I hate you.
It’s painful to even write these three words, but when your kid spits them at you, the parent, it’s a blow that reaches all the way to the womb. That’s how I feel. It hurts to hear, even though, rationally, I know he doesn’t mean it.
A few weeks ago, I picked up Luke* from school and gave him a snack, one where you have to dip the cookie stick in nut butter or something like that. He ate the snack as we walked together to a doctor appointment a few blocks away. Nothing was in his way, but he tripped and fell on the sidewalk, and all the contents of his snack went flying.
As he lay on the ground crying, I quickly helped him up, brushed him off, hugged him, and then tried unsuccessfully to salvage some of the snack. “Sorry, Luke, I have Pirate Booty. Would you like that?”
“NOOO!” he said, simultaneously bawling and shrieking. “I want that snack!”
“I understand. I’m sorry that the snack spilled. I wish I had two of that snack, but I don’t.” I was trying to move him along to the doctor for a travel vaccine.
“No…. I hate you! It’s your fault!” Huh? My fault? This wasn’t the first time he’s said this. I sighed. “I hate you!” he said again, louder this time. I admit I hastily scanned the area to see who might be listening to the hate speech directed at me. Not only was it hurtful, it was humiliating.
This has happened before; the more I hissed at him, “That’s not appropriate. You don’t talk to Mommy that way,” the louder he yelled it. Apparently, he realized that he had a winning strategy for getting my attention here. That day I took away his iPad for two days. Clearly, that punishment did not register, because here we were, back at it.
He’s just five, I told myself. Rationally, I knew he didn’t mean what he said, but emotionally, it’s still very hard to hear, and even harder to ignore. I’m a parent, but I am also human and those words hurt from anyone, especially your child. If this were 40 or 50 years ago, he would have had his mouth washed out with soap. I can’t imagine what my grandmother would have thought of my son’s behavior.
I sighed again and scooped him up and carried him, determined to get to the doctor. “I hate you. I hate you. I hate you….” went the mantra for the next three blocks.
“Wow, look at that cute dog wearing a blue sweater,” I said to distract him.
“I hate you!” he continued to yell. Am I a bad parent? Allowing my child to keep repeating these words? Ignore it. Ignore it. Ignore it, I told myself, chanting a protective mantra of my own, refusing to look at anyone on the street.
“Well, no matter what, I always love you,” I said.
Finally, we entered the doctor’s office. “Would you like a lollipop?” the nurse asked Luke. He nodded, pleasantly said thank you, and sat down in a seat next to me in the waiting room.
Ugh. Being a parent can be really hard, emotional, and exhausting. I myself am a parenting work-in-progress… So, here’s advice to myself the next time I hear “I hate you”:
- Stay calm.
- Say, “No matter what I love you.”
- Know that he loves me and doesn’t mean it; he’s just seeking my attention.
- Remember that moods can change in a nanosecond.
Yup, that’s why the blog is called ‘A Practicing Parent;’ I am definitely still practicing!
* Name changed.