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A friend shared this on Facebook recently. It came from Dawn French’s Facebook page (which is not by Dawn French but by a fan). I don’t know whether this is something Dawn French said/wrote or if the fan just found it somewhere.

My promise to my children

For as long as I live I will always be your parent first and your friend second. I will stalk you, flip out on you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare, and hunt you down like a bloodhound when I have to, because I love you. When you understand that, I will know you have become a responsible adult. You will never find anyone else in your life who loves, prays, cares and worries about you more than I do. If you don’t mutter under your breath, “I hate you,” at least once in your life, I am not doing my job properly.

We may or may not agree with the philosophy (I do); my point here is to tell you my response and where it has led my thinking. In the Facebook comment line, I wrote: “Do I get extra points if my child says ‘I hate you’ lots of times???”

My friend responded, and I paraphrase, ‘wouldn’t it have been great if we had been allowed to say ‘I hate you’ to our parents? Isn’t it great our kids feel they can say it?’

I didn’t give my real response. I didn’t give any response. But I’ve been thinking about it for weeks.

Here’s what I didn’t say. I didn’t say, ‘Actually, I hate it that my daughter says “I hate you. Often.”‘

The first time my daughter said ‘I hate you,’ I thought it was funny. The next several times she said it (she was about 2 at the time), I knew (because I read it in a book (?!)) not to take it personally. After 9 months of hearing it every day, and repeating the mantra ‘it isn’t personal,’ it began to get to me. Was I doing something horribly wrong? Was there something horribly wrong with her? Was it really a good thing for her to express this feeling, in these particular words, in a way that was beginning to damage me and our relationship?

By this time I was very interested in how my mother got me NOT to say such things. Whatever it was, it was beginning to seem like a very good idea. After all, aren’t we supposed to socialize our children? Aren’t we supposed to teach them how to deal with their difficult emotions and also how to treat other people with kindness? I had no real idea how to do either.

Today, I really don’t think it’s OK for children to say ‘I hate you’ to anybody day after day after day. I can totally accept an older child muttering it under their breath upon hearing some unwelcome restriction. The crucial distinction is that they say it under their breath. They know it isn’t the kind of thing we say to people, and certainly not to people we’re supposed to love. When (not if) my daughter says it when she’s a teenager, and if (I hope) she says it under her breath, I will, as per the statement above, know that I am doing my job.

Six years after my daughter first said ‘I hate you,’ I have learned a few things (and have a great deal more to learn). Today, I say, ‘that’s not a kind thing to say.’ This lets her know that her words have power. It also gives me time to pause and to look for ways to help her express and identify what she’s feeling in a way that is useful to her and non-harmful to me. I am working on not accepting unacceptable behaviour. I am working on identifying and implementing logical and natural consequences for rudeness and disrespect. (All suggestions welcome – I’m not doing very well so far.) I am working on creating spaces and activities that allow her to let loose the huge negative emotions that sometimes rule her. It is very hard. By ‘hard,’ I mean the same level of ‘hard’-ness that mothers mean when they say labour, delivery, and the first few months of the baby’s life are ‘hard.’ ‘Hard’ in this context means ‘I’m pretty sure I can’t handle this but there is no alternative.’

The other thing I’ve been thinking about for days is, why didn’t I put this in a comment on Facebook? It was because my impression is that it’s too raw for people. People don’t want to think that ‘nice’ mothers of ‘nice’ children have to hear ‘I hate you’ every day for 9 months and at least every week for the next 6 years. Like me, I imagine that they believe that if I were ‘nice,’ or doing things right, or following the right parenting theories, it wouldn’t be happening. I am ashamed. I don’t want them to think I’m not getting it right.

But I’m also angry. Somehow, I don’t believe that I’m the only mother hearing ‘I hate you’ way too often for comfort. So where are all the other mothers like me? Why are they not telling their truth?

On the subject of telling the truth about mothering, I noticed that once our children were about 6 years old, mothers of my acquaintance began to speak more openly about how it was in the early days and years. The desperate hardness and tedium of it all. And yet I knew most of these people at the beginning, and no-one talked about it. Yes, we moaned about sleepless nights and vomit all over the place and the relentlessness of early motherhood. But when asked, everyone said it was going fine, thank you. Everything was peachy-keen, tickety-boo. Well I was floundering, not to say drowning, and when I expressed it, it drove people away. It scared them and repulsed them. I needed help, desperately. I needed practical support in terms of getting time to rest and rejuvenate, and I needed parenting advice. Many books on pregnancy and the early years suggest that parents-to-be and new parents dislike the amount of unsolicited advice they get. Why??? Parenting is extraordinarily difficult, and yet it has been done by billions and billions of people. Isn’t it more efficient to learn from their bitter, joyous experience than to re-invent the wheel? One purpose of this blog is to tell the truth, (1) in the hope that it might provide some comfort to another struggling mother and (2) to add to the growing number of people who are telling the truth about mothering.

I started this post several weeks ago. In the meantime, I’ve become almost immune to hearing ‘I hate you.’ And I’ve given up on natural and logical consequences for disrespectful behaviour, and am trying the praise-what-you-like-and-ignore-what-you-dislike approach. There is no noticeable difference in her behaviour, but I am more peaceful and we have fewer fights.

They say that children learn respect by being respected. So that’s my homework: how am I not respecting my daughter, and/or other people? Stay tuned for the day I get around to this one….

What are your expectations about respect from your children? How do you ‘get’ respect?

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