"I Hate You Mommy!"
Those words. Ouch! I imagine if you’ve had children you’ve heard them at least once. They sting, and momentarily can turn your emotions upside down. That is your once, sweet little baby saying this to you and it doesn’t matter whether they are 3 or 16, the pain hits hard. But what is your reaction? I have sat with many clients and mom friends talking about how we’ve reacted well, or maybe not so well to this statement from our children. We love our children, and our children love us; at least they’re supposed to, right? So, what should we do when our children hurt us by saying this, or other things that influence our emotions in a negative way?
First, take a second to think about what this statement feels like to you? What emotions are stirred up? What fears? How did your parents handle this when you may have said it as a child? All of these answers are likely influencing your response.
In Paul David Tripp’s book, Parenting: the 14 gospel principles that can radically change your family (2016), he talks about our identity and how we often look for it in our children. This is true for all of us at one point or another. If we are looking to them to make us feel loved, adequate, worthy, etc., we are setting them up to do a job they, nor anyone else but Jesus can do. If our identity is found in someone who says they hate us, throws tantrums, or lies, we have a big problem don’t we? A problem that needs to be stopped by any fast means necessary. However, if our identity is found in God, we know he has both us as parents, as well of our children in his hand. This allows us to extend much more grace in disciplining than the former.
It is important that we teach our children to respect us as their parents. It is important that we work to shape their hearts to want to serve and follow the Lord, therefore not wanting to hurt others with their words. But if they are not met with grace, and met instead with only harsh punishment, the modification in their behavior could be albeit faster, but superficial and temporary.
Let’s even think about how we as adults react when we are hurt, angry, or even tired. How grateful are we for God’s grace in those ugly moments. Our children are no different, and what a gift that we can utilize hard moments as opportunities to model that grace. This is not only an act of obedience, but a teaching moment for our children. Extending them grace does not make them weak, nor does it allow them to manipulate or take advantage of. It offers them what we all require daily.
I feel like I must also say that an approach of grace does not mean instead of discipline or correction, but along side it.
We cannot take our children’s behavior personally. It is not their job to protect our feelings or manage our emotions. It is not their responsibility to help us feel loved or important. However, it is our job to do that for them. It is up to us to teach them how to manage their emotions, communicate their feelings, and to extend grace to others. This isn’t a “do as I say not as I do” lesson (nor is any lesson as a parent), but one that they learn by watching us, primarily in our interactions with them. The way in which we handle hurt, fear, anger, conflict, will have significant influence on the way they will too.
So often we see parenting as a series of many events, rather than a lifelong process. I can already hear it (as I often do), "When I'm kind, my kids don't listen; it's only when I yell and lose my temper that any change happens". Yes, when our kids fear us, they are going to likely give us the faster results we are looking for, but that is not how real heart change happens. This is something that you have to work to model and instill over time. When you yell and lose your temper, you instead teach your children that as long as you are a threat and to be feared, they must listen to avoid that threat and fear. But once that fear or threat is gone, what's the motivator if their heart is no different?
I wanted to share my personal experience with this situation below, and how it went down last week with my 3 year old. This does not come from a place of authority or superiority. I do not share this as a, “do it this way”, as I know all kids are different, and you know your child better than anyone else. It is simply an example for those who may be looking for alternatives in how to handle hearing these four yucky words:
I had the audacity to have her get dressed for school one morning last week, to which she replied, “I hate you! I love Daddy, Bubby, and Sissy, but not you”. It stung…big time. I started by asking her why she said that, and what was wrong. She was uninterested, and continued the morning with a hardened heart toward me. I told her that I wasn’t sure why she felt that way, but that I loved her very much and offered to then make her breakfast. I worked hard to not let my emotions cause me to “retaliate” or punish, as that wouldn’t be effective long term. At one point she even told me I couldn’t pet her stuffed hamster because although it was nice to daddies, brothers, and sisters, it bites mommies. Passive aggressive much? I continued to be as kind as I could while she kept this up, as I know that this is not genuinely her heart, but likely a very ineffective and hurtful way to communicate something (still haven’t figured out what). After she got out of her “funk” and seemed to forget that she was committed to this stance, I decided it was a good time to talk about it. I explained to her that I was happy she seemed to feel better, but that it was hurtful and disrespectful to talk to me the way she had this morning. I told her that it is ok to be upset with me, but that it was not ok to try and deliberately hurt me, or anyone. She seemed to understand, and we have yet to hear these words again (although I would be fooling myself to think we won’t).
I will also add that next time will be handled a little differently. Because she has been given the expectations and a lesson, there will be an immediate conversation encouraging her to soften her heart and think about what she is saying. If unwilling to apologize and show kindness, there will also be consequences for intentionally trying to hurt someone with her words. That was not immediately done this time because I was trying to feel her out and see how long she was going to keep it up. Again, you get to use your best judgment as a parent!
We are human, and our children can hurt us with their words and influence negative reactions. But it's important to remember the blessing of being gifted with ambassadorship of our children. They are not ours. They are God's, and we are to make sure we are intentional about using our time with them to lead them closer to Him. It's easy to feel ownership over our children, but if we're not careful, our interaction with them becomes more about us, than Him.
Tripp, P. D. (2016). Parenting: the 14 gospel principles that can radically change your family. Crossway.