound box of Laura Secord chocolates.

My father would bring home lots of junk food a couple of times a year and we would make dinner of that - cheezies, salami, crackers, pickles, potato chips, dip. We called it smorgasbord even though we knew that a real smogasbord was an open faced sandwich buffet. Ordinarily we never got things like potato chips, but when he bought them we even had the dip and got to eat ourselves blissfully sick.

My grandmother knitted slippers for us. And when I complained that splinters in the floor went through the knitted slipper sole she knitted a pair and sewed leather soles to them for me.

My grandmother sewed dolls clothes for us.

My aunt made us personalized bulletin boards out of cardboard covered in coloured burlap, with felt decorations, each one a different colour scheme and different decorations.

We got to take turns picking which jigsaw puzzle to do.

We got to turn the handle of the mincemeat grinder when making the Christmas mincemeat.

My mother bought us the Barbie dolls we requested even though she really didn't approve of them.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:15 PM on April 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Knowing that my parents loved me was so ingrained a part of life that it's hard to pick out individual things; but, hugs and pet names, cooking foods I liked, never criticizing who I was as a person, letting me try the things I wanted to do even if they were inconvenient, accepting my friends.
My father used to stick his hand out for me to take when we crossed the street...well up into my teens. "I'm sixteen, not six!" "Oh...was I doing that?" But I liked it that he did it automatically.
posted by huimangm at 8:32 PM on April 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My parents paid for my college; does that count?
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:45 PM on April 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for the replies so far! These are all lovely. I am also wondering whether there’s something about the particular quality of these things that inferred a loved feeling, or whether it was just because it came from parents? And for those things that are retrospectively impressive feats of love (ie, building and maintaining a loving and kid-friendly home as Eyebrows’s mom did), did it make you feel loved at the time?
posted by stillmoving at 10:24 PM on April 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My dad:

- nearly always apologised when he was wrong
- played with us a lot, silly games, real games and sports, anything really. He taught us to read and to swim.
- legitimately loved hanging out with us, to the point of begging and cajoling (though this usually was doing what he wanted to do...)

- let me lie in bed with her in the middle of the night after I had a bad dream, until I calmed down.
- would make these astonishing and beautiful costumes when we had costume parties
- would make us any kind of cake and meal for our birthdays
-would rock me when I was small and still had day naps, was feeling sensitive after I woke up
posted by smoke at 10:31 PM on April 3, 2019

Best answer: My parents praised every piece of artwork my siblings and I created. It wasn't excessive praise (we didn't end up thinking we were Rembrandt), more like thoughtfully appreciating a fine wine. Select pieces were displayed prominently at home, and my dad kept some on his desk at work. Many were turned into Christmas ornaments. In hindsight its so funny because obviously the works themselves were, well, really bad but it made us feel respected and loved. Now as adults, putting up the Christmas tree with my parents is a barrel of laughs.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 11:16 PM on April 3, 2019

Best answer: I always felt loved when my parents told me stories of when I was younger- like we'd be driving somewhere when I was 6 and they'd pass the time telling me little stories of cute things I did or said when I was 2.

For one of my brother's teen birthdays, my mom actually wrote a book that was the story of his childhood- a page or two for each general life stage (birth, infancy, toddler), lots of cute little anecdotes from his life encapsulated in a few sentences each, and all put in an album with lots of photos. It's really special.

Once in a while my dad would doodle on the bottoms of my feet with a pen, while I knelt on the sofa watching TV with him doing a crossword beside me. I loved that so much.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:46 PM on April 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: When I was a teenager my mother had to pick me up by car from the bus stop a few miles from our house. I would talk about my day. If I was having Big Feelings, she would drive around and around and around in circles to let me finish rather than hurrying home.

My father did not have such regular scheduled time with me, but if I asked for time to talk with him, he always made time.

(In general my house was a place where we the kids felt pretty comfortable talking to my parents about stuff. Quality time as focused talking is a love language for me to this day.)

When I got in trouble at school my parents did not make a big deal about it, and that was very important to me and made me feel like they were on my side.

Sometimes if I was home with her, my mom and I would have breakfast together. The food itself was normal food, but it was "our" special breakfast, not something I ate at other times (eggs with toast, just to be clear that it really was pretty ordinary aside from the emotional significance I attached). Also for a while there was a TV series we watched together - we would refrain from watching it separately, saving it for when we had time together.

I was never ever ever turned down for a hug. (I suppose I may have occasionally been asked to wait, although I don't specifically remember it, but I was never told no to requesting a hug). And I was very huggy.

There were lots of things my parents did along the lines of stuff mentioned in this thread, that I took for granted so didn't explicitly feel loved by. Like showing up for performances (I felt sad if they didn't come, not specifically loved if they did- as an adult with more awareness of what a pain these things are I have a different perspective). I appreciated birthdays as a special time, but I think I probably took them for granted also. My parents were very welcoming of my friends coming over a lot. (however, they once made it clear there was a specific friend they disliked and did not want invited, which I mention just because it's a contrast to other commenters here.)

Beyond big regular things, there are very small specific moments that stick out. For example: I once was feeling sick and tired and miserable and my mother freshly made my bed for me (in general I was responsible for my own bed), and I remember sinking into the neat straight cozy covers and, for the three seconds I was awake before going out like a sack of potatoes, I felt very, very loved.
posted by Cozybee at 12:20 AM on April 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A lovely question. My family weren't and aren't perfect but I always knew I was loved. Some of the ways they showed me:

1) Physical affection - lots of random hugging, holding hands, watching TV with my head on my grandmother's lap etc. When my dad and I argued we always made up through hugs and hand-holding, rarely through actual words. Even if we'd had quite a big argument, he never, ever turned me down for a hug.
2) Joking - lots and lots of ridiculous in-jokes. Too many to name and completely nonsensical to explain to anyone else.
3) Feeding - my family show love through making food for people, favourite dishes for special occasions, special dishes when one was sick, etc. I think that this is a little problematic when looked at alongside other things but it came from a good place.
4) Consistency - in general because we had a whole lot of other stuff going on my family prioritised consistency for us children - it was really good and important to know that we would ALWAYS have dinner together no matter what and that my father would ALWAYS drop us off to school no matter what etc.
5) Attention - I think what's been important to my sense of self was from a very young age being told that I was worth being listened to, that I was interesting and smart. And that was because my parents genuinely enjoyed engaging with me.

It was good to grow up taking that stuff for granted. I was very lucky.
posted by unicorn chaser at 2:53 AM on April 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Re: whether my mom’s actions made me feel loved at the time: I am not sure whether I felt loved the way I would now, in that I don’t know if I had the ... meta-social skills? to reflect on my mom’s effort and what it meant that she made it so consistently. I suspect I did not. But in my house there was a neat little natural experiment, because my dad clearly felt that the work of caring for me was Not His Department. The one single time I remember having the sense that he had any particular feeling about me was when I was around seven, and we were in the parking lot of the grocery store, and a car was coming my way, and in a panic he yelled my name and pulled me out of the way, and more than anything I felt very surprised and touched that he cared enough to do that. My take: when you are a kid, being able to take your parent’s love for granted is the biggest gift they can give you. It’s when you don’t take it for granted that somebody has been a huge asshole.
posted by eirias at 4:45 AM on April 4, 2019 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I would add that these things only count as love when that’s the intention behind them. My mom did many of these things: making costumes, making dinner, getting us small treats, but these actions never felt like love. They felt like she read these tips in a Good Housekeeping on How to Mom. To this day, I don’t feel like she loves me, but I can say she did lots of things to make it seem like that.
posted by mrfuga0 at 6:59 AM on April 4, 2019 [7 favorites]

Best answer: My dad would ride the subway with me 4 hours round trip to drop me off at school in the morning and then go to his own office. This meant both of us would be getting up at 5am, daily. He was never an affectionate or empathetic parent, but I look back on this kind of behavior and consider it his version of love.
posted by vacuumsealed at 7:30 AM on April 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My dad famously would go to a great deal of trouble to make something happen for us if we really, really wanted. Like, he went to every McDonald's in town looking for a Pink Power Ranger happy meal toy for my sister. One Christmas, I wanted a specific hard to find game and he talked the video rental place into selling him their copy.

One year I sprained my ankle the first day of our vacation and once I could hobble a little, he took me out just the two of us to a bookstore (which we both liked) and a dollhouse store (which was alllll for my benefit.)

He has little inside jokes with each of us and traditions. Like, we used to watch the Carol Burnett Show together and he calls me every year on my birthday to tell me Happy Birthday in a funny voice based off an old skit from that show.
posted by oblique red at 8:29 AM on April 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Food is my family's love language. I was into jelly donuts for a hot minute and it was fun to go to the grocery store before school and split one with my mom. Favorite foods packed with lunch, even if I was the odd duck out for having water crackers and sundried tomato cheese. Going grocery shopping with mom and as we went down the aisles, "Oh, you like these crackers, don't you?" and grabbing a box. She made all kinds of exotic, multicultural meals for me and MiddleKid. YoungestKid was an outrageously picky eater and was allowed to have chicken tenders or Bagel Bites for dinner, no questions asked.

Coming to shows/performances was very important to me. My mom came to my theatre shows even if she wasn't really into them, or couldn't understand the Welsh accent I was trying in Henry V.

Taking the whole family to something that only one child was interested in. MiddleKid was into trains and we were often dragged along to train museums, exhibitions, etc.
posted by wintersonata9 at 8:30 AM on April 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My mom had genuine appreciation for the arts and crafts that we made, and would display her favorites on the fridge (wall, counter, etc) and show them off to her friends. And she'd talk with us about what were her favorite parts and what we liked and what we'd do differently. I realize now it's really different from the way my husband's mom gushed over all his stuff with great enthusiasm but fairly indiscriminately. I felt not only loved but appreciated and understood; it takes more time and emotional investment to have new things to say about every project, and she was putting a lot of effort into teaching us how to recognize and improve our own skill. I'm not sure exactly how she did it without making it feel like we were scrambling for her approval; maybe she appreciated everything but appreciated our best even more?
posted by aimedwander at 8:35 AM on April 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My mom picked me up from elementary school one afternoon, and had the latest Madeleine L'Engle (Swiftly Tilting Planet) checked out of the library for me; I think I was the first borrower. I remember that SO CLEARLY. She was a working mom, but made time to get a book she knew I'd like.

She was a single mom, and we spent Friday nights together until I was in high school. We would walk the mall, take ceramics class, or go to the library. She had time for me, and we did fun things in that time.

She would roll up Lebanon bologna (a kind of salami) slices and deli American cheese (I hated the wrapped singles) for dinner for me. She didn't fight me too often on what I wouldn't eat.

Dad had his issues, but he taught me the Pythagorean theorem when I was eight.

They were both very affectionate people with me.
posted by JawnBigboote at 9:11 AM on April 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The things I remember most vividly about being loved when I was a child were:

1) When it was time to leave the house on a cold day, and sometimes on a warm day, momma would get down at my eye level to adjust my coat, or help pull on my backpack. She'd smile and look straight in my eyes and tell me she loved me and then sometimes she'd boop my nose or give me a hug and off we would go.

2) At night my dad would 'put us to bed' by laying down beside us. We would talk a little and hold our hands up in the dark and try to see their outlines. Then we would say prayers and he would fall asleep for a little bit before getting up to finish his evening and go to sleep in the other room.

3) When I was very young and we didn't have very much money, momma would let us have the last of the macaroni and cheese (whole meal: hot dogs, mac and cheese, green beans). I remember thinking that was a GREAT SACRIFICE and very selfless on her part.

4) On roadtrip vacations, momma would always bring a bunch of different surprises that she'd give us throughout the trip. Some were things to play with in the car (action figures! gummy bears! coloring books!) and some were things for when we stopped (shaving cream for a shaving cream fight! dinosaurs that grow when they get wet! and hair dye when we were older!). It was the thoughtfulness in her planning that really touched me.

5) When I was little, my dad would pick me up and hold me when I was scared, and then when I got older, he'd let me hug his knee and later his waist, and put his arm around me. Sometimes on early mornings if I saw the light on in the kitchen, I could get up and join him for a bowl of cereal before everyone else was up and he always made me feel welcome, even though that was his quiet time.

6) Momma read somewhere that kids who grow up in homes where there are pictures of them everywhere have good self-esteem, so she would always frame the 8x10 school pic of us and display it on the wall. By the time we were teenagers, you could watch my sister and I grow up by walking up the stairs. I have...REALLY good self-esteem, so maybe it's true!

7) Most of my young life, my parents let me and my sister have privacy. We were allowed to have locks on our doors. We were allowed to read what we wanted (although there were strict rules about what we could watch). We could talk to our friends on the phone without them listening in.

8) When we fought, affection was never on the table as something that would be withdrawn. This was an immense gift. It enabled my sister and I to become individuals, without feeling like we would lose the love of our parents.

There are other ways, of course, but these are the standouts. My parents had a hard time with the teenage years, and eventually didn't make it as a couple (which is for the best, for them both), but they really nailed 0-11 yrs. I'm very grateful.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 10:12 AM on April 4, 2019 [8 favorites]

Best answer: We did a lot of wonderful family travelling, but sometimes my parents liked to go on a trip for just the two of them. Whenever they did this, they would take separate planes to & from their destination. When, as a child, it finally dawned on me why they did this, I felt very loved & secure.
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 11:52 AM on April 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I have lots of these as well, but one thing I remember so vividly is that I once told my dad I heard Madeleine L'Engle was speaking at a nearby university. My dad is not literary -- I literally have never seen him read a book -- but he somehow managed to leave work early (really hard for lots of reasons), pick me up, and drive a long way for me to see her. We were late, I only caught the tail end of it, but of all the many loving things my parents did for me as a kid (hugs, affection, listening) this stands out as an example for me.

Love meant doing something he didn't want to do, that made his life more difficult, for something that I really wanted to do. Even though I was only 10 I could see that as clearly then as I do now.
posted by heavenknows at 12:32 PM on April 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "And for those things that are retrospectively impressive feats of love (ie, building and maintaining a loving and kid-friendly home as Eyebrows’s mom did), did it make you feel loved at the time?"

Yeah, I mean, it was like the oxygen I breathed, the water I swam in. I felt so loved all the time that it never occurred to me to question it. As an adult and a parent I can understand how much work and deliberate love went into that, but as a child I just swam through a sea of love without really questioning it.

It's hard for me to come up with specific examples because it's just how my parent were, all the time, and the ones that stand out in my mind tend to come from when I was a teenager or young adult and it suddenly HIT ME how above-and-beyond my parents were in terms of love and support. And like I said they were very strict, and they disapproved of the conspicuous consumption that was common where we lived, and I was one of four, so it wasn't a super-permissive environment or a lots-of-gifts environment or non-stop attention or anything like that. I never questioned that I could go to them with anything, no matter how bad, and they would help me, and I might get grounded if I'd fucked up, but they wouldn't love me any less. (I honestly don't really remember lying to my parents, because there was no point to it, they'd be a lot madder about the lying than whatever underlying bad thing I was lying about, which they would approach as a problem to help me solve.) When I was in high school my friends would go to my mom when they fucked up, and ask my mom for advice about how to approach THEIR parents, because my mom was sympathetic and kind and practical and took kids' fears and concerns really seriously. And her advice was basically always, "Obviously you have to tell your parents you bombed the test/wrecked the car/got the STD/whatever" but she would help them work through the fear and anxiety about telling their parents and help them figure out a way to do it and think through what their parents would be mad about and why, and then they would like ... go and tell their parents. And they felt safe talking to her for the same reason I did, which was that you never, ever got the feeling that she would like you any less because you did a bad thing, and even though she was strict with me, she was understanding that childhood involves a lot of fucking up.

Anyway my capstone "my mom is great" story is, when I was in college I was politically active on an issue that my mother strongly held the exact opposite views from mine on. We're all Catholic, I was at a Catholic college, and she (like the college!) held the official Catholic line, which I STRONGLY objected to. So, me and some other students got in so ridiculously much trouble about our activism on this topic that the president of the university (who was a priest) sat us down in his office and threatened to expel us all. And so I go back to my dorm room and I call my mom and I'm like, "Well, we had our meeting, and ... he threatened to expel us." And there was a short silence (during while I know my mom was pressing her lips together in frustration), and then she sighed and said, "Couldn't you have done this before we paid for seven semesters of college?" and I said, "I know, sorry," and she said, "It's fine. We'll figure it out. If we need to get you a lawyer, we'll get you a lawyer. Keep me updated, and tell Father he can blow it out his ass." At no point did she suggest I shouldn't continue my activism even though she was diametrically opposed, at no point did she suggest I should back down -- I had made a thoughtful ethical decision, and while she disagreed with both the ethical stance and how I was going about standing up for it, she was going to support me 100% even if I got expelled in my last semester of college, even if she had to pay a lawyer.

At no point was I worried my parents might withdraw support or even get angry with me, even though they completely disagreed with what I was doing. A couple of my friends put off calling their parents for DAYS because they knew their parents would pitch a fit; I knew my parents would treat it as a problem they would help me solve and would be 100% supportive. (Anyway, we didn't get expelled b/c the NYTimes started writing about the situation, and in the 20 years since my mom has come around to my opinion, so happy endings all around.)

I will give one little specific example, for holidays and often birthdays, she got out the good china and the silver and set a beautiful table with centerpieces and candles and real cloth napkins, and we'd sit down and have a formal dinner, and we all felt really special that we got to eat fancy food at a fancy table even though it was just my parents and us kids. Like, we were special enough for it to be a special occasion. I do that with my kids (I talk about our Family Feast in metatalktails a lot) because it's something I really treasure from my childhood and remember as special, and they love it too, they love sitting down for a fancy meal with the good china and candles and a tablecloth and everything.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:32 PM on April 4, 2019 [9 favorites]

Best answer: This is a fascinating question and set of answers.

My mom didn't have the resources to do many things. The biggest thing, at least for me, is that she always asked for and respected my opinion; even when it was incredibly stupid. I was never forced to eat anything I didn't want to eat, or to go to bed when I wasn't tired, or to engage in recreational activities that I didn't like, or to wear a jacket when I didn't want to wear a jacket. (Sure, sometimes you genuinely do have to go the doctor. But, you never have to go to basketball.) As far as I can tell, that's incredibly rare. Seeing the way my peers' families treated them was always shocking as a child. Visiting other kid's houses made me feel like I was a visitor at a prison.

She did other great things: taking me to the library every week, spending a much larger fraction of her money than seems reasonable on museums that she didn't personally give a damn about, pretending to ignore all the slightly dangerous and dumb things I did as a teenager. But, it's treating me with respect as an independent human being from an early age that really stands out.
posted by eotvos at 1:59 PM on April 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I knew the things my mom and grandparents did for me were out of love, because everything was so hard for everyone during my childhood, nobody had any extra time or energy or money or emotional reserves, so sewing a stuffed dolphin (or whatever) could only be out of love.
posted by HotToddy at 7:44 PM on April 4, 2019

Best answer: Thinking back, I think I knew how my parents felt because they spoke to me with clear affection. They were actively emphatic that they loved me not matter what, and they clearly meant it; if they were mad, it was always with the thing that was going on, not with anything about me as a person.

But really, the best indicator I can think of is that we had good talks. Like, they seemed interested in what I said and would respond to it with appropriately thoughtful comments. My mom was more casual; she'd ask about my day and remember what was going on with my friends and talk about what I was reading and she seemed interested and attentive.

My dad was more philosophical and we'd have interesting talks about things like how weird snow is--it falls out of the sky and covers literally everything, then sits there for a while and finally disappears. We'd be sitting on a restaurant patio and he'd point to a brick and say "when you're in bed tonight, that brick will still be sitting right there," and we'll talk about how the brick was there when I was in kindergarten, that exact brick. This was how his brain always worked, and he shared that with us and explored our weird ideas, too.

So yeah, there were lots of gestures of affection, but I think the sense of being loved was simply that they were pretty happy with their lives and very glad to have us in them. Happy to see us at the end of the day, interested in what we had to say, pleased when we hoped to please them.
posted by gideonfrog at 4:39 AM on April 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My relationship with my mother was very difficult. Nevertheless, she hung my artwork all over the house, the significance of which only became fully clear to me after she died. That was indeed an act of love and pride. I'm saying this to add the perspective of someone who did not get much affection shown in the way of "we love you just the way you are," notes in lunches, etc.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 10:19 AM on April 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One time my father made me a magic wand and told me that if he dipped it in the Mississippi River (where we lived) that it would turn on the magic. He did stick in the river and I trusted him so totally that I tried to use it to do some stuff, which didn't really work so well. We used to laugh about that all the time. He is gone now, and not all of our life was without issues, but he was pretty cool like that.
posted by chocolatetiara at 11:33 AM on April 5, 2019

Best answer: My parents were both atheists who strongly disliked the Catholic church (this is Poland, mind you).

Then at age 7 or 8 I ask to be baptized. We have a conversation, I explain why, they say OK.

And then my dad walks me to church every Sunday for the next 3 or 4 years (it was a long walk with several dangerous crossings). We walk 20 minutes one way, he waits outside the church for the mass to be over, then a 20 minute walk back home.
He also walks me to church two times a week for afternoon religious classes before 1st communion.
I tell my Mom I want to fast on Fridays so the entire family switches to meat-less Fridays.

There were many more things but this one sticks out for me.
posted by M. at 1:20 PM on April 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I threw my first party in 11th grade, when my parents where away, without asking them. I got pretty drunk, literally sat on a large picture window and broke it, was too drunk to do anything about it and went to sleep, with the house a shambles, the broken window, etc., like the end of the big party scene in an '80s teen flick, thinking 'OK, tomorrow when my parents come home, I'm dead'.
Woke up past noon, the house is quiet. I go out to the hall with the broken window, and it's not broken. The house is clean and tidy. The party was apparently a dream.
Then my parents come into the house, give me a big smile and say 'that must have been some party, huh?'
They'd come home, seen the mess, cleaned up and called a window repair guy, and let me sleep in.
That's when I knew they were the best.
posted by signal at 6:46 PM on April 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I don't remember most of my childhood very clearly, something my pdoc tells me isn't uncommon for kids raised in abusive households. That said, here's what I do remember when it came to feeling loved:

- on our birthday, we got to pick a restaurant to go to for dinner with our parents, and afterwards you got to go to Baskin Robbins and pick an ice cream flavor for your cone. I was one of 6 kids so this was kind of a big deal.
- mom would be physically affectionate when we were just sitting around either in a pew at church or at home watching something - rubbing my back or playing with my hair.
- we had family dinners together regularly, and in particular we had a You Are Special Today red plate that would be sneakily set on the table in the spot you sat at on special occasions (birthdays when we didn't go out, doing well in school, etc.)
- shuttling us around to our various sport and musical activities - I didn't realize it at the time but this of course took tremendous effort and time.

Honestly, I think the biggest thing we are trying to do for our kid is to not have other kids so that we can focus all of our resources and time and effort on loving him well. And working hard on parenting ourselves well so that we can be better, more loving parents to him.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:50 PM on April 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I loved reading all of these and appreciate everyone sharing their experience. Thank you!
posted by stillmoving at 3:24 PM on April 24, 2019

I thought about this thread last weekend while cutting daikon sticks for my boyfriend and realized that my parents did quite a bit more aside from paying for college.

My parents cooked every night: my mom and dad cooked larger batches of meat and prepped meats-as-flavorings on the weekends, and my dad supplemented that with vegetables every weeknight. He got home at 6:00, changed into home clothes, cooked for half an hour, and we ate dinner 6:30 on the dot.

We watched World News Tonight with Carole Simpson or Peter Jennings every night (we hated NBC after Bob Costas made some remarks critical of the Chinese government during coverage of the 1996 Olympics, and CBS didn't have a half hourly). I almost always got top marks in class on current events quizzes: I just had to read the multiple choice questions in Carole or Peter's voice, and pick the one that sounded most plausible.

By high school, my dad noticed that I seemed to like eating raw vegetables, so while cooking, he would cut me carrot or cucumber sticks. I was usually doing homework and accepted them gladly. When I was much younger and stayed home during summers (camp was lame), he drove home to visit me during his lunch break, nominally to bring me a BK Big Fish sandwich, but probably really to visit me. (I got pretty fat that summer, unfortunately, but the intent was kind. My dad grew up during a time when calories were confused with nutrition.)

My mom was a little more complicated. She showed me how to factorize a quadratic equation using the |2x2| method when I couldn't understand the early 2000's American school way. She marveled at my English language acquisition; she got me what I needed academically; she refused to force me to be pleasant or sweet, just because I was a girl. She stayed up with me when I first got my period and couldn't sleep, and tried to get me into sports when she saw that my dad (the athlete) wasn't.

This thread is an interesting exercise. Thank you.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:11 PM on April 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

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