I am noticing lately that much has been made (on Facebook and elsewhere) of allowing our children (daughters in particular) to unleash angry vitriol in the form of hate letters and furious tantrums against their parents. In these many pieces I read, a child screams or writes “I HATE YOU” to their parent– or much worse. They unleash terrible statements like “I wish you were dead, I wish you weren’t my Mother” and the list goes on. And now comes the crazy, very un-PC part. I read that from a somewhat astonished perspective.
That’s right. None of my 3 children have ever said anything like that to me. Not once. They have screamed, they have thrown tantrums, they have raged, but never have they said such hateful things: not to me, and not to each other. And if they did say something like that, it wouldn’t go over well with me. They know it.
By all measures (or many that I read online anyway) that must mean that my children don’t feel comfortable showing their true feelings. They must not feel safe enough to unleash their hatred on me. At least, that is what some parenting bloggers and others would say.
It would seem that in many ways the modern bar for good parenting is to passively allow a child their angry feelings by offering a hug and unconditional warmth when that child is feeling ready to re-enter the ever present, ever flowing stream of parental adoration. We are supposed to praise them for sharing their feelings, and feel honored that our children trusted us enough to unleash their unfettered emotions upon us. And that’s supposed to be the end of it.
I wonder how many parents out there have read those pieces advocating this sort of parenting and felt like absolute shit. How many Moms out there have read those types of blogs and editorials and thought to themselves, uh, absolutely not. And how many Moms (and Dads!) have felt like they are doing something wrong because they wouldn’t tolerate that kind of talk?
Well, for what it’s worth, I’m with ya.
But I don’t feel bad about it. Because, here’s why.
I know that my children are capable of understanding the difference between voicing their opinions and just being cruel. They know that saying or yelling or crying “I’m FURIOUS!!” or “THAT’S COMPLETELY UNFAIR!!” or “GO AWAY!” or any number of things, is completely different than saying “I wish you weren’t my mother!” or “I HATE you!”
My kids understand that words can harm, and I believe that choosing words with intention is very important in this world. My kids know that others have feelings. They understand the weight of their own words because they have been raised in a home where we communicate with each other respectfully (usually.) They know what it is to hear hurtful things directed at them from peers, and they would never want to cause that hurt to others, and especially not to me. That’s how it works. I don’t hurt them, they don’t hurt me. At least, not deliberately. And if we do hurt each other, we hash it through with constructive words, not hateful ones. And we hug because we are glad that we both feel better. That’s important, I think. Because in relationships, there are 2 people. Not just 1.
When we as parents respond to hurtful words our kids say with nothing more than a hug, I think that’s really because we are afraid our kids might think we don’t love them anymore. We feel like we have to prove to ourselves that we still love them, even though we were angry. But here’s the thing: kids totally don’t think that. They don’t call our love into question when we respond to them with a correction.
Kids can receive correction and feel loved. And our generation of parenting has a terrible time separating these things. Love and discipline can be one and the same.
We as parents don’t have to let any hurtful word be acceptable so that our kids know we love them. In fact, I would say the opposite is true. Can’t we give them an honest response? Isn’t that so much better? That way they have learned something about how they make others feel, and they have learned the love required to communicate respectfully.
Can’t we say to them, like I would say to my kid, (once I was calm):
“My goodness, that was very hurtful language. I understand that you are very angry but I don’t think communicating your anger that way is a very good way of doing it. I am happy to have a discussion with you about the things that you are angry about, and I am happy to hear what you have to say. As long as you don’t include such hurtful words. Talking like that is simply unacceptable. I don’t speak to you that way, and I expect you not to speak to me that way. When you talk like that it makes it very hard for me to hear you, because my feelings are too hurt. I know you didn’t mean those things, but they still hurt my feelings very badly. If you say things in a more respectful way, I can hear what you are saying more clearly because my feelings won’t be so hurt.”
Isn’t that true in all interactions? And can’t we model that for them? Why do we have to let them scream and rage and then give them a hug with no other reaction? That is certainly not mirrored in the real world where terrible and hurtful words can cut like knives.
I would like to teach my children to be take care with their words. In giving them my feedback I am showing them a few things.
First, I am placing my trust in their ability to hear me, as I would hope they would place their trust in me.
Second, I am showing that our relationship is not one way, but two, and that I am an important part of it.
Third, I am modeling love for myself but standing up for myself when something terribly hurtful has been said.
But most importantly, I am modeling love and care for my child by communicating respectfully, honestly and carefully with them, as I would hope they would with me.
In the future lives of my cherished children, I know they will model love for themselves and others by using their words with care, not reckless abandon. I pray that they would stand up for themselves when treated with disregard and unkindness, not roll over and take it. They have the right to expect respect and kindness. So do parents. Because we are all people. And that is a very important lesson. That’s why hateful words and expressions have no place in my home.
So there. Humph. Arms crossed. The end.