From the beginning, my older son Ethan had different love languages than the ones I was used to speaking.

At a few weeks old, he cried to be put down in his crib where he’d fall asleep on his own in a couple of minutes.

By a few months old, when we baby-talked and snuggled him, he looked bored and squirmed away from us, silently asking to be put down.

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As a new toddler, constantly tripping over his own feet, he never wanted more than a quick hug after a fall.

Any attempts at cuddling and kissing were pushed away.

In mommy and me classes, other kids stuck close to their parents, calling out for help and comfort constantly. Ethan bounded away from me the second we entered the classroom, eager to explore his new surroundings.

At first, I was worried. Was he not properly bonded to us, his mom and dad? (Maybe we should have forced the cuddles when he was an infant.) Did he have sensory issues? (A thorough screening by our school district assured us that he did not.) Or delays in his social development? (Again, no.)

But as he gets older, and more and more of his personality shines through, I’ve come to realize there’s nothing wrong with Ethan. He doesn’t care much for physical affection—only occasionally, on his own terms—but he needs just as much love as a typical kid. He just needs it shown differently.

When he falls asleep for naps and at bedtime, he still wants to know I’m there. So I sit on the bed, not holding him but always available in case he needs a drink or the potty.

He doesn’t like to snuggle, but he loves to read, make art, and cook in his play kitchen.

He loves to spend quality time with me, so I plan for meaningful time together every day.

When he gets hurt, he doesn’t want kisses; he wants us to talk through what happened and for me to acknowledge his feelings. So we talk until he feels better.

And at playgrounds or dinners, when he immediately runs off to explore and play with the other kids, inevitably I still hear, “He’s an independent little guy, isn’t he?”

“Yes,” I agree with a smile. “That’s Ethan!” These days, I don’t feel worried anymore.

No, he’s not a hugger. He won’t give you a hug if you ask or try to force it (so please, family, respect his boundaries and don’t try). He probably won’t give me one either. I never spent long hours rocking him to sleep in my arms, kissing boo-boos, or hearing “Mama, help!” every few seconds.

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Sometimes I miss the cherished moments, snuggling and comforting, that we never shared and never will. Sometimes it feels like he grew up too fast. And sometimes it still feels like he doesn’t need me enough, like I want to help him and love on him more, my way.

But he’s teaching me every day that everyone shows and feels love differentlyanother powerful lesson drawn from the refining fire of motherhood.

And to all the mothers of Ethans out there, squirming away from cuddles, who feel a pang of jealousy when they see other little ones snuggling up to their mamas, know this—when your son or daughter walks up and gives you that very first unprompted hug, your heart will feel so full.

Because you’ll know they’re feeling big, big love for you at that moment, and they’re trying to speak your love language to show you. And witnessing that little seed of empathy growing in your child is more than enough reward.

Claire Walker

Claire Walker is a wife, homemaker, and stay-at-home mom to two little boys (and one crazy yellow lab). An aspiring nature schooler, she lives in the beautiful state of Minnesota and enjoys gardening, hiking, and camping with her family. In her free time, she loves to blog, travel, bake, and take photos. She's passionate about sustainability and alternative approaches to education, and she dreams of living the expat life someday.