“I Don’t WUV You!”


There’s nothing like waking up three times in the night, and tucking in your kid because she’s sick and rolling out of her bed, only to have her turn on you in the morning with that choice line. “I don’t WUV you, Tato!” My daughter always takes it back after she’s calmed down, and/or bribed with something fun (I’m not proud).

She’s been saying it a lot lately, and we’re trying to curb it. But it’s her go-to line, and the other day I realized that a simple “That’s not something we say in this family,” wasn’t cutting it. So the other night I took another approach.

“Okay. You know we don’t say this. It’s a very hurtful thing to say. But I know you don’t mean it.”


“You don’t, but you sound very upset. Are you upset because I wouldn’t let you chase the cat with a chair?”

“YEAH!” <tears streaming>

“Okay, then you need to tell me that. Say that instead of ‘I don’t love you.’ You do love me. And you love Mama, and you love your grandmother. And it hurts us when you say you don’t love us. Okay?”


“Now say you’re sorry.”


“And give me a kiss, and don’t chase the cat with a chair. Okay?”

“Yeah.” <tears change to giggles because I tossed her a stuffed Minnie Mouse>

I was walking home from the park with her the other day, and the whole scene came into my head again, because it’s been repeated a few times since then. She seems to be catching on, but it’s going to take a while because it was allowed to go on too long. We didn’t really know how to handle it, and I probably handled it badly. It’s called being a parent. You sometimes take a minute to truly get what’s going on, and by then it’s sometimes ingrained. But as I was walking, I had a mini-piphany. It’s not just her. We all do it.

We all have our go-to sayings. Sometimes it’s impossible for us to say, “I’m scared you don’t love me enough,” or “Your words just then hurt my feelings.” People end up saying things like, “Everything’s fine!” and then slamming dishes, or “I hate you!” when they really mean, “I’m scared of literally everything in my life right now, and your attitude isn’t helping things.” I think it’s a process that we need to constantly be aware of, and reassess at different points in our lives.

We develop shorthand for every relationship we ever have. Sometimes it’s face saving, sometimes it’s a fun inside joke. Those are the best kind of shorthand, because they connect us. But even that kind can be limiting. My close friend and I usually close our converstions with “Right on, right on.” He says it, and then I say it. It’s from the James Brown song, Sex Machine and, for us, it’s essentially come to mean, “I’m with you, and I’m here if you need me.” We trust that fact, just as James Brown trusted in Bobby Byrd until his dying day. “Right on, right on!”  But we also spell it out more specifically at times, and I think that’s important.

I think it’s just as important, if not more so, to spell out exactly what we mean instead of, “I hate that guy,” or <dish clatter in the sink>. Just like my kid doesn’t mean, “I don’t wuv you, Tato!” I think we all could use to be a little more specific with the people in our lives. Because it’s just not what we mean. What we do mean may take a little more introspection than we have the ability for in the moment, but if we sit on our immediate shorthand reaction for a half hour or so, we can usually sort out what it is that we need to convey. And it’s usually a lot more helpful than our shorthand could ever possibly be.

And sometimes it takes a toddler to point it out.



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