Every evening my son Alex and I get into an argument.
We rinse and repeat the same scene night after night, without fail. It starts at 8:20 p.m. as he’s getting his pajamas on and getting into bed.
Our heated discussion has developed a certain cadence and rhythm, and it always begins with me and ends with him.
Me: I love you.
Alex: I love you more.
Me: No, I love you more.
Alex: No! I love you Google times more.
Me: I love you even more than that, however much that is.
Alex: No. Mommy. I. Love. You. More!
By the end of our nightly debate, Alex ends up raising his voice, staring at me through a furrowed brow and speaking through clenched teeth. He wants to win. He wants to be right. He’s hell-bent on proving to me that he, indeed, loves me more than I love him.
He takes our argument very seriously.
The problem is that I want to win, too. I enjoy being right and I work very hard at being right as often as I can — just ask my husband.
Lately, I’ve been going into my arguments with Alex with lots of new ammunition — everything from the fact that my heart is bigger than his so that means my love is greater than his, to the fact that I made him. I mean, who can argue with that one?
I literally made him.
But my wit and wisdom has never worked. There is literally nothing I can say to convince him that my love is greater than his.
I’m not sure what came over me, but last night as we were lying in bed going through the motions of our nightly dance, I chose to end our age-old argument in a very different way. After Alex dealt his usual argument (“No. Mommy. I. Love. You. More!”), I made the decision to not go back at him.
I dropped my sword.
I paused for a second and looked into the most beautiful and innocent eyes on the planet and I asked my little boy a question. “Buddy, do you really believe that you love me more than I love you?”
He lit up from the inside.
His head jolted back six inches, his eyes went from angry to happy and his jaw went from clenched to wide open. There was hope in the air.
Alex: “Yes, Mommy, I do believe that I love you more.”
Me: “Then I think you might be right.”
Oh, the look on that sweet little boy’s face.
The look he gave his tired old mother lying next to him in his twin bed was better than the face he gives Santa Claus sitting on a velvet thrown with free candy in his left hand.
Surprisingly, though, the look on his face was not the look of victory; it was relief.
He was so relieved to be right because, in this case, being right meant that I validated his love for me rather than continuing to negate it. The truth is…every time I came up with a reason for why I loved him more, I was saying that his reasons weren’t good enough. I was saying that he was wrong. I was saying his love for me was less than my love for him.
What a terrible thing to say to someone.
His look of excitement and relief said it all.
In order to feel loved, Alex didn’t need to hear I was right. He needed to hear that he was right.
All along I had been trying to show my love for him by proving to him that he was wrong. However, by backing down I told him that he was right. I told him that his love for me was rich and beautiful and it was bountiful.
I told him his love for me was enough.
As human beings, our natural instinct is to be defensive during arguments. We want so desperately to be right. All. The. Time. It’s interesting, now, for me to ponder why I was arguing with Alex in the first place.
If I’m being honest…
- I thought I was right. When I was arguing with Alex, I was convinced that I did love him more. But what proof did I have? I know my love for my son is limitless and unlike any feeling I ever had before having children. But how do I know it’s more than his love for me? The truth is, I don’t know. Maybe he does, indeed, love me more. I mean, I made him, after all.
- I wanted the argument to be over. This is hilarious to me now. Because of course engaging in a heated debate only made the argument last ten times longer. Responding to the comment, “I love you more” with “OK” is a much faster cut to the finish line.
It’s been fascinating to take a more offensive, instead of defensive, approach to arguing. Alex believes in his heart (that I made) that he loves me “Google-times-Google-times-Google-and-to-infinity-and-beyond” more…and I had been taking that away from him. I had been negating him.
Now, each and every night, I validate his love for me. When I say, “I love you, Alex” and he says, “I love you more, Mommy,” I say, “I think you might be right.”
And he beams from ear to ear, filled with pure and utter joy.
I thought I was winning before, but clearly I had no idea what winning looks like.
It looks a lot like that face.
What have you been falling on your sword for lately? Maybe you should try dropping that heavy sword during your next argument and see what happens.
It might just change everything.