[OPINION] How I learned to say ‘I love you’ to my mom

Leticia Labre
[OPINION] How I learned to say ‘I love you’ to my mom
'I was content in the comfort and strength I drew from my mom’s reliability, her expectations, and even her aversion to healthy emotion. My reticent mother and I were a match.'

It took years of being a bystander to the loving relationship between my mom and my children, and a scolding from my daughter.

“I love you Natalia,” my mother said as usual to my 15-year old daughter as we prepared to end our video call some nights ago. 

“I love you Lola,” my daughter enthused as usual. Then she veered off script and glared at me, “Mom, tell Lola you love her!” 

“I love you mom,” I laughed self-consciously, not used to saying it.

“I love you Ate,” my mom laughed too. 

After the call, my daughter admonished me, “What’s wrong with you? You don’t tell your mother you love her often enough.”

It was true; I didn’t. But my mom wasn’t the kind of mom who said “I love you” either. In fact, I was confused when her grandchildren arrived and she suddenly became the kind of grandmother who couldn’t say it often enough. I’ve spent years on the sidelines of a demonstrative relationship between my mom and my children, baffled that the stern maternal figure I feared and leaned on had a side that was marshmallow-soft. (READ: Life’s purpose, horcruxes, and winging it: What motherhood has taught these moms)

When I was growing up, mom was exacting and inexpressive. She didn’t give hugs or waste time on happy talk. She was explicit about my expected contribution to the family: high grades, impeccable behavior, and a strong adherence to the Catholic Church. In turn, even as she worked full-time, she delivered an efficient, failure-proof home life where everything from meal preparation to car-servicing appointments unfolded predictably like clockwork. 

She was painfully restrained. She never cried, or lost her wits, or even sat improperly. But she showed up without fail, often taking on responsibilities that other family members dodged, like caring for elderly relatives or overseeing bookkeeping of the family assets. (READ: Being a mother goes beyond bearing children)

I wasn’t a complicated child. I didn’t need affection on top of stability. I was content in the comfort and strength I drew from my mom’s reliability, her expectations, and even her aversion to healthy emotion. My reticent mother and I were a match. Or maybe, as my brothers alleged, she just had me very well trained in her likeness. Whatever the case, she didn’t need to say it. I could bet my life on her scrutiny and support. I knew I was loved.  

In the 20 years I’ve lived abroad, I’ve organized my trips to Manila around my mom. Two years ago, I visited home on Mothers’ Day. This year I was planning to visit for her birthday in August. I bought my ticket in January, and read Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering in anticipation of hosting a meaningful celebration with her dearest friends. In line with her training, I was going to show her I loved her. I was deflated when the pandemic ruined those plans.  

Though I don’t know when I can see my mom again, in some ways, things are unchanged. We still have our frequent video calls. And my mom is still the same mom who dons a perfectly matching outfit underneath her PPE to buy medicines for an aging aunt in the middle of lockdown.

But maybe this Mothers’ Day is a good time to let go of verbal inhibitions, as my mom seems to have done. Maybe it’s time to take a lesson from my daughter instead. And so I say, “I love you mom! Happy Mothers’ Day.” – Rappler.com

Based in New York, Leticia Labre is a writing enthusiast using this space as a good excuse to embark on some adventures, gain wisdom, and make friends along the way. Follow her on Twitter: @beingleticia.