I love you. Three simple words we all long to hear. Three simple words that we take for granted and say without thought.

As parents, we tell our children we love them all the time, so much so that its possible they don’t always hear the words. Does that mean we stop? No. The love we feel is always there, ever growing, evolving, steadfast.

I like to tell my girl I love them when they least expect it. When they were young we’d play a game…“Hey daughter, guess what? I’d change my voice so it would be lower or higher, excited, nervous or scared and they’d always lean in or look up with wide eyes and reply “what?” That’s when I’d smile and say I love you with all the emotion I could possibly convey. The smile on their face, the love in their eyes, it always hits home.

Even now.

As my girls turned into teens, the I love you’s grew less and less, even though I’m always saying it. Sometimes they just smile, or nod or even shrug. Once in a while, I’ll get an I love you back. But that’s not why I’m saying it, not to hear it in return, but because I want them…I need them…to know just how much they mean to me.

For the past three years, getting an I love you from my middle daughter was difficult. Considering the extreme level of suicide thoughts and depression she was experiencing, it’s no wonder. But that didn’t stop me.

I told her I loved her as often as I could. Whether she wanted to hear it or not.

I’m sure there were months during these past three years she didn’t want to hear it. But she needed to. She needed to know I loved her no matter what happened, no matter what she did, no matter how hard she pushed me away.

And boy, did she push. Shoved. Head butted. Knocked me to the ground. Stomped all over me until there was almost nothing left, and yet, I’d tell her I loved her over and over, even when it hurt.

We will always love our children. Always. We might not always like them, but we will always love them.

I never realized how much those three little words meant to me – from my children – until they stopped being said. Every blue moon or so she would whisper them or say them as if they were an afterthought. My first instinct would be to pull her into a tight hug, or light up with joy…but I would remind myself to calm down and I’d downplay the experience. I’d smile, wink, say I love you too or thank you and then continue on with whatever I was doing.

My goal was to let her know that I know she loves me, that I’m always going to be here, that I’m never going away, no matter how hard she pushes or how far she runs.

I can count on one hand the number of times she’d say I love you while we went through our dark time. Not hearing the words hurt but I had to remind myself that deep down, the feelings were there. She just couldn’t see them in the moment.

So now, when she tells me she loves me…I notice, I let the words sink in, I screenshot the text message or mentally record her voice, her face, what we were doing, when she says them.

It’s not just with her though that I do this.

I’ve come to appreciate each time one of my girls says I love you. I hold those words tight to my heart. I will never take them for granted – because there was a time I could have lost a child and never heard those words from her again.

My husband kisses me every morning and tells me he loves me, before he leaves for work. Even though I’m asleep and have no idea he’s saying this, he does this because he needs to know within his own heart that if anything were to ever happen, at least he knew the last words he said to me were of love.

I love you. Three simple words that hold so much meaning. I will never take them for granted.

**this post is a result of getting a drunk text in the middle of the night from my daughter with the words I love you and a lot of hearts attached. I may have screenshot that text and saved it as a favorite, just saying…**