As my former partner and I were, today, trying to stumble our way through one of our first conversations since a painful and at times ugly parting of our romantic connection, his son was pouting over being denied (justifiably!) a particular sugary treat. Eventually the four-year-old crawled onto the bed beside his father and told him, “I’m mad at you, but I still love you.”
At the time I smiled at the sweetness and innocence and simplicity that children can bring into the midst of adult complexities. But over the next few hours, those words stuck with me as much more than just “one of those things kids say.” Of course it is more difficult as we grow older, there are more questions; what “I love you” looks like changes, and sometimes has to be changed in order for it to survive… but… in spite of all that, if only we could remember to touch back to that simplicity…
My former partner and I still love each other. But life is extremely complicated sometimes, often much more than I’d like to make it. What “I love you” can look like for us as we move forward is still an unknown. And “I’m angry with you” is still backed by a lot of hurt and resentment on both sides.
But maybe the simple words of a four-year-old child can be a touchstone for us adults to navigate by as we stumble through our own confrontations. These days the conditions maybe more complex than being denied sugared sweets, but maybe our first step to healing is both as simple and as difficult as “I’m mad at you, but I still love you.”