How many times have we repeated the thought “I HATE YOU!” in our minds about our co-workers, parents or even our spouse while in a fit of frustration? Many of us have said those words to people we deeply love and care about and obviously don’t truly hate. I must confess, right now I am thinking those awful words “I hate you!” about my own child! She is 7 but I swear she is either hormonal or actually a teenager in a little girl costume! Either way, as smart, funny and adorable as she is, currently she is far more annoying then any of those other positive qualities. My daughter I know is feeling the same extreme dislike toward me right now as well. Hmm. It just occurred to me maybe I am the hormonal one? Wait, does that mean I am in an adult Mommy costume?! I need to talk to my therapist about that one but let me finish my story first.
There are moments, long annoying moments (maybe even hours), that don’t seem to pass quickly enough where the thought running in my head is “I really hate you!” OH that just sounds awful I actually said “REALLY!” I swear I have never said it to her but I think my face must show it at times. Believe me I know all the psychobabble regarding “we won’t always like our children’s behavior but we will always love them” BLAH BLAH BLAH!
That sounds really good when you are sitting in an office paying someone $150.00 an hour to discuss your pent up anger at your sassy 7 year old and reflecting back on ways to better handle those challenging moments of being a parent. But truthfully I just want her to stop. The “loving them through the tough times” is exhausting and frankly I don’t have the time for all of this! (Okay, that last part about not having enough time is key to what is going on but for right now I am still venting so just go with me here.)
Where I am right now is in the very real moment of hate. Well, maybe very strong dislike. Is that better? It may also be shame and fear as well. Shame that Tova is behaving so incorrigible at PF Changs in front of one of my girlfriends and my friend’s cute 5-year-old son is being really polite. Why couldn’t he toss the soy sauce across the table at her, I would feel so much better!
The fear? Oh you know the fear you have forever screwed up your child starting with letting her have her pacifier too long (until age 3) or that I am a full time working mother or that she eats too much sugar! While I want to pinch her head off while she is stomping away ahead of us at lunch because she lost the vote where to eat or when she turned around and shot me the stink eye while walking into the restaurant and held the door closed with her cute sticky little fingers for good measure I know I can’t really pinch her or scream at her or any of things that would make me feel better in the moment.
As we sit down and settle into a not so nice ladies lunch she begins to argue with her older brother. Claiming he cheated at tic-tac-toe. Seriously, how do you cheat at tic-tac-toe? All I can think is college can’t come quick enough. Then, in an instant I see her 27 years old, as tall as me while she is giving me the same look and wondering where all the time went. Wondering who she will be and will she hate me. Hate me for my many mistakes or the clothes I wear, the politics I hold or how inadequate of a mother I was at times. Then I wonder and hope that we will one day maybe like each other. Love of course and even Hate sometimes but genuinely honestly like the woman my daughter has become? And will Tova like the old woman I will have become in 20 years?
Tova slides over a note written on her tic-tac-toe paper. It reads, “I hate u”. My heart sinks and I look at her and mouth, “I love you”. Her eyes well up with tears and she puts her head in the crook of my arm. I whisper in her ear, “I really do love you.” She picks her head up and starts eating her chicken dumplings. Later that night I am snuggling her to sleep and I bring up the tough day we had together. I said she seemed really angry today. She started crying and she went on to let out what was making her so sad and angry lately. Tova says, “Don’t your bosses at CNN know you have kids?” I said, “Yes, she does “ knowing full well I am the only one who makes my schedule and realizing whom I actually might be hating right now was myself.
With tears in my eyes I explained that she was right and I had been feeling the same way. I had been working four nights a week before Tova did her intervention with me at PF Changs. The next day I began moving my clients around and now work just two nights a week and have created “Fun Fridays with Mom” where we go and do fun day trips together. Asher, Tova and I just got back from Catalina Island where we swam, parasailed and went in a submarine together.
As parents we have to be willing to pay attention to what our kids are trying to communicate to us with their behavior. Often it is the only way they know how to express their anger, sadness, fear and disappointment. What we need to do is listen and be willing to respond. Tova and I still have moments of “hate” but many more of enjoying each other. One day when I am 62 and she is 27 I bet we will be having our own very wonderful ladies lunch at PF Changs.
Dr. Michelle’s Tips
*Distinguish between a feeling of chronic dislike and a passing feeling.
Usually if we are dealing with passing feelings of annoyance it is because your child is going through a developmental stage. Whether it is the two-year stage of independence testing or the teen years there will be moments you just don’t like your child or their behavior. When it is chronic feelings of anger and you slip into truly not liking your kid then it is time to seek some help or talk to a friend about what is going on inside of your mind and heart and what you are seeing in your child. There might be larger dynamic or developmental issues that need to be addressed.
*Coping with Short-term dislike
Children usually save up their most annoying and challenging behaviors for their parents because we are safe enough emotionally for them to express their strong feelings of anger, fear and sadness. I know aren’t we the lucky ones!! Often times the intense mood and feelings can be related to changes that are unsettling their world, for example a death in the family, a birth of a sibling, a parent sick or something happening at school as well. If the behavior and attitude isn’t connected to the concrete world it may be due to the changing cognitive or developmental stages that all children experience. These big shifts in social and emotional dynamics may contribute to your child feeling anxious and unsettled. Just like adults when big changes are coming they feel nervous and may not even have the words let alone tools to cope with these strong feelings. So you get the brunt of it! That’s is why being curious about your kid is a healthier stance than trying to shut down the anger.
*Coping with Chronic anger and frustration
Owning and acknowledging these feelings is really the first step. Dealing with children when they are going through there own difficult phase is challenging enough add your own layer of “issues” such as job stress or family problems than you can wind up with an entrenched chronic problem. So you need to understand what is triggering you about your child and why you can’t emotionally detach to handle the situation. This may require you seeking some professional help to deal with it because if you keep being triggered the negative behavior is only reinforced and the cycle will go on and on. The other issue to explore is your expectations of your child off or too high. This can lead to chronic frustration as well. One red flag to watch for is around developmental issues. If you believe your child should be at a certain developmental milestone and they are not and this behavior is part of the issue I suggest you meet with your pediatrician or a child psychologist and explore if there are any larger issue that need to be addressed, such as hearing issues and sensory motor issues in young children.