Feb 22, 2010

Saying "I Love You"

R' Binyamin Ginsberg said he has asked hundreds of children, ages 5-14, whether their parents love them.  He said 84% said "no" or "I don't know," and of the 16% who said "yes," when he asked how they knew, they didn't say -as he would have liked - "because they tell me they love me", but they said their parents buy them things etc. R' Ginsberg urges parents to tell their children, daily, that they love them.

I understand why he finds this so urgent but disagree on a few points.  First, numerous children, myself included, were not told "I love you" by their parents on a daily basis or any basis and yet we know, good and well, that our parents love us.  How do we know? I'll answer as follows.  There are some frum people who maintain that husband and wife should be physically demonstrative in front of their kids because otherwise, the reasoning goes, "how will they know that mommy and daddy love each other?" The response to that is (from those who oppose being physically demonstrative in front of the children), that children know from how their parents speak and look at one another, whether they love each other.  Some might go so far as to say that many a divorced couple hugged and kissed in front of their kids and so those demonstrations don't necessarily reveal the truth of a relationship.  It's the more subtle forms of interaction that are more revealing.

In America there are many people who have adopted the habit of saying "I love you" on a regular basis, when ending phone calls, when leaving the house, at bedtime.  They'll say it to family and friends too. That's okay, I'm not saying it's not, but sometimes it seems so frequent as to be cheap or meaningless like "have a nice day" when the phrase doesn't seem to come from the heart but from habit.  Perhaps the actions, the buying things and doing things for us, express the love far more than words do.

Second, I think the answer "because my parents buy me things" is a good answer from a young child who is probably not capable of articulating how he knows how his parents love him but is secure in the feeling that they do.

Third, we say in our davening that Hashem loves us.  Knowing that Hashem loves us is a basis, says the Chovos Ha'Levavos, for trusting in Him.  Now if you did a poll and asked people whether Hashem loves them and how do they know, what would the answers be? I suppose some learned people would say, "because it says so in the pasuk and Siddur."  Perhaps that is the equivalent of "because they tell me they love me." 

I think many people would respond, "I know Hashem loves me because of all the kindnesses He does for me."  Is this not the equivalent of the children who say they know their parents love them because their parents buy them things?

Which answer reflects a deeper awareness of Hashem's love?

1 comment:

  1. I think it's a package deal of adequate verbalization, physical affection like cheek pat/hugs/kisses, and listening to your child. Yes, saying they feel love through gifts is okay, especially depending on the age of the one saying it!