To be read the day she says "I hate you"

Like most moms of little ones, I hear from mothers with older children, grown children, about how precious this time is and how much more difficult it becomes. It's often hard to hear that, because it sometimes seems to negate what's hard here and now.

And it often terrifies me. What would it feel like to have someone I've loved for so long say they hate me?

I don't pretend to know what it's like to mother a teenager or grown child. But I sure do hope that I've learned a few things that apply.

(And I like to address myself in the third person.)


Dear future self,

She doesn't mean it. Not like it sounds. Not like you think.

She's angry or scared or in pain. She's hurting inside and she's letting it out the only way she knows how.

Could be she's just plain bored and testing, poking you with words to see how powerful she is.

Maybe she's angry that you set a boundary and are keeping it (GOOD FOR YOU!). Or maybe she's angry at nothing that makes any sense to you but it does to her. Or maybe it doesn't make any sense to anyone. No matter, her anger is still natural, normal, developmental. Any patience and fortitude and calm you are able to muster is commendable, an Olympic parenting feat deserving of a shiny medal to add to all the others you've earned. Any tears or rants on your part are understandable and forgivable.

(There is a lot of forgiveness to go around.)

Maybe it's hormonal. You, of all people, can understand what that's like, right? When you wake up and are inexplicably frustrated and angry and THE WORLD JUST SUCKS and you can't figure out why or where to put it so you tuck it inside all day and soldier on and then you just can't anymore and you unleash it at people who are close and safe. It's not right, it's not okay, but you can understand it just a bit, can't you?

Maybe she's feeling like it's easier to try out being angry at you than being scared or sad or vulnerable. Maybe she's wanting to be separate and this I hate you is about as separate as it can get when she still lives under your roof and has to eat your food and ask for money for clothes that she's not even sure are the right ones and you say they're too expensive and she can only pick one sweater but which one is the right one? Which one will make elementary/middle/high school/LIFE okay? Easy? Which one??

("None"? Well, there's a reason to be angry right there.)

Remember how when she was little she would bite you just to feel your flesh on her teeth or how she would laugh and flout your stern, serious warnings just to see what would happen or scream and stomp at the smallest inconveniences just because she could and she knew you would still love her? How you'd get a hold of yourself and try to listen to her antics with half an ear while watching the whole scene from a distance trying to figure out what is really happening, what is she really saying? I'm hungry? I'm tired? I'm overwhelmed?

Why is being alive so freaking hard sometimes

It's just like that now, I think. Reacting appropriately is not as simple, of course, as giving her a nap, a sip of juice, a quiet corner and a hug. But you learned a lot then and you need to remember it all now because the basic ideas still apply. To not take things personally. To be reasonable but firm on your family rules. To work at hearing what she's really trying to say underneath the bluster and charge. To hold some space for you both to breathe. To be the adult (even if she's one now too). To walk away when it's just too difficult for either of you to be the people you want to be. To be quick to apologize when you are in the wrong and quick to forgive when she is.

To be the one to say "I love you" even when all you're hearing is "I hate you".


your past self, Clueless But Hopeful Mama

PS. If you're feeling tempted to look upon those early years of her life with wistful, fond, rose-colored glasses, remember that though they were simpler, they were challenging in their own way. Remember the numbing insanity of not sleeping. Remember her fire-breathing tantrums in public, in front of hoards of strangers. Remember feeling so lost and alone and yet having NO TIME to yourself, ever.

And then remember how she began to teach you that love is a clumsy verb and an imperfect muscle and a messy noun on that first day you held her. And she's still teaching you.


Marie Green said...

This is perfect in every way, and I too need to read it when my girls are a bit older. But actually, at the elderly age of 7, much of this applies already. I never thought I'd be dealing with this kind of thing already, but here we are. (They don't say "I hate you", but there's plenty of what appears to be hormonal rage. WTF???)

Anyway, I am going to try to listen to what they are really saying. And I'm going to read this again to remind myself.

Thank you!

Katie said...

Why must you always make me cry?

I have no idea what the future holds for me, having only a son (so far), but I will keep this in mind because it may apply somewhere down the road. :)

Beautifully written, as always.

Sarah said...

Well, I'm sure crying like this isn't going to help my stuffy nose any. Darn it.

Whimsy said...

So very perfect.

Cortney said...

This is so great. What a thoughtful loving mama you are. I love reading your posts that reflect so many of my thoughts and feelings but are put into words so beautifully. Thank you!

Kathi McCracken Dente said...

Very nice post. I have been thinking a lot about things like this lately. There is a kid picking on M at school and she is learning social realities that I would prefer she didn't know. She is being exposed to the part of the world that will one day lead to her saying things like "I hate You". I thought this would come later and I could protect her longer. And I do worry things will only get harder.

Shelly said...

Very beautiful.

Michelle Selvans said...

wow, that was great to hear! i think i need to say that to myself, about myself, these days. :)

Astarte said...

I think I'm going to need to print this one out and keep it, because those times are surely coming for me. In fact, Patrick has already tried that one out once, and I quietly picked him up and carried him to the front porch, told him that maybe she should live with someone he doesn't hate, and shut the screen door (the main door was open, but I did lock the screen door so he couldn't just pop back in). He stood there and cried for a few minutes while I hid in the living room, and then shouted 'I don't hate YOU, I just hate BEING with you!' Go figure! :) That was about a year ago, so he was 6; I had forced him to come home from a friend's house because he had left here without telling me. Of course I knew at his age that he was only saying it in anger, but I know more forceful and long-lasting outbursts are coming, ones that won't be so easily remedied with a trip to the porch followed by hugs and kisses to make everything all right. Sigh.

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