Motherhood

The Best Thing My Mom Did as a Parent

Jean Goddard

The boys and I visited my mom in Florida this weekend, and while making guacamole, I suddenly remembered something she used to say…

When we were kids, she used to regularly tell us (at bedtime, in the car, whenever, really): “There’s nothing you could ever do or say that would make me not love you.” She would bring it up in conversation, or just say it out of the blue.

Sometimes she would elaborate and add, “I would never be grossed out by anything” (I’m guessing she brought this up around first-period time), or “Even if you robbed a bank, you could always come to me, and we would figure it out.” It’s funny because she was pretty strict about everyday things — table manners, grades, curfews — but when it came to revealing our larger fears/worries/dreams, she was always a safe place.

She said it so often that my sister and I would roll our eyes. We were like, duh, Mom, WE KNOW.

But now that I’m an adult with children of my own, I realize how lucky we were to feel that sentiment so deeply, and what an incredible parenting gesture it was on her part. We ended up feeling comfortable telling or asking her about anything — first kisses, school anxieties, birth control, the list goes on.

I’d love to start saying this to my boys, so hopefully they’ll see me as an ally as they get older and their lives and worries get more complicated. It’s funny how even a single sentence can sometimes be so powerful, don’t you think?

Do you ever say things like this to your children? Do you remember any sayings or advice you parents told you? I’d love to hear…

P.S. Trying out slow parenting, and home as a haven.

  1. Jessie says...

    What a beautiful post. I’m not a mama but I’m a preschool teacher at a struggling inner city school, and in my classroom we try to create a culture of belonging and community. We created an “Everyone makes mistakes” book. We take photos of mistakes children make and add them to the book with their words. The children use it as a tool to teach their friends how they fixed a problem, or corrected a mistake. Now when block structures fall over children clap and delight. “Now let’s fix the mistake!” We have the a similar class book for “compassion ambassadors,” to reflect on moments of kindness. At the end of each day, we sing to each child one at a time, giving them an affirmation and thanking them for being in our class.

    • Lauren says...

      This is wonderful! These children are so blessed to have such a caring and thoughtful teacher like you.

    • Paula says...

      Jessie,
      I’d love to know what your song lyrics are and how it works when you sing. I am looking for meaningful songs and circle time routines for our little preschool.
      Thanks!
      Paula

    • This is so very wonderful. As the mother of 2 preschoolers I am tearing up – I’m so incredibly grateful to have wonderful teachers like you. Thank you for sharing!

    • Audrey says...

      This is so wonderful!

    • Rue says...

      Oh goodness, I want to do this at my workplace, and I work with college students and adults!

    • omg best idea EVER! I am so doing this mistakes book with my children. Thank you so much!

  2. ceciel says...

    Off topic, I can’t even with that bottom pic! You and Toby are twins (you hear this all the time, I’m sure) and your sister’s overalls!!!! Love ‘em. And yes, I’d love to start using your mama’s words. How safe and comfortable.

  3. What your mom did was so sweet and useful.. totally made me think of what I would say to my newborn son to help shape him into the person he is going to be in the future…

  4. Joanna says...

    Similarly, I’ve taken to saying to them throughout our days and at bed time “there is nothing you could do to make me love you more than I do. Nothing you could do to make me love you less.” They know it by heart and the truth of it makes me tear up regularly.

  5. Susan says...

    I have 2 girls and each night as I tuck them in I say “always be Kind, Strong, Smart and…they finish with Brave”! I do not recall where this originated – perhaps from a book we read but I feel they are important words. My youngest who’s 7 reminded me the other day that we hadn’t said it in a few nights (later bedtimes, rushed nights) and asked if we could try and remember to say it as they were special words to her!
    Maybe it will be something she might pass along someday….

    • I’m not a parent but what a wonderful sentiment! I wish we all tried harder to be kind, strong, smart & BRAVE.

  6. Christie says...

    That is such a powerful sentence full of unconditional love, thank you for sharing!

    I’ve followed and loved your blog for a long time…wondering if you’d ever be up for a post about growing up as a twin? I️ have a 4 year old and now 3 month old fraternal twins …although I’m not a very time mom, twins have thrown us for a loop from the start and I would love to hear motherhood advice from someone who has a twin sibling.

    Thanks for considering !

    • Anne Evans says...

      Yes please!!!

    • Sara says...

      Yes! I’m raising fraternal twins, would love a series!

    • Christina says...

      I’m a twin! And a singleton mom, so feel free to ignore my advice. Early on, my mom told the rest of the family that they should call us “the girls,” not “the twins.” She never dressed us in the exact same outfit, we were always in separate classes at school, and we grew to have very different personalities and interests. But we still share the awesome bond of twins—we’re best friends despite living on opposite sides of the country.

      As for being in the thick of it now with 3-month old twins…all my twin mom friends say it gets so much easier once they start to entertain each other. Wishing you luck and patience and sanity ;) in the meantime!

  7. That’s so lovely! What a great mom.

  8. Anabel says...

    I love this. I tell my almost-two-year-old son, “I love you more than anything in the whole world” and sometimes he will respond back “the whole world.” He is so young, but I hope he understands the sentiment of unconditional love. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Hannah says...

    My husband and me put these words to a slow little calm tune(for calm times), and also to a fast little crazy tune (for silly times): “I love you always and forever to the moon and back, no matter what/clap-clap, clap-clap/ I love you always and forever to the moon and back, no matter what/clap-clap, clap-clap/ I love you always and forever to the moon and back, no matter what- I love you always/clap-clap/ and forever/clap-clap/ to the Mooo-ooo-OOON —AND BACK! ”

    We sing this often to our kids; one night, I was quietly singing it to our daughter who had had a bad dream. When it came to the ‘clap-clap’ part, our son, who was only 15 months old at the time, sat bolt upright in his bed, still asleep and did the CLAP-CLAP, CLAP-CLAP.
    I will hold that moment in my heart forEVER. ???

    • Robin says...

      <3 <3 <3

  10. Madison says...

    When I was a little girl, I used to play outside all the time and would often come home with bruises and scrapes on my legs from riding bikes, rollerblading, etc. One time while I was in the tub, I told my mom I was sad that my legs were scratched up, and she replied that it just meant I was being a good kid. Instantly, I felt cool and adventurous instead of messy and ugly. It’s years and years later, and I’ve never forgotten that. Even now when I try something new (spin classes, yoga, etc.) and end up accidentally falling, I just remember that it means I’m being a good kid.

  11. Ali says...

    “Life’s not fair.” My father used that line more often than my mother. It can sound a little harsh, but there were times when it was totally appropriate to put me in my place. It was often followed up with some variation of “give thanks for…” or “you’re fortunate to…” or “but do your best and…” I truly think it has helped to keep me level-headed through the ups and downs of life. It’s not going to be fair – so I try to appreciate what I have, give to those who have less, and take joy in the simplest of things.

    • Lesley says...

      Um are you my sister? I have a sister named Ali and my dad always said the same thing to us. Life’s not fair. A hard thing to hear but really helped shape my perspective.

    • Rue says...

      My dad said this too and now I encounter adults sometimes and think, “Man, they really needed someone in childhood telling them that life isn’t fair!”

  12. Kirsty says...

    That’s lovely.

    I can’t get over how much you two look like Toby and Anton in the teeth cleaning picture! Very cute.

  13. I say that to my kids too! so cool to hear your positive grown-up perspective on it x

  14. Tina says...

    My Mum’s face always lit up when either my sister or I entered a room. It could be just popping into the kitchen to get a glass of water, she would literally beam at us. She was a strict parent but we always felt safe and loved.

    • Lais Cobra says...

      That is so lovely. Everyone notices when someone lights up for us. Isn’t powerful, we don’t even need words sometimes. :)

  15. Caroline says...

    I don’t have the best relationship with my mother, specially right now, I think all of you are very lucky, but I know If I need her she will be there for me, and she have always said to me that I have to control myself, my emotions, and that’s the best advice I have ever recieve.

  16. Andrea says...

    I made up a song one night when my first born was tiny but it works for any name. “I love you Odin, oh yes I do. I love you Odin, through & through. There’s nothing you can say or do, that will change how I love you.” You can sing it a million times in a row while barely awake!

    • Emily says...

      I love this!!

    • Lesley says...

      Oh my god I sing my son almost the exact same song, no idea where I stole it from! “I love you Leo, oh yes I do, I love you Leo, my love is true, I love you Leo, I doooo, oh Leo I love you!” And then he makes us sing it for every single person in our family on both sides including the dogs! (Drives my husband nuts hahaha!)

    • Robin says...

      Perfect!

    • Laura says...

      So sweet! It reminds me of “We love you Conrad” from Bye Bye Birdy!

  17. Growing up, my step-dad would always tell me when I left the house: “Call me at any time. I’ll come pick you up. No questions asked” and I have forever cherished that. I wasn’t fond of him growing up but I do 100% believe that I could call him today, as a grown woman, and he’d still do the same for me – no questions asked.

  18. Erin says...

    My mom would say pretty much the same thing to me, too. Made me feel very secure. She also added, as I got older and friends wanted to go out to parties, that no matter where I was, or what was happening / had happened, if I wanted out of there, she or my dad would come get me. All I had to do was call them, and they’d be there. That helped me out of more than a few uncomfortable high-school situations.

  19. Lauren says...

    My dad’s biggest pet peeve is lying, particularly if you’re bad at lying. So he’d always tell my brother and I that if we were going to lie, we should do it for a reason. He doesn’t have to say it so much anymore, but it made me a) think a lot more about why I was lying and what I thought I’d gain from it, and b) a much better liar when it was necessary. For instance, I learned from my dad that sometimes you have to lie to tell a good story, but your lie should be as close to the truth as possible so your story still sounds real, just more interesting than real life usually is. :)

  20. Jessica says...

    I love this and totally want to copy it. My husband and I started dating as 15 year olds and my father in law would always tell me, “if you ever got in trouble, call me and I would bail you out of jail.” He would also say it to my husband and his siblings. Though it’s a funny thing to say, I knew what he meant. He loved me as his own and would do anything for me or his children, no matter what circumstance we found ourselves in.

  21. Nicole says...

    My mom would always tell me “I will always love you, no matter who you love.” I always felt so secure knowing that, and hope to share it with my own kids someday.

  22. Katie says...

    Our boys are 2 and 1, and we are loving the cute book “I love you stinkyface” – the takeaway is that even if they were a wild, smelly swamp monster, or a green space alien that eats bugs for lunch, their parents will take care of them and love them always.

    • Anna says...

      My kids and I adore that book!

    • Elizabeth says...

      Our family loves this book, too, and I love that you quoted it almost word for word. My husband and I just about have it memorized, too! How fun to think that we’ve probably read it to our kids on the same night somewhere along the way. ?

  23. Jane says...

    There is a Korean phrase my mom always says that basically translates to “your words become seeds (that grow).” I’m not sure if this is exactly what it’s supposed to mean, but she used that phrase to imply that if you speak positively of others and of ourselves, positive things will happen. Consequently, if you always have negative things to say then negativity will find you. I find myself saying this phrase all the time now, too.

    • Robin says...

      Joanna, can we have a post with highlights from this comment section? So much wonderful inspiration and advice. I have two young boys too (4 and 1) and this is at least the fourth comment where I’ve been stopped in my tracks, thinking I’ve got to remember this! I know there’s a ton more I haven’t even gotten to.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s a great idea, robin!

  24. Anna says...

    Before every sports game, as we ran out the car towards our teammates, my parents would always call out “Do your best and have fun!” Of course they’ve said lots of other wonderful things too–about love, belonging, communication, kindness. But that one has become something of a sweet catchphrase in our family, for lots of situations, even now that we’re much older.

  25. Nicola says...

    My wonderful dad said this, and he meant it, and even now he’s no longer around when I reflect ‘what would dad say’ the answer always begins with ‘you are my child and I love you no matter what…’

  26. Kira says...

    In What Happened, Hillary Clinton talks about how her dad used to tell her this when she was little. In November, she wondered if he would still love her if she told him that she lost a presidential election and allowed Trump to become president. But because he always said it, she knew he would

    • JeanneW says...

      This gave me an unexpected lump in my throat. *sniff*

  27. Angela says...

    I tell my kids,”I love you no matter what.” or “Nothing you could do would make me love you more; nothing you could do would make me love you less.” Similarly, my husband and I tell each other “I love you, always, regardless.”

    • 613bean says...

      “I love you, always, regardless.”

      Oooh, I love this!

  28. I agree, I think one of the most important things a parent can give their child is the knowledge that they can approach them about anything. Growing up, I always knew I could speak to my father about anything (relationship dramas, awkward sex, school anxieties, bad decisions etc.) My dad has always worked with youth and is so approachable in this regard that even my friends would sometimes talk to him – and were in awe of the fact that they I could broach any subject with him. He is a fantastic parent and I hope that I can someday do the same for my children. He is writing a blog if anyone is interested: https://how2livewithcancer.blogspot.ie

  29. Devina says...

    The second photo kills me!!!! Toby and Anton at the same size

  30. Hannah says...

    Neither of my parents ever said things like this to me. They thought it was implied that they loved me and therefore they didn’t need to actual go out of their way to say it. They would write “I love you very much” on birthday cards but there were never any verbal sentiments or reassurances. So no surprise that I turned out to be a very “words of affirmation” person! In my mind, unless you express to someone how you feel and what they mean to you in a direct way, they will never know. I go out of my way to do this with my fiancé and we plan to do the same with our kids. Some things you just need to hear out loud.

  31. Ava says...

    I had that jumper with the farm print! so funny to see it on someone else. I have super strong memories of that print for some reason.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      so funny!

  32. G says...

    For a couple of years now, my six-year old always uses the phrase, “Can I tell you something?” Before telling me some random bit of information, and I always respond with, “Always.” So that she knows she can always tell me anything.

    • Angela says...

      Love that.

  33. What a lovely post.

  34. My mom used to give me so many bits of little life advice and still does today! I hear myself saying them to people much younger than me and it always makes me smile when I catch myself doing it!

  35. Though my mom was fairly strict, she said those exact words to me over and over. So I did go to her with everything. Today, she’s my best friend. And, goodness, yes, love this post as a reminder that I need to do the same with my baby boy.

  36. JR says...

    The best parenting one-liner my father ever said to me was the day he dropped me off at college: “The rules here are there are no rules. But the consequences are your own.” It was an exciting time, but message received: “I was on my own” was an exciting prospect, but I was ON MY OWN… no one was going to bail me out if I messed up. It sounds harsh and the opposite of yours, but the truth is, it was what I needed to hear to help me take such a big transition seriously.

  37. Tami says...

    I’ve always told my (now 5 1/2 y/o) son, “I love you the most and the best, better than all the rest”.
    It’s our thing.

  38. Cassidie says...

    My mom always says that we can fix anything except suicide. Nearly all of my family has some sort of mental health concern so there was that to address and then just instilling hope and help.

  39. Love this. My mother (who died of metastatic breast cancer almost 6 years ago from breast cancer) said similar things and honestly, those words still give me a sense of comfort, confidence, and calm in my day-to-day life even though she’s gone.

    A couple weeks ago I took my 9yo niece out for breakfast. My mother-in-law, whose mother had just died a few days earlier, was dropping us off at the restaurant and my niece blurted out a question to us: “what do you think happened to great grandma when she died?” My mother-in-law shared her beliefs about heaven because she’s a Christian. My niece told us that when she was “really little, like 6 years old” she thought people were “reborn over and over again in new bodies” (so adorable that she didn’t know the word for incarnation). Later when it was just the two of us eating breakfast, I felt so compelled to explain to her that no one, not even grown-ups, know for sure what happens to people when they die, and that it’s okay not to know or even to disagree with people you know who believe one thing. That was a message I wish more adults had given me when I was growing up: your beliefs are your own, you’re allowed to think for yourself, and you’ll still be loved and respected. She got this, “duh, Aunt B, I know you love me” look on her face like I always did with my mom when she said stuff like that to me, but I hope someday she remembers that conversation and that it gives her comfort and confidence when she needs it most.

  40. Meg says...

    One thing I have found myself repeating to my kids as they get older is, “this is hard, but one thing I know about you is that you are good at doing hard things.” It applies to big stuff like managing anxiety or troubles with friends and little stuff like math problems, and every time they persist, it becomes more and more true.

    • Lizzie says...

      Wow. So good.

    • Michelle says...

      I love this too. Tucking it away.

    • Robin says...

      Love this!

    • Anna says...

      Wow – Me too.

  41. Jess N S says...

    I tell my daughter, “I love you, every day.” and now she’s starting to say that back to us ?

  42. Ana says...

    Such a wonderful advice. I wonder if I should use it with my stepson. I’ ve been struggling with this relationship and sometimes it’s difficult to know what is or isn’t appropriate to say to him. It’s still awkward between us, even though we’ve been living together for three years (he’s eight). The stepmother-stepson relationship can be such a challenge, I’d love to read a post about it on your blog, Joanna.

  43. Alexandra Marie says...

    I always say the best thing my mother ever gave me was the ability to entertain myself. Her response to the “I’m bored” whining was always “There’s no such thing, go find something to do”, and I remember thinking it was so infuriating! Now, though, I’m grateful. Not having to rely on others for my entertainment means I am free to find my own joy in most situations.

    I feel like creating space for your mind to be blank for a bit is a rare thing these days. It seems like parents my age are afraid of their kids being bored, families are so busy, and we are so plugged in that we can’t focus on things like watching raindrops racing each other on the windows or staring at a blank wall and daydreaming.

    • Ann says...

      My dad always said, “If you’re bored, you’re boring.”

  44. Beth says...

    My son loves the book “Mama, Do You Love Me?” by Barbara Joose – which is particularly awesome because the things the little kid does in the book are all centered around native Alaskan culture, but it still resonates with him!

    We also play a game where I say “I love you thiiiiis much” while holding my finger and thumb pinched almost together. Then I widen my hands about a foot and say it again, then wider until my arms are wide open and ready for a hug. When he’s sad or whiney or hangry or whatever it’s always a good way to lighten the mood.

  45. Lashley says...

    I tell my kids, “I love you just the way you are, no matter what, and I always will.” My three year old definitely rolls his eyes at me sometimes, but if I forget to say it before bed time, he will call me out!

    I also love the line that Pete Souza recounts in his new book that Pres Obama would say to his daughters: “be kind and be useful.” We talk a lot about being a helper, but I like the language of being “useful” too!

  46. Marlena says...

    Ya know, I am probably not alone in saying that I never really heard this from my mother as a child. For instance, I was wordlessly pointed to the “lady drawer” in my mother’s bathroom when I started my period. That was it. I knew I could not go to her with stuff. So, I have let my children know from day one that I absolutely will not tolerate bad manners or laziness… but I will always tolerate their utter screw ups and questions. We recently hit the teenage years and I have already received two phone calls that begin with “Mom. I f!@#ed up.” And I am so thankful that she knows she can make those phone calls. That, to me, is a mothering WIN.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      you sound like an amazing mom, marlena. i hope my kids will make those calls to me one day!

  47. Anne says...

    On the one hand, I know that my mom loves me no matter what. I’ve never doubted that she loved me. However, she’s an anxious and sometimes negative person, so her love was often expressed in a way that made me feel like I’d done something wrong, or that she didn’t believe in me. One high school trauma that jumps out was that she wouldn’t let me sleep over at a girlfriend’s house after prom because she thought I might be trying to lie and sneak my way into a hotel room with my date (I wasn’t). Was she motivated by love? Absolutely, she was trying to keep me safe. Did I trust her with my problems? Of course not. It’s so complicated!

    • L says...

      My mom is also anxious and negative. Sometimes she says something and I’ll ruminate about it for days, and my boyfriend will remind me she’s “a half empty.” Whereas we’ve half full.

  48. Holly says...

    When I was growing up, I used to always ask my mom if I was pretty. She would respond with, “Yes, and you’re pretty on the inside where it counts.”

    At the time, I found this annoying and thought that maybe she was dodging the question, but as an adult, I’m so glad that I was raised to care more about who I was on the inside rather than my outer appearance.

  49. Jen says...

    Oh my gosh every night I whisper to my boys” you can tell me anything and I will always love you “. They will be 4 and 5 in a couple days. I’ve been saying this for years and the almost 5 yr old will whisper it back in my ear. Soooo thank you for validating I’m not brainwashing my kids ha

  50. Marianne says...

    I tell my kids I love them every single day. I have boys the same age as yours, Joanna, and they enjoy speeches like: “I love you when you help me. I love you when you draw things. I love you when you’re angry too, and when you are mad at me.”

    But the best I can tell them is this: “I love you even more than chocolate and ice cream and diamonds and gold and jewelry! If someone told me I could have all the money and all the chocolate in the whole world if I gave them you in return, I would say NO!” Their faces light up every time :)

  51. Jacqueline Sinfield says...

    I have severe dyslexia which was’t diagnosed until I was 28years old. School was really hard for me. My Mum would always say ‘just do your best’. Which I always did, even though my friends would get much better grades for less effort.
    Now many years later I know that that message helped me so much. I have a really strong determination and know can do anything I put my mind too.

  52. Meghan says...

    My mom always said, “I not only love my children, but I like them, too.”

    It was simple, but it always made me feel so good.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      awww love this.

  53. Zoe says...

    I find myself telling my two small children all the time “no matter what, I’m always here.” Or “I’ll always be here for you, I’ll never leave you”. Hopefully they won’t think of it literally, like I won’t give them independence, but more so that I’ve always got their back and they can count on me. I don’t remember my parents saying that to me, but that is certainly how they made me feel (unconditionally loved) so perhaps in that way I’m simply passing it along. I also recognize that this love is the greatest gift they could ever give me. When things have ever been rough in my life their having my back has been the steady rock I needed.

  54. Amanda G says...

    For most of my childhood, my mom would always let me know that she would love me no matter what I did, and she always made me feel so comfortable talking about things, even the awkward conversations (sex, periods, etc.). We had a great relationship and I never, ever doubted her unconditional love.

    When I was a junior in high school, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and went through a round of chemo and radiation. I have never been quite sure whether it was the chemo or something else entirely, but after she was done with it she began suffering from a (likely) undiagnosed mental illness, which has run pretty rampant in our family. Over the years, I realized our relationship was slowly slipping away, and it culminated in her reaction to my engagement to my fiancee (who I had been with for six years at that point), in which she told me she did not love me, she did not want to be invited to our wedding, and she also wanted no part in the lives of our future children.

    I’m not telling this for pity, but instead to underscore how fortunate it is to have a loving and supportive parent(s). I hope that if I have children someday, I can adopt a similar mantra with them and never, ever forget it: “nothing could not make me love you.” Jo, I love your parenting posts, and your sweet boys are so lucky to have you!

    xo

    • Anna says...

      Amanda, I’m so sorry. My mom and I also have a relationship that was good when I was young and deteriorated over time. It’s so confusing. One more thing to add to the “how not to be a parent” list.

    • Amanda G. says...

      Anna, it’s such an odd feeling isn’t it? It’s been almost four years and I still struggle almost every day with the tug of both guilt and relief. I definitely have one of those lists as well, though!

    • Elizabeth says...

      This summer my mother said something similar to me – not that she didn’t love me but that I was a difficult person and she didn’t want to see me any more whilst inviting my siblings to her house for the holidays. My mother has always struggled with mental health issues but this was the most difficult thing I could have heard, especially considering that my husband and I have been the ones who have helped my parents out over and over again when they needed it as both of my siblings have been out of the country for most of their adult life. When my dad found out my mom had said that to me and that I wasn’t welcome in their home he was livid as that was not at all the parenting values he wanted. He worked hard to mediate, so all’s well that ends well… but…

      I don’t care if you’re five years old of fifty five, being told that by your mother hurts exactly the same way in exactly the same place. Even though I’ve put my big-girl pants on and moved on and am still helping them I still feel a little pinprick in my heart when I talk to my mother. I hope time smooths that over.

  55. Kellie P. says...

    My 4-year-old daughter and I have a little game that she calls “Even.” We go back and forth saying even if you ___, I would still love you. I usually start with stuff like, even if you lost my wedding ring [which has happened], I would still love you. And she says, even if you threw away all of my toys, I would still love you. Then we get sillier, like, even if you farted on my pillow I would still love you! It usually ends with her saying something ridic, like, even if you threw me out the window, I would still love you. And then I wince and say HONEY, I WOULD NEVER DO THAT!!

    • Love this!

  56. Catharine says...

    Gosh-little Toby, little Anton!

    My husband always says: “little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems” I am a firm believer that you establish that trust when problems are “little” so when things get “big” you already have an open dialogue going. You have a great mom!

    • Jo says...

      I agree; this is a beautiful book and I read it to my own boys and also, quite often to my class at school – which is tricky, because I always almost start to cry at the ‘No matter what you say or you do, it makes no difference, because I love you’.
      This would be a good book to introduce the idea of this post to really young children – when you want to explain to a toddler after a frustrating day, how it doesn’t matter that you got all annoyed with each other, but you’re not sure how to do that at their level.

    • Suzieq says...

      We love No Matter What by Debi Gliori. When my two year old has a tantrum, I begin to softly read it to her. It calms us both down (maybe me especially?). Definitely adds perspective and helps me feel close and connected, especially in the aftermath of a meltdown or long day.

  57. My grandmother has told me that my whole life. It especially came in handy when I had a realization that I did not have the same religious beliefs as her, and we had several difficult conversations that always ended in her saying that, even though I knew she was deeply affected by my change of beliefs. It was so comforting and part of what has kept us so close throughout so many life changes.

  58. when i was little, my dad was always the one helping us with math homework. at some point, math got harder and even my engineer-dad started having trouble with it… so, he’d always say… ‘when you don’t know what to do, do what you know’… his point then was, start going through the simple, basic steps that you KNOW… and that will gradually lead you to a solution of a pretty complex problem. i keep catching myself saying this to myself and others now in all sorts of circumstances… and it was never even intended as a life lesson, i think. or maybe it was.

  59. Summer says...

    When my 4 yo foster son first told me he loved me it was a bit jarring/heartbreaking for me, and of course I said I love you too. But did I really love him after knowing him only a few (very challenging) weeks? Maybe, but obviously it doesn’t matter what I felt, he needed to hear it. I think I will add ‘no matter what’ when I say it with our next placement, because the ‘what’ could mean so many things (going back to bio parents, giant meltdowns every night, parents not showing for visit, breaking things, hitting me). Kids with trauma are craving unconditional love even if they don’t know it. I will also say it sooner and first, even if I may not be feeling it, as more of a fake it til you make it approach.

    • Mimi says...

      ???

  60. E says...

    PLEASE do an interview with your mom! Or other, “seasoned” moms. I have a baby girl, and not the best model for motherhood, and would just love some straight-up advice/encouragement.

    • Sara J says...

      Seconded!

  61. Nicole says...

    My Dad said that once to me in the car. “You know I’d love you no matter what, right? Even if you did something you think would upset me or I wouldn’t approve of, I’d still love you.” For some reason that always stuck with me. On some level I think I always knew that, but hearing him say it aloud to me in high school really opened a door for me to feel like I could go to him for anything.

  62. Tabitha says...

    When I was 16 I got in a car accident and totaled the family car. (Fun fact: apparently if the airbags go off 9 times out 10 the car is totaled!) Afterwards I was crying in my room, sure I was going to be grounded forever, when my mom walked in with a bowl of ice cream. When I asked why she just said, “I figured you were already having a bad day, so you could use some ice cream.”

    She actually thanked me later because since insurance helped pay for a new car she got to upgrade to a newer model with heated seats and a sunroof! XD

  63. Rebecca says...

    My mom always said ‘You are lovable and capable’. It’s become a joke at my office because I’m always passing on the message when people are stressed out.

  64. Sasha says...

    Unconditional love, the single biggest gift we can give our children. I don’t think it was so much your mom saying it, as doing it. She showed you, in so many ways, that she loved you just as you are, just for being you.

    I told my children, and the little children I care for now, “i love you, when you’re sad, happy, mad, frustrated. I love all of you, all off the time. I love you just because you’re you”

    *tearing up* and all I can hear is Mr Rogers singing “there are many ways to say i love you. …”

    Jo, I bet you anything, even if you’ve never said the words to your boys, they know. We show this to our children when we help them by setting boundaries, and offer our help when they are stuck, and notice when they are trying hard. Every day we do this.

  65. Lucy in England says...

    My mother was and is very much a deeds not words person although she’s got more vocal as we have gotten older. I tested her to the max as a teen when I got a tattoo as I knew she REALLY hates them. She predictably hit the roof when she found out two years after I got it done. The next morning I slunk down for breakfast and she looked at me and said “I love you. Don’t get another one.”

    We actually got a poster made with her sayings on… some of which include

    “Enjoy the now.”
    “You can always take layers off.”
    “When it’s gone it’s gone.”

    I hear myself say these to my toddler, but we have a little mantra of our own: “You are kind and clever and brave and strong.” And we say “I love you…” and she replies “very much.” Always the last thing at bedtime ?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “You can always take layers off.” = hahaha love.

  66. Ashley says...

    I love this! My mom has always provided this safe place for us, too. Even as the family rebel, as I continue to stretch beyond the borders of what my parents are accustomed to or comfortable with, I know I will always have their love. My mother especially has been the source of strength I need to explore my curiosities. She is delighted to allow me to open her world, too, through the often strange and uncomfortable situations that this kind of truly limitless love can find itself in. I will always know I have a home in her.

    Something my parents always told me that I thought was a standard part of childhood was “You can be anything you want to be”. When I wanted to go to art school to study illustration, they encouraged me to work hard at it, to go and be my best at it. I remember going on a long walk in NYC with a lover and learning that he hadn’t been told this as a child in a way that felt believable. Stunned, I continued to ask people. Most people I encountered must have missed this memo:
    You can follow your dreams, really. You can be a success by doing the things you love, really.
    I am grateful to have always believed this.

  67. Amanda says...

    I remember riding in the car with my mom when I was around 10 and she told me there was nothing I could ever do to make her stop loving me. I don’t even think she thought it was a big statement at the time — it was just a fact she was sharing — and I doubt she remembers this at all. But, I’ve remembered it my whole life and I think about it now that I have a 1.5 year old. I think more than anything else that’s what I want to give to him — confidence that my love for him requires nothing in return.

  68. Mari says...

    I do this exact thing with my kids right now! They’re only 5 and 2.5, but ensuring that they feel truly unconditional love is so important to me.

  69. Lindsay says...

    Unconditional love. As an adult, I realize so much of my confidence, resilience and ability to embrace life and all
    it’s uncertainties is because I have parents the love me unconditionally. My Mom passed away last year at 64, and speaking at her funeral it was clear her greatest gift to me was her unconditional love.

    • Sasha says...

      That’s so beautiful. I’m sorry for your loss. What a gift she left you.

  70. Lisa says...

    My mom did a similar thing and she ended up being “the mom” among my friends growing up – the one who knew everything without yelling or using it against us. We did have a curfew, but if I got home 15minutes late because I didn’t want to leave my friend waiting for her ride alone, I didn’t get in trouble. “Never leave each other, and stay away from drugs” was her only rules when we became young adults who started going out. I always knew “the rules” but I also knew that when it mattered she would never yell.

  71. Abbey says...

    When I was a kid, my dad would always say “do you want to know a secret?” And I would say “what?” And he would say, “Your daddy loves you very much.” He said it so much that it eventually turned into the shorthand “Secret. Love you.” And then, when I went to college and we started emailing, it became “SLY” at the end of every email. I always took it so for granted, but as an adult he told me that he had come from a home where no one said “I love you.” When I was born he had wanted so much to say it to me, but it felt so strange to him that he only felt comfortable whispering it to me.

    He died a few years ago, and when I think of “Secret. Love you,” it breaks my heart a little, but also makes me feel so lucky to have had a dad like that, and to have grown up with no doubt in the world as to how he felt about me.

    • Liv says...

      What a beautiful tribute- tears!

    • Silver says...

      What a beautiful story – and how wonderful that he knew he wanted a whole new life and he could do it. You are so lucky!

    • Jenna says...

      Well, this made me tear up in my cubicle. Beautiful.

  72. Emmie says...

    My mom too. (And for the record, it felt like all the kids with strict parents always behaved worse than the ones who had a safe ally at home).

    She also said I could call her at any hour of the night if I needed her. And I did once, at 4am, when I got myself into a tricky situation. She picked me up in the middle of the night. No questions asked, except for if I was ok. Still remember that feeling. Knowing I could reach her when needed without a barrage of comments/judgments.

    • Kate says...

      I agree! The kids with super strict parents were always off the chain, and sneaking around, lying and going a bit crazier than the rest of us.

      My mum used to pick us up when we were 18 from the nightclub in her pjs and take us through the McDonalds drive through for cheeseburger each. Anytime of the night. So sweet!

  73. Liv says...

    This is a regular thing at our house- especially with my middle boy- he’s 5 and since his baby brother came along about a year ago, he’s been asserting himself a bit and stretching to make space for himself and figure out where he fits now in the family picture. When he acts out and we have to discipline him- we’re quick to smother him with affection afterward. He always asks if we love him no matter what- and the relief on his face when we reassure him ‘no matter what’ makes me tear up every time. ‘Always, always. No matter what.’

  74. Musilla says...

    Less sentimental, but ‘better out than in’ if you were sick. Unbelievably comforting. And from being a teenager to now in my mid thirties ‘sweetheart, do you honestly think you will be thinking of this in two years’ time?’. It’s amazing how many things seem very manageable when you really focus on whether or not it will matter a year or two later!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahaha i love that. so funny. i think shrek says that!

  75. K says...

    I love this. It’s fun being a parent now and remembering things your own parents did. You don’t alwayd see the impact until you’re in their shoes

  76. Louisa says...

    I was a super grumpy teen – completely unable to show love to my parents for years – and I remember my mom saying as I left for school one day — “I know, no matter what, how much you love me.”

    I probably just grunted a reply, but I never forgot it.

  77. When my eldest daughter was about 6, shortly after my husband and I separated, she became very anxious about whether I would stop loving her too. My attempts to reassure her were improved when I bought the picture book “No Matter What” by Debi Gliori, about a mummy fox (Big) reassuring her cub (Small) that she would love them ‘no matter what’ and that love, like starlight, never dies. It was a regular bedtime story in our house, and over the years since then we’ve revisited the sentiments in the book many times, with sometimes just the words ‘no matter what’ being enough to chase away any doubts, especially during those tricky teenage years.

  78. Meg says...

    I can’t remember my mother ever telling me, REALLY TELLING ME, that she loved me. I’m sure she did, but my i can’t recall it. I tell my son regularly and out loud all the time (usually out of the blue) that I love him dearly and no matter what. It unconditional. He tries to pre-empt me sometimes and we both laugh. It’s a small thing you can do to build a relationship with your child.

  79. Holly says...

    Joanna, can you please please please write a book about parenting/family/motherhood? You have so many good tips.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      you’re so sweet, holly! that would be really fun — i’d love to think more about that :)

    • Good idea! I was going to comment about how much Joanna’s parenting has influenced so many of us. I have been reading the parenting tips/stories since long before I became a mom, and I find myself referencing them often.
      Joanna, you have a knack for combing modern and sweet/sentimental sensibilities – plus a whole lot of very obvious love – and it’s very inspiring.

    • brianna says...

      I’d read that (and I’m not a parent and have no plans to become one). Maybe she should just write a general life guide and include a parenting chapter.

    • Jane says...

      On a similar note, a parenting book cowritten by you and your mom would be lovely!

  80. One of the best things my Mom did was to start teaching me financial literacy at a very early age. She was adamant that a woman should not depend on a man and that HAS. SERVED. ME. WELL.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      YES!!!!! amazing point, jen.

    • Kate says...

      Smart mom.

    • Lesley says...

      Most definitely! A man is not a financial plan!

  81. Jody says...

    My mother made me feel the opposite and has gone as far as to say things like “I will disown you”. As a result, we’ve had a troubled relationship for as long as I can remember. I’m not saying this to be a downer, just to reinforce the power of your mom’s sweet words. They are definitely something that all parents should implement in one way or another.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you so much for your thoughtful and honest note, jody. xoxo

    • Laura says...

      I’m sorry, Jody! Same here. My mom wonders why I don’t have a relationship with her, when she’s made it clear to me that her love is very conditional (and therefore not real love). I’m struck by how lucky people from homes like Joanna’s are, and how envious I feel.

    • Meghan says...

      Totally with you, Jody – my mom was emotionally abusive for years, and now my husband and I don’t have any contact with her. It’s sad, it’s hard, it’s real. At the end of the day, those are HER mistakes – not mine, not yours. We all have the chance to do better and make good with our own sweet family. Sending so much love to you <3

    • Hannah says...

      Same here. My mom used to always say “you kids are driving me to drink” or that she wanted to run away from us. These posts are bittersweet sometimes, but it does make me think of the type of mom I want to be eventually.

    • NHA says...

      Couldn’t agree more with this. I heard similar sentiments my whole life, Jody. I can’t imagine having a mother like Joanna’s. Sometimes I forgive my mother’s behavior by saying “she turned me into the tough as nails person that I am today” and I justify it by thinking I may have turned out to have no ambition if she didn’t withhold love the way she did to push me harder and further. But I think that is just a coping mechanism I have developed to deal with it.

    • Nicole says...

      Same. These posts always make me wish I’d had this kind of mom/family, but also feel grateful seeing how many people want to be this kind of parent. My mom was emotionally abusive, yet always told me she loved me. She never showed me that she loved me, however, and even today at almost 30, I find verbal proclamations of love hard to believe.

    • Jean says...

      Thank you Jody and everyone. I scrolled down to find this post so that I would find a kindred spirit. I am happy that others have such loving upbringings and I’m relieved that I am not like my own mother to my children.

    • Morgan says...

      Same here. I was looking for someone else here who teared-up reading this because they never received this kind of love. It’s a knot like a sob waiting to escape from my throat. But – but! I am trying to be a first generation unconditional lover to my three daughters.

    • Jodi says...

      I’ll add another voice along with the others here that do not enjoy a warm relationship with their mom. My mom actually severed her ties to the entire family over the course of several years until she had finally estranged herself from everyone. Too much to get into here, but one of the biggest takeaways for me has been learning how to love & care for myself better than ever, and to watch myself carefully so as not to repeat her patterns of behavior. I always feel like no one else can understand what it feels like to have your own mother choose not to have you in her life, but I know others are out there. Be strong, ladies, we can move forward with grace and love.

    • Joanna says...

      Just wanted to sign up on the ‘troubled relationship’ group. It was bad. It is still painful to be reminded that you might be a totally different person if you had a somehow more ‘normal’ and loving relationship with your mother. I for sure have very bad experiences to reference to, in order to avoid them, with my daughter and can only try my best to always be her ‘safe place’.

  82. Holly says...

    My mom says something like this as well (she still says it, and I am 34). She really sealed the deal when I finally did something stupid (it took me until I was 19), was expecting the wrath and she was nothing but supportive (my dad as well). I will never forget it, but thank you so much for the reminder that my kids need to hear it too.

  83. Ivy says...

    I remember vividly what my mom told me once in regards to high school partying: “Sweetie, should you have too much fun and need a ride, I want you to call me. I’ll pick you up, put you in your jammies, brush your teeth, and won’t ask any questions.”

    Now, it turns out she had a pretty nerdy daughter who didn’t taste her first sip of alcohol until she was well into her sophomore year of college, but the sentiment behind what she said has always stuck with me. She trusted me and because of that, I trusted and respected her immensely. That two-way street of consideration for the other person has lead to a very rewarding relationship between the two of us.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “put you in your jammies”!!! love that so much. what a great mom.

  84. Jen says...

    Love this. Our family motto with our kids has always been “I love you no matter what.” We’ve said that to them since they were born. We repeat it often to them and have added specific scenarios like you described your Mom doing.

    In my Mothers Day card this year, my son wrote, “I will always love you; there is nothing you could ever do that would not make me.” So yeah, they’re definitely getting the message. :D

    We also try to really model transparency for our kids. It’s one thing to encourage them to always come to you, but they follow your lead. So, when they ask me questions whose answers seem too personal or mature for them to hear, I find a way to communicate the honest truth with them (in an age-appropriate way). When you show them that you will share truth with them — even the hard, ugly stuff — it builds trust and gives them space to do the same.

    • Liv says...

      I love this so much.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      love this, too.

    • Amber says...

      I so respect your aim to be transparent with your children! Growing up my mom always told me “you can tell me anything/you can ask me anything” but never modeled that herself. It put all the pressure on me as a young child which was a hard ask, since she did not model how to have those conversations. This is something I hope to be better at with my own children….the relationship really is a two way street.

  85. Gaylen Blankenship says...

    Yes, I said and say this in many ways….but please remember when it comes time, that it is their job to individuate. There will be a time when they want absolutely nothing to do with you. And it’s so freaking heartbreaking and exactly the healthy thing for them to do. They need the foundation of unconditional love but try to remember (because it hurts like hell) there’s a phase coming where you will think they didn’t hear you……it passes quite quickly, happy to say!

    • Cooper says...

      Good point! I remember my mom saying, during my last year of high school, “It’s normal for you to hate me. It will help you leave home when you’re ready.” It was actually super comforting because suddenly my complicated teen feelings felt purposeful :)

  86. Leah says...

    All I could think when I saw the photo of you and your sister was: “Hello, Toby!”

  87. Natalie says...

    I distinctly remember rocking my son when he was a baby and telling him that no matter what I would always love him and that I would tell him that every day. He may not have understood it at that time but I have always told him I love him. I like to think that’s why my son who is now 5 is such a caring little boy- kids tend to emulate what’s around them. Show them unconditional love and they will bestow it upon others

  88. i always felt all that was conditional – as long as i behaved/got good grades (all As)/followed the rules. when i realized that i didn’t necessarily need all that, i got to the business of living my life.

    i do recall telling my sisters that no matter what they did, i would always have their back. i don’t particularly care for them, but if they were to call me randomly needing something, like to bury a body or whatever, i’d likely be in. or at least pay for their lawyer.

  89. Leanne says...

    From the time our firstborn was just wee (he’s four, so he’s still wee), I constantly told him that our family is a team and we’ll always be there for each other no matter what. That mommy and daddy will try not to solve his problems for him, but we’ll always be there to talk things out and help him solve them himself. That we love him no matter who he loves. It feels kind of silly, but our two-year old daughter will murmur “we’re a team: mommy and daddy and Eric and Eleanor” before nodding off to sleep and it’s the best thing ever. I’m so happy to hear this helped you and your sister, as I want my kids to also come talk about anything with us. I want to be their safe space.

  90. Scarlett says...

    What a beautiful sentiment. And wow! Anton looks JUST like you (?? I’m assuming it’s you and not your sister!) as a little one!!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      haha i’m on the right in the top photo, and on the left in the bottom photo :)

  91. Clare says...

    I love the way she phrases it – it’s something I want to convey, and that declaration is short and sweet. These comments are all making me teary, so I should stop reading and get back to work.
    One thing – every morning, before both boys go off to school/daycare, my husband gives them a hug and a kiss, and says “I want you to be kind, generous, caring, loving, gentle, and patient, because I know you are all of those things.”
    Our 6 year old says “I KNOW!” but I think he kind of loves it too – it feels good that your parents assume the best about you, and tell you every single morning.

  92. JO says...

    My mom said this, too! Nothing better?.
    Recently, my friend was going through her son’s backpack, looking at his homework, notes, etc, and he said, “Mom, stop!” Her response? “No. I am never, ever stopping!” I though that was so perfect and stood for so much of motherhood.

    • jules says...

      love this

    • Emmie says...

      Eeek, I vote to give your kids some privacy, especially when specifically requested.

    • JO says...

      To clarify, the boy is only in elementary school?.

  93. Saz says...

    For me, it wasn’t so much what she said… It was how… “there” she was (hell, STILL is) If I was ever ill at school, I knew mum would always come and get me. If I needed help with something, she was always there to help. Whether that was “fix the head back on my Barbie doll please” or “oh shit I think I might be getting fired”. She was ALWAYS ALWAYS “there”.
    The older I get, the more I realise how much she sacrificed for my sister and I, and how incredibly blessed and fortunate I was/am. :)

  94. Maria Castro-Castillo says...

    Yes, my mom said the same thing: She would always loved us no matter what and I always felt I had that foundation where no matter what I could always come back to and feel loved.

  95. Lauren says...

    This makes my tear up. My always said/says this too. I’m almost 37. Thank you for the reminder. I will tell my 3.5 year old daughter this today. And thank you in general for your blogs/your posts. They are always a favorite part of my day :)

  96. Sarah says...

    My mother also was incredibly vocal about her unconditional love for us. I think it went a really long way in making us feel safe, valued, and confident.

  97. Connor says...

    Every night when I tuck my 4 year old daughter in bed, I say ” I love you always and forever..” and then she says “no matter what!” I’ve been saying this to her since she was a baby and now she finishes my thought.

  98. Laura C. says...

    Oh, Jo. I am always, always always telling my girls that I love them. Constantly every day,since my mother didn’t tell me that. Even today I can’t feel her love, although I guess that she loves me. I guess that I could stand my girls telling me one day, in a moment of anger, “I don’t love you mom”, but I couldn’t bear if they told me “you don’t love me mom”.
    So I am constantly making sure that they do know that I do love them with all my heart.

  99. A says...

    I don’t ever recall my parents telling me they loved me, they definitely showed it, and I’d say my family is close, in fact my parents would be devastated if they thought we weren’t. But honestly, I didn’t always feel able to tell them everything, and I didn’t always feel loved. They haven’t told my kids they love them either, it’s so uptight. I’m trying to switch this around. A sister tell each other we love each other, and I tell my kids I love them all the time and my 3 year old likes to be close, verbally. I’m going to add this on, it must be such a secure, wonderful, feeling for a child to hear this.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      you sound like such a wonderful, thoughtful, loving parent, A.

  100. Kerry says...

    I say to my boys (ages 13 and 7), “You have a problem, you fix it.” I want them to be self-reliant and know that they are capable of solving their own issues — from broken faucets to school bullying to financial problems and everything beyond. I also let them know it’s OK to ask for help, once they’ve given it a shot to the best of their own abilities.

  101. Noelle says...

    It’s funny how as adults, the things we took for granted as kids, we can see as true gifts and things that shaped us. I remember when I first got to college and there were so many girls were so freaked out to go home for Thanksgiving because of the weight they’d gained. They were so scared of what their mothers would say. It was shocking to me, because no matter my weight, my hair cut, my skin condition (yikes!), my mom ALWAYS made me feel beautiful. I was a little “chunky” as a middle schooler, but she never made me feel bad or ashamed or anything less than beautiful. She praised me for everything on the inside, and taught me to lead a healthy life. What a gift. As a mother to two (almost three girls), I think of this often.

  102. Sarah says...

    My dad used to tell me and my siblings “If you tell me there is a goat on the roof, I’m going to get a rope!” I used to think it was so cheesy and ridiculous, but now as an adult I realize how lucky I was (and still am!) to have parents that always took our word for it and believed us no matter what!

    • Lucy says...

      This is hilarious and awesome!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, could not love that more, sarah. these comments are killing me!

  103. Nina says...

    Evert night since the day they were born I’ve said “ Sleep well, mummy loves, see you tomorrow “. And if I’m not there to tuck them in, I call and tell them before bedtime and if they are not home I go in and smell their pillows and say it to myself before going to bed. After friend’s son died in his sleep at the age of 2 it has become even more important. What ever happens they should always go to sleep knowing I love them and that we will see each other again.

  104. Emmy says...

    Every day growing up, my dad used to say two things. At the beginning of the day as my siblings and I were running around getting ready for school, he would say to each of us “have I told you today how much I love you?”. And then usually at dinner when we were talking about how our day went, he would say “I don’t know how it’s possible, but I love you even more today than I did yesterday.” Both of these things became so meaningful to hear over time. Especially as a teenager, even though I would roll my eyes most of the time, there were days when we were fighting or I did something bad, that those words became so important. I remember getting in trouble for drinking once, and hearing my dad get choked up as he said “I don’t know how it’s possible, but I love you even more today than I did yesterday.” I got choked up hearing it too, and realized that his love truly is unconditional. One day when I have kids, I definitely want to tell them these things too.

    • I love this story. Thank you for sharing!

    • Amy P says...

      This is beautiful.

    • Olivia says...

      My Mom said the same thing growing up! I’m 37 and she still says it! And now I ask my 4 year old “Have I told you today that I love you?” and she always cheekily replies “Yes, you just did!”

  105. Kayla says...

    My mom’s infamous phrase in our family is, “I love you and you can’t earn it” … meaning, no matter what you do or don’t do – her love is unconditional. She has started this up with the grandkids as well and already the bond and trust between them is amazing to watch. I think you nailed in on the head when mentioning your mom as “a safe place.”

  106. Rebecca says...

    I have two older siblings and my parents told us growing up that we were not to tattle on one another (of course unless a parent needed to be involved). They wanted us to be friends and not get rewarded for tattling.

    We really took this to heart and I continue to be very close to my siblings. I plan to share the same advice with my 2 boys.

  107. Lindsay says...

    I say this to my twins often! At first, they reacted with complete wonder: “you mean, even if we stole a toy?”. And they’d be blown away when I’d say yes. And now, because they’re six and they’re boys it’s become a contest to see who can come up with the most outrageous, gross thing they could do to see if I’ll change my answer. No matter what they come up with, I tell them I may be upset/sad/grossed out if they did it, but a mother’s love is the most powerful thing on earth and nothing can break it. There have been times I’ve overheard one saying to the other, “remember, there’s nothing you can do to make mommy stop loving you. It’s ok”

    • A says...

      This is so sweet<3

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, lindsay. i’m tearing up!

  108. Laine says...

    “‘If you knew how great is a mother’s love, you would have no fear.” – from JM Barrie’s Peter Pan

  109. Nicole says...

    This is a bit more specific, but money was always burning through my pocket as a kid (and teenager) and I’m grateful my parents somehow managed to impress upon me the importance of spending more carefully and never beyond my means. I think they framed it in terms of holding onto my money in order to keep my options open. In any case, I’m in my mid-twenties now and can honestly imagine a scenario where I’d be in life-changing debt if they hadn’t been so persistent. Still splurge on a nice pair of jeans or shoes every six months or so, though :)

  110. It’s funny what little things your parents say that really carry you through life. And you never know what it’s going to be! I remember one time, while struggling with Saran Wrap (why is that stuff so tricky?!) my dad spotted me and said “Rip with confidence!” I did, and I’ve never struggled with it since! But I’ve applied it to literally every other part of my life since– work, relationships, financial decisions. And I’ve found that that little piece of advice has helped me tackle literally every tough moment I’ve faced.

  111. Jennifer says...

    There was an AMA on Reddit recently with Elizabeth Smart, and someone asked her what steps parents could take to help their children avoid abuse. One of her answers:
    “Make sure your child knows that they are loved unconditionally, and make sure your child knows what unconditionally means.”
    Your mom got it right, and it’s something I’ve integrated into conversation with my own son. As someone who grew up with very conditional love, I can’t encourage it enough.

  112. Meg says...

    My Dad used to always tell us in our teenage years and throughout college when we were home on break “you can call me for a ride home no matter what. Four in the morning or whenever I won’t be mad at you.” As a parent myself I realize how scared he must of been of us getting in the car with a drunk driver or being put in a spot we felt uncomfortable in. My brothers and I did call him to pick us up a few times and he never asked questioned or reprimanded us for a late night call.

  113. Emmy says...

    Every day growing up my dad would say two things — At the beginning of the day while we were running around getting ready for school he would say “have I told you today how much I love you?” and then later, usually during dinner while we were talking about how our day went he would say “I don’t know how it’s possible, but I love you even more today than I did yesterday.” We would roll our eyes too, but it meant so much as time went on. Even on tough days as a teenager, when we were in a fight or I did something bad, he would say both of those things. The first time I realized how meaningful it was was when I got in trouble for drinking in high school. He got choked up as he said the latter phrase, and I got choked up hearing it. I could tell that he really meant it, despite the trouble I was in, and it showed me that his love is truly unconditional. I definitely want to say both of these things one day when I have kids of my own.

  114. Ann says...

    My mom would say, “I love you just the way you are.” I knew her love was unconditional and that I could be me.
    “No means no” was another big one at our house. How to say it and how to listen to others.

  115. Kate says...

    With all the sexual assault in the news, I’ve been remembering how my mom used to talk to us about assault. As a kid, I found it kind of over the top, but now I think she was so smart and forward thinking. She’d say, “If anyone ever touches you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you need to come tell me right away, even if they tell you not to. And no matter what, I’ll always believe you.”
    How reassuring for a young person to know!

    • Ami says...

      My mom did this too! She drilled it into our heads that grown-ups should NEVER have secrets with kids, and that if anyone threatened us about “not telling”, they were lying and we should tell her right away. In retrospect I am so proud of her for this!

    • Yes! I thought of this too as I was reading Jo’s post. I heard in a podcast that sometimes kids don’t tell their parents about sexual abuse because they fear it would crush them. I love how Jo’s mom said nothing would gross her out, or whatever. It’s so important for our kids to know they can come to us with absolutely anything. We’ll figure it out together. And yeah, Ami, that’s also so good–“grown-ups should NEVER have secrets with kids.” Your mom was smart!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that, kate. “even if they tell you not to”

  116. Laura says...

    What a lovely post! This reminded me that my mom would say, “I’ll always love you no matter what, I may not love your actions, but I’ll always love YOU.” Made me feel the same way–I could’ve committed murder and she would still love me! She may not have loved what I did–but she could separate the two.
    As a new mom of a two month old daughter, I’m going to start saying this to her :) Thanks for the reminder.

  117. Amanda says...

    Yes! My parents always always told me this, and I always brought up the robbing a bank example. I grew up knowing that no matter what, they had my back, and it has enabled me to take risks that I otherwise might not have taken.

    As an adult, I am also aware of my unconditional love for THEM, and the fact that if necessary, I would drop everything to be there for them. And I feel lucky that I have a partner who gets it. Instead of telling him he is my favorite person, he is “top tier” along with my parents. They all share different but equally important parts of my heart.

    • Tina, nyc. says...

      Amanda what a beautiful family you must have! I love that idea of a top tier.
      Blessings to you, and yours.

    • dana says...

      I love this. I feel similarly but never knew how to express it. I might steal your “top tier” concept. =)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      top tier! love it.

  118. Abby says...

    I’ll also note though a slightly contrary opinion. My kids are still young, but I do want them to know that, if they ever feel the need to not tell me or my husband something, that’s okay too — that there’s a space for them to have their secret and private thoughts. It’s a hard balance, especially because my 6-year-old in particular is very open and can’t fathom keeping secrets at this age. But I was a kid who REALLY valued my internal life and being able to share with people on my own terms and timeline, so I try to tell her that if she ever wants to keep something from me, she absolutely can. But she never HAS TO.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, i totally agree. great point, abby.

  119. Clare says...

    My mom did something kinda similar…she’d always remind me I could take/use birth control and still be a good Catholic. This definitely isn’t dogma but it was nice to have a mom who went out of her way to be more realistic about sex than my very Catholic middle/high schools and college.

  120. Ann says...

    So sweet, Jo. I often think about a post you once did about how your mom’s eyes light up whenever she sees you. And that she acts genuninly excited about most everything you say. That post stuck with me and I try very hard to be that contrast ‘true North’ for my son & now brand new daughter.
    I do say something similar to my son mostly at bedtime. I say, ” I love you no matter what!” I go on and on saying things like ” no matter what, if you made a mistake, into matter what, if you ate buckets of icecream, !! I think I’ve even said, if you robbed a bank!”

    • Ann says...

      I have to add that son says, ” I love you to the pink galaxy”. Which in his amazingly brilliant 5.5 year old mind is the very very furthest galaxy. So sweet.

  121. Abby says...

    I absolutely say this to my girls all the time. I wasn’t around kids much before I had my own, and I remember being overwhelmed with how much I didn’t know. But I kept coming back to, “do I love my kids and do they KNOW IN THEIR CORE how much I love them?” and if the answer to both is yes, then everything else will fall into place.

    My girls are 6 and 2.5 now and by far the most rewarding thing is hearing the older one (who is a total lovebug by nature too) say these things to the younger one, telling her, “You know, I still love you, even if I’m mad at you or you’re mad at me,” which is word-for-word what I’ve told her for ages.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “do I love my kids and do they KNOW IN THEIR CORE how much I love them?” = love this.

  122. Alyssa says...

    “I love you to the moon and back.” She says it and writes it in cards. I love it so much. It’s a phrase that is used often, but I always equate it with my mom. In my wedding, my mom and mother in law had their own bouquets (I’m not into corsages) and I found a ribbon that had the phrase written on it in gold script to put on her bouquet. It was a really special thing for me.

  123. Alyssa says...

    Wow! I feel like all of these comments are things I needed to hear this moment, as a 27-year-old.

    After a particularly bad set of decisions that caused me to lie and deceive my parents, I was heartbroken that I had broken their hearts. My dad, a man not known for his sentimentality, said to me “I know that today feels like the worst day ever. But each day, it’ll get a little better. Each day, it’ll feel a little less hard. I promise.” He doesn’t remember saying it but that phrase has carried me through the hardest of times because he’s right. Things feel the tiniest bit less hard each day after the worst day.

    Likewise, my mom always told me that I could come to her and share things. And I could ask to share things with her without her judging/solving. So occasionally I’d to go her and say “these people in my life have been drinking or doing drugs and I don’t know what to do but I just want to tell you.” I always felt so grateful that I could go to her and not be judged.

  124. I remember as a kid I would frequently break water cups and side dishes on the kitchen floor (butterfingers over here). I would feel terrible and almost before I could react, my mom would say something like, “It’s fine! You did good. That was an old cup/dish/plate.” This transferred over to other things as I grew older (fights with siblings, bad grades, minor car accidents)… she never came at me with a menacing finger pointing out where I fell short, but was great at giving me perspective where I needed it (still great at this to this day!) She’s really been a buddy in that way. :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s so, so sweet. i really love that, anabel. i remember spilling some drops of red wine on my aunt’s white duvet cover once (!!) and she was like, “now it’s a party! it’s never a party until wine is spilled!” i thought that was so gracious. (still feel bad about it, though, ha!)

  125. Hali says...

    Both my parents repeatedly told me and my siblings that we could trust them completely. More importantly, they would remind us that no matter what: “You can trust that we always have YOUR very best interest at heart.”
    That’s never left me. I’m not sure that all of my siblings completely believed them 100% of the time, especially during the “tunnel” that is teenagedom. But I’ve always believed it. No matter what they say or how they respond to my life decisions, or the (increasingly) difficult problems I bring them to help me solve, I can trust that they are thinking of my own interest above anything else when assessing a situation and offering advice. It’s the most reassuring and beautiful sentiment. It’s so trusty and dependable, even if I disagree with them or opt not to follow their advice, at least I know they’re always simply looking out for ME.

    My mom also always says two things I find heartbreakingly beautiful:
    “You’re only as happy as your least happy child.”
    and
    “A mother’s love never, ever gives up.”

    (I should say I don’t necessarily believe all parents are come as selfless as mine. I have a feeling I got really lucky.)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, i feel teary!

      “You’re only as happy as your least happy child.”
      and
      “A mother’s love never, ever gives up.”

  126. lauren says...

    my dad had two mantras for us growing up: you have all the tools you need to succeed. and: just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you’ll get there. a third one, not quite a mantra: i’m rooting for you! (i still call him sometimes just for this three-part pep talk!)

  127. M says...

    My home growing up was extremely dysfunctional, but now that I have a 3.5-year-old, I get to rewire my own childhood to some extent. I always tell him, “I love you when you hit me, I love you when you’re crying, I love you when you don’t listen to me, I love you when you listen to me,” and I go on to list other good and bad things. For a while he would say it back to me when he did something bad: “you love me when I hit you, you love me when I’m grumpy,” etc. (He has stopped hitting me, btw.) Last week he made a book in preschool: he drew the pictures and the teacher wrote the words. It’s all about apples: they grow on trees, we pick them from the ground. The last page says: My mom loves me.

    • M says...

      I didn’t mean to imply that being grumpy is bad; it’s about loving him with all his moods and feelings.

    • jules says...

      So relate to the idea of partially rewiring your childhood. My son looks so much like I did as a baby. It was like God (the universe, fate, science, et al) gave me a chance to heal the child in me while also loving him and breaking the cycles. It’s really profound. Can be scary sometimes because I don’t know “the right” way to do some of it.

      We make so many bad choices when we do not feel loved…. at least, I did !

    • C says...

      This is so true M! I have felt the same way since my first was born. I remember many moments of deep sorrow as I looked at my baby knowing how much I loved him and knowing too that that sort of love, from Mother to Child, would never be mine. But also and ultimately such joy in knowing that my family was going to be different.

  128. Rachel says...

    Oh my goodness, is that a childhood picture of you?! Looks so much like Anton!

  129. As we were growing up my mom would always say (to my younger brother and I), “You guys are so lucky- you always have a best friend since you have each other.” And it was the same as you and your sister almost rolling your eyes since you’d heard it so many times and it was such a “duh/how lame” statement, but I actually think it worked to give us a clear framing around how to think of your sibling as your friend and supporter. We always got along fine as kids and now that we’re adults my brother and I are actually great friends. So, thanks to my mom for that :)

    • Steph says...

      Yes- that’s one I keep on repeat here… sisters are forever friends. Sounds cheesy, but so true (my mom might add, whether you like it or not!)

  130. jennifer says...

    I love this. I will start saying this to my 7 year old son and 4 year old daughter. I tell them I love them ALL the time but have wanted to tell them something beyond that shows I will be there for them no matter what. This is great.

  131. Shannon says...

    My mom grew up in a very judgmental, emotionally abusive home. Because of this, she made it very clear to me, especially as a teenager, that no matter what situation was in, she would be there for me. That our home was always a safe place for me. While my parents were strict and I can’t say that I was really super close with my mom growing up (much more so now!), knowing that she would always be there no matter what dumb choices I made grounded me in a profound way. I hope to instill the same trust and security in my kids!

  132. Jennifer says...

    Mine’s more of a funny one. I’m one of four and when ever we’d go over to our grandparents house, there was always this one turn in the neighborhood where my mom would start her speech about being good, being nice, no fighting, no cursing, say thank you, etc. It became a family joke -we’re all grown adults now but could still give the speech (it was always the same)! But I also think it’s an example of how our parents allowed us to be completely ourselves at home -our wild, uninhabited selfs -but still wanted to reinforce good manners, kindness, and gratitude towards the wider world.

    • Jennifer says...

      *selves* dang typo ;)

  133. And while I’m thinking of it, one more: the importance of not trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses.’ At what point did the light bulb turn on and my mind splatter upon realizing that the Joneses must in fact be the Loudermilks, our best family friends? (lol.) It is with much humor that I look back on it now, how small your frame of reference is when you’re a kid, but truly, my mom was an incredible example in the importance of never pretending to be who and what you aren’t, and to just be genuinely happy for others. She was always very transparent about who she was and who we were as a family, and I held such great pride in, and love for, our own little special and fun world that I still just think is the very best, independent of where everyone else stands. It’s helped me to be quite comfortable in my own skin and take great pleasure, rather than jealousy or resentment, in other people’s successes and joys. Thanks Joanna :)

  134. Jacey Prupas says...

    I love this, and I think I will start using it with my kids! It offers the confirmation of love with no judgment.

    My dad would alway say, “I love you to the end of numbers…!” He even said this to me on his death bed. I say this to my kids now just to stress how MUCH I love them!!

  135. Nancy says...

    Such good timing. I’ve got a 2 yr old son and have been trying to send the same message, while still being strict on day to day things (not throwing food, not hitting, etc.) Lately, he’s been pushing up against boundaries more and more and it’s made me feel like I’m doing something wrong. This post quickly, gently reminded me that it’s a long game, this parenting thing. He’s supposed to test, test, test. I’m supposed to guide and love.

    My mother did not send that message, though I know she did her best. She was nervous and flimsy about everything, so it made me nervous about everything, including telling her what I was feeling. The idea of staying strong in the face of whatever comes up for your kids is the most inspiring and what I strive to be for my son.

  136. YES!!! My dad always said the EXACT same thing, and he would frame it, “There is nothing you can’t tell me.”

    And the best part is, he meant it and I grew up really knowing it. I look back and know there has never been a time when I felt I couldn’t go to him with something. Anything!

    It set the tone for our entire relationship, my growing up years, even our relationship today, when I am almost thirty and expecting my own first baby. That’s the thing I most hope to do well and right by this child — to cultivate trust and communication and, ultimately, the security of knowing mama and papa are HERE. No matter.

  137. “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.” This has forever been a phrase used by mom, even though we aren’t religious at all. I can remember being very young, and my brothers and I rolling our eyes and mocking my mom’s insistence on this idea whenever we’d find ourselves lacking empathy or making assumptions about those who appeared to have it tougher than we did. She was never scared or threatened by people, and to this day she’ll still challenge our knee-jerk reactions or propensities to live in fear or judgment. I’m really glad for her insistence, as it is something I hope to impart on my own kids someday. She and my dad truly lived this motto, and while at the time I was often weirded out by the array of people at our Christmas dinner table, or their “he/she is harmless” attitude, I now am so proud to have been raised this way. Having perspective is so important in life–even increasingly so, it seems.

  138. Pooja says...

    Every day, as I send her off to school, I say, “Be kind, do good, have fun.”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that. our friend’s mom used to always encourage her to leave the world a better place than she found it, even if that just meant the bathroom. i thought that was such a cute way to say it. (side note: my friend now ALWAYS replaces the toilet paper, etc. :)

  139. Emma Bee says...

    Tho is the overarching sentiment (I think, at least) of Janet Lansburys parenting philosophy/approach: I love you no matter what, I am a safe space for all your feelings. Janet is the best!!

  140. Laura says...

    Whenever my brother or I were naughty or in trouble my mom would say, “You are not a bad kid. Your behavior was bad [unkind/rude/inappropriate], but YOU are NOT a bad kid.” It always reinforced the idea that she loved who we were even when our actions were wrong.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that, laura.

    • CJ says...

      Love this Laura, I say this to my 2 year old almost weekly these days. :)

    • Rachel says...

      love it! It’s subtle, but there is an important difference between “you’re being naughty/bad” and “you did a naughty/bad thing.” I didn’t think much about the difference until my French friend, Elise, brought it up when she moved to the US–she couldn’t believe we don’t have a word for “a naughty/bad action” (“faire une bêtise” in French), so we are often left calling the child “bad” or “naughty.”

  141. chika says...

    Our youngest child is Toby’s age, but our oldest is 13, so now we’re experiencing those “teen years” BIG time. This summer, our teenager came out to us identifying as transgender non-binary– it was a HUGE shock to my husband and me, but we’ve always tried to enforce the message to all three of our children that they can come to us no matter what. And so we feel very fortunate that our oldest felt that they could trust us with this information and have our support. It definitely hasn’t been easy, but we have an open dialogue and it’s brought us all closer– we’re all on this journey together.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is wonderful, chika. your child is so lucky to have you.

  142. Lauren says...

    My mom used to say this all the time – and still says it to my sister and I as we’re nearing our 30s! She is the sweetest.

  143. Meg says...

    My parents were the same way. They always created a space where we could approach them with anything. I don’t remember the specifics of how they did it but it was so powerful and it gave me a safety net that has allowed me to take risks that have helped me grow personally and professionally. One thing I do remember is that when I would be sitting in the back of the car, my mom would reach out to hold my hand. I would give it a little squeeze. It was this beautiful, subtle, moment that mostly happened out of the blue. I totally forgot about it until I started, unconsciously, doing it with my own son. Now I’ll do it on the way to school, or if he has had a tough day that he doesn’t want to talk about. It’s a powerful, silent way of letting him know that I’m always there for him, no matter what. And the bonus is that it makes me think of my mom and the gifts she gave me!

  144. Brittani says...

    Yes! Similar to this, I tell my two daughters (3 and 5) “I love you no matter what” about once a day.
    Sometimes I further the point with “you know that, right?” Or “even if…xyz.”
    I’m hoping it has the same effect on them that your mom’s comment had on you!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is so lovely, brittani.

    • Rachel says...

      I have been saying this more too–especially to my three-year-old, who tells me “I like it when you say that.” But it’s a good reminder to give examples too and to say it more often!

  145. Krista says...

    I didn’t have the most supportive or loving mother, and I’ve been consciously trying to do better for my son. My little boy is 2 1/2 years old. He likes to be quizzed on animal noises like, “What does the cow say?” “Moo!”. This morning I asked, “What does mama say? and he replied “Mama says I love you!”. It warmed my heart.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, what a doll! and he’s so lucky to feel that so deeply/immediately. good on you, mama. xoxoxo

  146. DIANA says...

    So sweet. My parents never gave me this and my instinct was to lie to them about everything all through my childhood out of fear of their judgement. As an adult I’ve really had to undo all that and learn how to be OK with telling people the truth about things that I’m insecure about or not proud of.

    • aga says...

      Yea, me too. My mom would SAY that we can tell her anything but she was VERY critical and not understanding about the everyday things, so I never trusted her with the big things. I’m amazed watching my sister NOT repeat our mom’s mistakes because it’s so easy to repeat this kind of learned behaviour.

    • Vanessa says...

      Me, too, unfortunately. My parents loved me, and I’m sure their hearts were in the place, but it was never easy to be honest with them about the most benign things. They were super critical about career interests, friends, boyfriends, outings, volunteer opportunities, etc. And I was a responsible straight A student with good behaviour. It was tough growing up and even becoming an adult person growing into my thirties. At any rate, I’m trying to do the exact opposite in raising my 4 year-old so that he’s actually comfortable in his own skin and knows it’s acceptable to make mistakes and still be loved and valued for who he is.

  147. Jojo says...

    You are exactly as God intended you to be. Life is hard but you have everything you need to make it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that, jojo.

  148. j.cavanaugh says...

    My mom used to say this too! I completely forgot about it until this post..thank you for sharing this since now I too will be saying it to my children. xoxo