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I Don’t Love You, Mama

meditating under a treeSince we went camping a couple of weeks ago, Beatrice has been figuring out how our emotions change the way we interact with each other.  At one point during the camping trip she declared, “I don’t love you, Mama.  I love Daddy because he gives me what I want.”

Ouch. And, OUCH!

I knew it would come eventually, but I wasn’t prepared emotionally for how much that statement hurt. In the moment I could feel two sides of myself, one that was so deeply hurt by what my daughter said, and another that calmly remained distant and reminded me that she is young and emotionally immature. I wanted to stay calm and unhurt, but the sting of those words lingered.

Communicating With Kids and Gentle Discipline

Showing children that they are loved unconditionally means communicating clearly.  They might not be giving us what we want, but it’s important that we are still showing that we love them despite our feelings of frustration.  We can be unhappy with their behaviour but we still love them just as much. This is a hard concept for kids to understand, so it’s extra important to be clear about the distinction. Statements like “I need the floor clear so it is safe to walk on. Please pick the blocks up now,” clearly express needs and actions, instead of, “What a naughty girl you are, leaving your blocks out! Clean them up this minute!” which focuses on the child’s naughtiness. It’s difficult for kids to understand that we love them even when we’re angry, so it’s extra important to take a deep breath and remember what Gentle Discipline is all about if we’re starting to get worked up.  How to Talk so Kids Will Listen is a good place to learn more about how to communicate clearly.

This month I’ve been making an extra effort to take a deep breath and ground myself before diving into a discipline issue.  Using my breath is something I practiced a lot before having kids, at yoga classes especially, but also during other exercise and meditation.  I used my breath as my primary pain relief technique during both labours. Somehow I’d forgotten to pay attention to my breath much since my girls were born.

One or two really conscious, mindful breaths are enough to give me time and space to think about what I want to say instead of blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. This is something I am working at, a spiritual and disciplinary practice, if you will. I cannot change anyone else’s behaviour, I can only change my own. So, I work to stay mindful of my words and actions. I want them to express unconditional love, even when I am clearly not someone’s favourite parent that day.

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  • Dionna @ Code Name: Mama September 17, 2010, 6:27 am

    Oh man, a mama from my local AP group has a 2.5 yr old that will say “I hate you.” I can only imagine how much that will sting when something similar comes out of Kieran’s mouth!
    I’m just starting Rosenberg’s “Nonviolent Communication,” and he has some words of wisdom for situations like that. When someone approaches with words of such deep hurt and pain, it helps to listen – not just to the words – but to the feelings and needs behind those words.
    Rosenberg says of an exchange he had with a man who was angry and in pain, “I received his words, not as attacks, but as gifts from a fellow human willing to share his soul and deep vulnerabilities with me.”

    • michelle September 18, 2010, 8:21 am

      Thanks, Dionna. It is hard to hear, but I’m trying to look at it as her way of showing me how she understands emotions. She understands a lot, but doesn’t yet grasp how love can keep flowing underneath the short-term frustrations of not getting what you want. Keeping this, and what Rosenberg said, in mind makes it easier to say, “this statement is telling me more about her emotional development at this moment rather than her true and long-term feelings towards me.” But: knowing that her emotional development is so black and white right now makes me feel like it’s more important than ever to show her my even-keel love and not give in to fluctuating irritations.

      Also, every other parent with a child around the same age that I’ve talked to about this in real life has said, “Oh, so you guys are dealing with this too! I’m glad it’s not just us.” It feels like a Very Big Deal in the moment, but as far as I can tell it is a normal developmental stage that lots of kids go through.

  • Momma Jorje April 6, 2011, 3:38 pm

    I distinctly recall the note my daughter wrote me when she was about 10yo in which she said “I hate you Momma.” Ouch!

    Thanks for sharing. It is so important that we let them know how much we love them… even when they think they hate (or just don’t love) us. My daughter did later apologize.