“I can’t marry you mama, because you’re going to die.”

This is the truth that my four-year-old son shared with me while I stood in the kitchen last night.

True on two accounts.
I will die some day.
And he probably shouldn’t marry me.

The statement was followed by a very deeply alarming conversation about his plans for the future including:

“I will just marry Milly because I love her.”
“I can’t marry Milly because she’s not a mama.”
“Can you ask Milly’s mama if we can get married?”
“I think I will marry Milly when I am ten years old, or maybe seventeen because then I will be old enough to drink coke.”

 For the record, I’ve never declared a legal drinking age for soda in our house, but I rolled with it—you know, after I explained that sometimes it’s okay to marry a girl who’s not a mom yet. It’s actually okay to get married and then become a mom. But I didn’t want to push that one too far. I was already in a little over my head in the conversation.

Today, while laughing privately about our seriously comical conversation about his future family plans, I realized how much truth he was really sharing with me. He may not have all the pieces put together yet, but I’m pretty sure I have a smart four-year-old.

This week is Valentine’s.

That means dads will go to dances with their little girls. A lucky mom or two might get a card and a carnation from their son. But for the most part, parents everywhere will help plan, cut, paste, paint, draw and design cards for their sons and daughters to take to school. Cards they will give to someone else.

Valentine’s is one more example of the truth my son was trying to let me in on. We aren’t their valentines. We aren’t their future. We aren’t ultimately the one they will give their hearts to.

Our kids will never love us back the way we love them. And that’s okay.
I’m not saying that in a sad way. Actually, I think it’s pretty encouraging—especially if your son or daughter is over the age of ten and is starting to let you know very clearly that you have taken a backseat to. . . well, you know, Harry Styles, Selena Gomez, or Grace from geometry class. It happens.

Our job as parents isn’t to make sure they love us back as much as we love them.  If you think that’s your job, you may end up really depressed one day when you discover your kid has significantly fewer videos of you on their iPhone than you do of them, and possibly even fewer features of you on Instagram.

Our job is just to give them love.
Parenting is just not like any other relationship. We love our kids in an un-balanced, never equally reciprocated, over the top, makes your heart ache kind of way.

But it’s not in vain. The love you give your child this Valentine’s day, and the day after that, and the day after that, all adds up to something incredible.

You are giving them the confidence to know they are lovable.
You are teaching them what it means to be loved by someone.
You are demonstrating to them what it looks like to love someone else.

So it’s okay if the most important Valentine you give today isn’t to someone who gives you one back. They might. They might not. Your unconditional love for them goes far beyond what they can ever give you in return.

Come to think of it, now that you know and understand the extent of a parent’s love . . .

If someone parented you, maybe you could surprise them with a little unexpected Valentine this week! (Not that it evens the playing field.)