The "H" Word by Robin Gorman Newman
Somehow I thought I’d never hear it.
To date I hadn’t.
And, even this week I didn’t….I read it.....in 8 year old scribbled penmanship.
A mom friend stopped by for short, but eventful stay, with her two kids, to give me the girl scout cookies we ordered to support her daughter. Seth played a bit with her son Eric. They are the same age.
Next thing I knew, Eric ran anxiously to me and proclaimed that Seth had shown him how he wrote on the side of the black lacquer armoire in our living room with invisible ink (we had bought a special marker at a spy store in NYC during school break, for his birthday.) The scrawled words were……I hate my mom.
I was able to see it with a special flashlight that came with the marker. Seth said he didn’t write hate, he wrote nate (he has a good friend Nate)…but it sure didn’t look that way. My friend saw it too.
It’s bad enough he wrote on the furniture, but I was stunned and truly hurt. I honestly didn’t know how to handle it. At that moment, all I could think was that parenting is the most thankless job in the world. I was on the verge of tears and could barely bring myself to look at Seth or my friend. They exited quickly at that point.
Seth cried and said he was sorry, but an apology didn’t make me feel better.
I told him he badly hurt my feelings. That I thought we loved each other. He said he didn’t know why he did what he did.
My heart was in pain. How could he hate me, with all that I do for him?
After he went to sleep, in an effort to understand, I surfed the web.
I looked up 8 year old behavior.
Then, I Googled “when your child says they hate you.”
What I discovered is that it’s a big topic of discussion. At least I knew I wasn’t alone.
On one site, I turned up the following anonymous comment from a mom……
I have 5 girls. My oldest is 24 and youngest is 5. They all told me at one point or another that they hated me. The last's one's dad was appalled that our little one said it, but my reaction surprised him more. He got angry at this little 3 year old, but I did what I always did, simply and calmly said, "Well, then I have done my job as a parent." Every child is going to "hate" their parents sometime, no matter what age. It doesn't mean that they really do, they are just angry about the rules and don't want to follow them. All my girls got the same response with a later talk about hate, love, anger, and how they fell if someone says it to them. It doesn't do any good to react to these words, except the one the child wants, you to be as upset as he/she is. Respond to them calmly and they will calm down and realize they don't mean it. All my girls eventually apologized to me with a big hug. Until the next time they didn't want to follow a rule.
This struck me as sage advice…from a wise fellow mom stranger…..but the source wasn’t important. It rang true.
Seth ultimately stated that he was angry because I got angry at him on some occasion. He couldn’t recall when or why.
What I was able to explain to him was that using the word hate isn’t the best way to go. You never want to say I Hate You to a person, whoever they are. What you hate is something they said or did. Perhaps how they behaved toward you or others. Not them as a human being.
I said that it’s okay to feel hate, but better to express it. If there’s something that I or Marc do that upsets him, he should come to us. And, if that’s too hard and he wants to vent, he can write it in his journal. I used to journal growing up (now I blog). It was an effective tool for self expression. I assured him we won’t read it. It’s private (even though he lost the lock). Writing on furniture, even in invisible ink, isn’t an option.
I was glad to be able to turn this upsetting incident into a big learning lesson. Not just for Seth. But for myself. He immediately pushed buttons in me that were not a pretty sight. I got bent out of shape for days and went to a dark emotional place. Seth had never seen me that way before. Eventually, I realized I shouldn’t be taking it personally.
When I chose to forgive and move on from the incident, Seth was happy to see me warming up to him (we're typically fairly cuddly). He commented, “See, we’re happy with each other again.” He was acutely aware of my pain, and I wanted him to be so he wouldn’t upset me again. But, I know I have to develop a strong maternal backbone. This won’t be the first or last time he says something that both he and I may regret. Any seasoned parent will tell you so. It’s part of growing up and learning to speak out. He won’t always choose his words wisely, but I do want him to grasp that words have ramifications.
There are many angry people in this world who thrive on making others feel bad, and I have to believe they feel badly themselves, otherwise they wouldn’t have the need to lash out verbally. Misery loves company. I don’t want Seth to be one of those people. He’s a happy kid who has his moments. We all do.