Evaluating Hateful Words
I remember the first time my child told me he hated me. He must have been about four or five. I hugged him and told him I loved him, and was sorry he felt that way. But, inside, I was crushed. I felt like I was the most horrible mom on the earth, if my own child would say such a thing. He had never been taught to use words like that in our home, so he must have meant what he said. Right?
For years I had sacrificed for my children. I had gone without sleep. I had fixed their food, washed their clothes, cleaned their rooms, stayed up all through the night when they were sick; read to them, taught them to read, write, communicate; yet my children would still say they hated me. Why? What was I doing wrong?
The first couple of times it happened, I tried harder to be better. I talked kinder; I looked for the good. I tried to be happy and to help them be happy. I sought for ways to express and show my love for them. Still, out of frustration, terrible words would be spoken: “You’re mean.” “I hate it here.” “I wish I had a different family.”
After one of these horrible comments, instead of feeling bad myself, I put them to work! I would teach them that things could be worse! Things could get a lot harder! Interestingly, after they were finished working, they were happy; they hugged me and said they loved me. Then the rest of the day went fine. I was stunned.
Increasing their responsibilities as they grew reinforced the fact that they belonged; it gave them new opportunities to learn, and allowed them to use their newly acquired skills to contribute. Work was a wonderful success! But it did not fix the problem. We would still experience a few more unkind phrases that were hurtful and hard to hear: “I can’t wait to get out of hear.” “I don’t need you.” The question was, “How would I respond?” I had to keep in mind that my children weren’t trying to make mistakes. They weren’t trying to irritate me, anymore than I was trying to discourage them.
For the most part, we wanted to please each other. I also needed to remember, this was their first experience to be children; and it was my first attempt at parenting. Mistakes were going to be made; comments were going to be said.
Would I over-react; spank them, ground them, take away their toys? Or would I choose to respond with self-control? As they grew, I grew. I began to be more of a teacher and role model than a drill-sargent. I began hugging them when they made a mistake. I took time explaining to them what they did wrong and what they might have done different to have a better outcome. If we let them, our children can teach us volumes about ourselves and life. It’s a joint effort; we’re in this together.
Over time, it became easier to see their pain and let go of mine. I would look beyond what was said to uncover what was meant. It was then that I realized, they didn’t hate me. It wasn’t even about me. It was about them. When children try to verbalize their negative feelings, often times, they aren’t quite sure how to put those feelings into words. Mine wanted me to know they were feeling pain; or they were trying to grow up; or they wanted to do things on their own. They were becoming independent and I was in the way.
I had to learn to shift from being an emotional thinker, and taking things personally, to more of a logical, analytical thinker. Removing the emotion from the situation was very hard at first, but over time, it got easier. It sounds like a simple solution, but again, easier said then done; especially when you’re in the heat of it.
Recognizing this helped me create opportunities that would allow them to grow. The more I invited them to help, the happier they became. Sometimes, it was a challenge to let them help or do things on their own; especially knowing that it would take me twice as long (at least) to get the job done, and then it wasn’t the way I would have done it. This was a beginning step in letting go of expectations of a clean house, which will be referred to in: High Expectations and A House of Order.
In looking beyond what is said to what is meant, I’ve learned that hurtful phrases usually mean, “I’m trying to do this on my own,” “I’m wanting to grow up,” or “I’m struggling right now, please love me anyway.”
No matter what is said or done, our children, and frankly our spouses always need to hear, “I love you!” As challenging as it was, I found that if I was kind and loving to them, regardless of what they had said or done, if I was able to pull the emotion and hurt out, and deal with them in a teaching, logical approach, in no time, they were sorry for what they had done and we were able to move on. The minute my emotions were involved, I handled it badly; usually shifting hurt to
anger, which only made matters worse.
Here’s another personal experience where I learned the importance of this concept. Keep in mind, up until this day, Bryan had needed rides to school, verbal and/or written excused absences and tardies, or help with homework; so you’ll understand why I was completely caught off guard with this one.
One morning, I drove Bryan to the High School. We weren’t getting along very well that day. (He was about 16 at the time.) As I drove into the school drop-off area, out of frustration he looked at me and said, “I don’t need you anymore!”
I was so surprised. I had just taken the time to bring him to school. I felt like my heart had been cut out. I had sacrificed a lot during his 16 years of life. I was absolutely flabbergasted at his remark.
I had no response. Feeling such a sudden, intense emotion of hurt sweep over me, I just began to cry. I was drained and very emotional. I said, “Bryan, I sincerely hope you have a great day. I need you to go on to school. I can’t talk about this right now,” as I unsuccessfully tried to hide my emotions. He wanted to stay and work things out, but I truly couldn’t talk, I was so emotional.
Reluctantly, he got out of the car, walked into school, and ended up having one of the most miserable days of his life. He knew he had really hurt his mother. I had never reacted like that before; it surprised us both.
That was the only day that Bryan really struggled with a rebellious kind of attitude. Once he saw the pain and hurt that kind of attitude caused, he tried from then on to show self-control and think of the other person. He worked through things differently. It was amazing.
Within about six months, I went through a similar attitude and conversation with Steve, then 15 years old. This time, I was prepared. My guard was up; I was not going to lose control of my emotions and cry with another son. That was too embarrassing.
I was trying so hard to not show my hurt, this time my reaction became one of defense and anger. Big mistake! My response to Steve only made him feel justified in his attitude. Our relationship struggled; it took well over a year for him to overcome this attitude, where it took Bryan about a day.
My response was what made these two situations so different. When a child is able to see the pain they’ve caused and know they’ve hurt someone that really loves them, it’s easier for their heart to become softened; they can feel sorry for what they’ve done or how they’ve spoken. On the other hand, when our reaction is one of anger, they become defensive; their heart may not soften; they may not be sorry; in fact, they may feel justified. The difference was like night and day.
I’ve learned the importance of discussing the other person’s pain, as well as allowing them to see mine. I’ve also learned the importance of trying to ease their pain, while letting go of mine. A lot of times, we don’t mean what we say; nor do we say what we mean. It can be challenging to express feelings through words. We need to help each other, as we develop this art of communication. We must learn to look past what is actually said and try to uncover what is probably meant.
C.S. Lewis - A Mother's "Gift-love"
One final thought for mothers. C.S. Lewis has validated why it is so very hard to be a mother. About child rearing he said, “The maternal instinct... is a Gift-love, but one that needs to give; therefore needs to be needed. But the proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift.”
He went on to say, “We feed children in order that they may soon be able to feed themselves; we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching. Thus a heavy task is laid upon this Gift-love. It must work towards its own abdication. We must aim at making ourselves superfluous. The hour when we can say “They need me no longer” should be our reward.” (The Four Loves, chap 3, para. 38, pg. 76)
When I first read this, I thought of two things: John the Baptist and our roles as mothers. John the Baptist was very aware of his mission. He was to prepare others for the coming of the Savior. When the Savior came, John meekly said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
As mothers, we have a similar goal. As our children grow, they should need us less and less. It’s not as hurtful when we say, “They need me no longer.” But we can still consider ourselves successful if similar words, “I don’t need you anymore,” come out of the mouth of our child. Ignoring the tone, it’s time to celebrate. My child just declared me successful, didn’t he?
I had new insight. Instead of being hurt, I could redefine what was happening. My child is meaning to tell me, “Thank you, mom! You’ve been successful! I can make it from here.” We can then sit back and watch them fly. They’ll make mistakes...just as we have. It’s part of growing. But just as they fly away, they will return to the nest when they have questions or concerns. You’ve done your job! Sit back, watch and celebrate how high they soar!