“I love you when you’re good, I love you when you’re bad. I love you when you’re happy, I love you when you’re sad.”
This phrase, and variations of it, can be heard in the whispers of Karen Heflin to her four daughters each night. This tradition has tucked the Heflin children in bed for 12 years. Now, Gable, Emoree, Matalee and Haven Heflin don’t have to wait for their mother’s good night kiss to be assured of her love. It’s available for them, and multiple other children, in the book I Promise It’s True by Houston and Karen Heflin.
The children’s book portrays the unconditional love of parents through seven scenarios where children question their parent’s love, and each time, the parent replies with one of Mrs. Heflin’s rhymes about love.
“She would say, all the time, things like ‘I love you when you’re sad’ or ‘I love you when you’re sick,'” said Houston Heflin, assistant professor of Bible missions and ministry. “It became this little rhyme that kept growing and growing.”
Mrs. Heflin said she would create a rhyme about why they loved the girls and say it to them each night based on what difficulties they had encountered that day. And that’s where Mr. Heflin got the idea for the book.
“Each of the parents’ responses in the book, I would say that to the girls each night,” Mrs. Heflin said.
One day, Mr. Heflin, took his wife’s responses and started creating scenarios that would fit them.
“He wrote what the kid is saying and came up with the situation to make it unique and put it together with this rhyme that I’ve said for 12 years to the girls at night,” she said.
What makes the story so special to the Heflins is that each character’s situation is based on a real situation from their family.
“They’re either one of his, one of the girls’ or a cousin’s story,” Mrs. Heflin said.
Mr. Heflin said the first scenario he dreamed up was based on an incident from his own childhood.
“When I was a kid, I kicked a soccer ball through the window of my parent’s house,” he said.
It stuck with him because he said he was shocked they still loved him even though it was an expensive window. In their book I Promise It’s True, the little boy, just like Mr. Heflin, discovers his parents adore him, despite his mistakes.
Each of the Heflin daughters can describe which incident in the book is built on their own personal experiences.
Gable, the youngest Heflin girl at 4-years-old, recounts a character in the story that has a sore throat and questions her parents’ love because she’s sick. Gable said it is her favorite part because she knows it is about her and it reminds her of her parents’ love.
“I like it because it makes me feel like mom is taking care of me,” Gable said.
Other family stories shared through the book include a cousin who lost a spelling bee and a spilled jug of milk, which Haven Heflin, 7, bashfully admitted was her.
Emoree’s moment in the book was losing a race. Mrs. Heflin said they put her experience in the book because the wanted the 10-year-old to know the emphasis was not on winning, but that she tried.
“She really wanted to win but we were so proud of her for just running the race in the first place,” Mrs. Heflin said.
Mr. Heflin said after he came up with the scenarios he wanted to use, he sent them to his sister, Heather Hodges, an artist in Dallas, to see if she could come up with any pictures for the book.
“I just sent her the poem of the book and said ‘Hey what could you do with this?'” Mr. Heflin said. “The next day, she sent me images.”
The whole idea for the book, he said, was just to demonstrate their love for their children.
“We wanted to leave them with something that, if we weren’t here tomorrow, they would have something from us to remember how much they are loved,” Mr. Heflin said.
And his four daughters said this mission was accomplished. They are constantly reminded of their parents love, even without reading the book every night.
Emoree said a lot of the mistakes in the book they still make, such as spilling milk or getting grumpy. When these things happen, their parents remind them of the love rhyme in the book.
“A lot of the scenarios will happen again and they’ll say it again” Emoree said. “We grew up hearing it.”
Matalee, their oldest daughter at 12-years-old, said there are two reasons she loves reading I Promise It’s True.
“I like reading these stories because they are good, but I also like reading the story because it’s about me,” she said.
The Heflins said besides just reminding their children they are unconditionally loved, they wanted to show their children that anything – even publishing a book -is possible.
“If it’s something that you value that’s from your heart and you love to do, then do it, put it out there,” Mrs. Heflin said.
This lesson is catching on quickly with the Heflin girls. Most of them already have dreams of publishing their own books.
Emoree was inspired to try her hand at writing books and has written several stories that only her younger sister Haven is allowed to read. Nonetheless, she has set her sights on one day publishing a book of her own.
“When I was little, I thought it was so cool to publish a book,” Emoree said. “Now that I’ve seen it, I think that’s even cooler.”
And for the Heflin’s, what started as a little book for their children, has spread to other parents, selling over 400 copies since it was published in August.
Mr. Heflin credits the children’s book’s success to the notion that all parents feel this way about their kids, but just never knew how to say it, and the book does.
“Parents are trying to express that in lots of different ways in the way they talk to them and interact, but this is just another way to reinforce the way they feel about their kids,” Mr. Heflin said.
He said he hopes the unconditional love in this book can be passed down through their family and around to other families.
“I would love for children everywhere to hear the message of how much they are loved from parents, grandparents, guardians, whoever,” Mr. Heflin said. “We’d love for people to hear this.”