“Mom, I love you, BUT…”
I wonder how many times a day that phrase (more ominous than heartwarming) is uttered in this great land.
Certainly there is a lot to be said for putting things in perspective, softening the blow of unsolicited advice and practicing diplomacy — but in too many families the love and the “but” seem inextricably entwined, always leaving the mother feeling “buttered up” and anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I realize that many of us feel awkward about Public Displays of Affection, but it’s downright sad that we also struggle with PRIVATE displays of affection. The Hand That Rocks The Cradle deserves more than occasional watered-down dollops of tenderness that have been hopelessly amalgamated with mundane considerations and petty complaints.
Cards (handmade or store-bought), rose bouquets, leisurely Mother’s Day brunches, spa certificates and collectible figurines are all admirable choices for acknowledging mom on Her Special Day; but what a change there would be in the national mood if just a few more of us adopted a year-round practice of spontaneous, heartfelt, no-strings-attached expressions of “I love you”!
To be sure, it is a tribute to mom if you use the wisdom she instilled in you and discern when to be firm and when to be sentimental. The “buts” may well be justified when you have hard evidence that mom’s new beau is a chiseler or when you and your siblings are in consensus that the family matriarch needs assisted living.
Still, “but” should not be your default value, your “go to” reaction. Shaking your “but” doesn’t have to be intimidating; it may be necessary to start out small with your attitude adjustment. Perhaps just one extra time a month, show a little deference to mom. Hold your tongue and listen when you’d really rather “lovingly” express yourself about Needing My Own Space, Finally Finding Mr. Or Ms. Right (and the warden gives such a glowing endorsement!), Waiting For Just The Right Job To Come Along Before I Get Off This Sofa or Being Able To Handle These Substances, No Problem.
Thank goodness moms — infused with unconditional love and a spirit of sacrifice — use the “buts” so sparingly. (I’m speaking of mothers in a fairly normal, healthy relationship here. Toxic relationships and estrangement are a topic for another day.) What a dreary place the world would be if children were told “Son, I love you, BUT that ugly crayon drawing would void the warranty on my refrigerator” or “Janie, I love you, BUT I think I can monitor your raging fever just as well from my Pilates class as by hovering over your bedside” or “I would love for you to use my wedding gown, BUT I don’t know if I can trust you to pay the dry cleaning bill”!
I grew up in a family where Mushy Stuff was something to make family members squirm, so I can understand the awkwardness of openness. But “I love you” needs to be more than an obligatory preface. Say it proudly, without corollaries, codicils, disclaimers or sales pitches.
Embrace saying those three little words — before you find yourself apologizing, “Mom, I love you — but your cemetery plot is way on the other side of town.”