How do you tell your kids you love them? Sure. You can just say, “I love you.” But where’s the fun in that?

I’ve created a mantra, or series of statements, that the boys can now recite because I’ve said it so often.

How did it start? I’m a little fuzzy. But I think I was headed on a business trip. I didn’t travel as much when CJ was little. But my work had changed a bit when Cam was a baby. I went on my first business trip when he was only three months old. Sometimes, before trips away from my family, I get a little gloomy and think the worst. (Plus, the hormones were still raging before this particular trip.) I wondered, if I was gone (and I was thinking really gone), would “I love you” be enough for them to remember how much I loved them?

From such sad thoughts came a tradition—something we started saying every night. It was inspired by love and some of our favorite books. I’m confident my boys will always remember how much they’re loved… even when they’re rolling their eyes (because I do plan on using it until they’re old and gray).

The Mantra

A question and four responses make up our love mantra. Here it is in its entirety follow by explanations of each line. Can you figure out where each comes from before I tell you?

How much does Mama love you?
Sooooo much…
All the way to the moon and back…
To infinity and beyond…
Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, too!

The Question

When I first started saying this mantra each night, I began with “Do you know how much Mama loves you?” Since the boys were little, simple yes or no questions were all they could handle. At first, CJ would answer, “no.” Once he started to remember what was coming next, he’d answer “yes” and then “no” because he was being silly and wanted to hear me say the whole thing. At some point, he started answering after I asked the question. That’s when it became “How much does Mama love you?”

This question doesn’t come directly from any book…that I can think of. (I googled it to check and nothing matches exactly.) But I do think I was inspired by Guess How Much I Love You? by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram. For a period, CJ wanted me to read it every night.

These days, I don’t ask the question every night. Nor is it something only reserved for bedtime. Sometimes after a tough morning or when the boys are feeling blue, I’ll ask it to make sure they remember they’re loved. Sometimes they answer. Sometimes—when they’re really in a mood—I answer. That usually gets a little smile and a hug.

And here’s how we answer…

Soooo Much

The first response is adapted from the line “sooooo big” in Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt. I remember my Grandma saying this to me and raising my arms to show how big. It was not only a great way to start our mantra, but a tribute to her.

I wasn’t the first to adapt this line in the classic Pat the Bunny, originally published in 1940. So Big! featuring Elmo uses it. Written by Anna Jane Hays, illustrated by Christopher Moroney, CJ’s board book version featured Elmo popping out from the middle spread raising his hands to show how big he is. (Needless to say, at some point, Elmo lost his arms. Toddlers are tough on pop-out books.) I think if CJ ever wonders where this line came from, he’ll think of Elmo, not the bunny.

All the Way to the Moon and Back

The second answer comes from Guess How Much I Love You? As I mentioned, we’ve read this hundreds of times. If you don’t know this heartfelt book, you should check out. Little Nutbrown Hare (the child) and Big Nutbrown Hare (the father) are discussing much they love each other. Big Nutbrown Hare always finds a way to say or show how much more he loves Little Nutbrown Hare. “All the way to the moon and back” is the last line.

Though part of me has always been annoyed that Big Nutbrown Hare never lets his son “out love” him, it is probably true. A parent’s love is greater and deeper than any other.

In reading Guess How Much I Love You? so many times, we’ve come up with lots of fun things to do. CJ loves acting it out. But my favorite is when we read it together: CJ as Little Nutbrown Hare and me as Big Nutbrown Hare.

To Infinity and Beyond

Not to outdo Big Nutbrown Hare, but there’s nothing farther than infinity….and beyond. We thank Disney Pixar’s Toy Story for this line.

In this award-winning animated hit from 1995, toys are really alive. They only pretend to be lifeless when humans are around. This is always what I imagined as a little girl with hundreds of stuffed animals.

“To infinity and beyond” is the mantra for Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear (voice done by Tim Allen). I felt we had to include it in our mantra. After all, there’s nothing greater than infinity.

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, Too!

The final line is from I Love Your Through and Through by Bernadette Rossetti Shustak, illustrated by Caroline Jane Church. It is also the final line of this wonderful book. Excuse me while I gush…

This sweet book makes our list of all-time favorites. I love the sentiments. I love the illustrations. But it is the memories I have with this book that I love the most.

The book is simple. It tells how much a child is loved—through and through—from the good to the bad and all in between. “I love your top side. I love your bottom side. I love your inside and outside. I love your happy side, your sad side…”

Now, I don’t just read this book. I kiss body parts that are loved. I read with expression—happy for the “happy side” and sad for “sad side.” I even moved the boys’ legs for walking and running when they were babies. We have lots of fun with it, and it has become another reminder of how much they are love. I couldn’t think of a better line to end our mantra.

Start Your Own Tradition

Back to the question I started the post with… how do you tell your kids you love them? Do you have a special tradition that they’ll always remember? While you can certainly come up with a mantra inspired by your favorite books, here are some other ideas:

  • Create a special hug. We found the boys we’re giving wimy, spaghetti-arm hugs. To encourage them to put a little more love in it, we said we wanted hugs that would “pop our heads off.”
  • Give special kisses. If you need some ideas for different kinds of hugs and kisses, consult Huggy Kissy by Leslie Patricelli. Our favorite is a nose kiss.
  • Write a song. That sounds really formal and daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve come up with a couple songs while putting the boys to bed and singing words instead of saying them. For example, “It’s time to go to sleep.” I find I start repeating them each night and soon they’re songs. Maybe not by any music standard, but special for my boys. Maybe I will share one of mine in another post.
  • Leave love notes. Whether it is in your kids’ lunches, when you’re traveling, or randomly, it is always a treat to get in writing that someone loves you. And it is something your kids can keep and look back on.

Try one of these ideas today. It doesn’t matter how little or big your kids are. They’re never too old to hear how much you love them! And share your tradition with us!