Parenting: I HATE YOU

Meika Rouda

By: Meika Rouda


Last night, just before bed time, when I refused to read another book or sing a song or let my son watch a show, he yelled at me “I HATE YOU!”

I was stunned. It actually stung me to the core. I had never heard him say the word “hate” before. Lately he has been telling me “you are mean” when he doesn’t get his way, something we are working on but truthfully in his mind, I am being mean when he wants a second ice cream and doesn’t get it. But hate is a new level. Does he know what hate is? Has someone said this to him? Where do I begin to address this? And since we try to follow a philosophy of talking about feelings, expressing how one feels, how do I incorporate hate into his vocabulary in a positive way?

Since I was being reactionary I first told him hate is a strong word. That we don’t use that word for people and that it hurts my feelings when he says that. I then tried to explain what hate is. Hate is a a word for things that you strongly dislike. It is an angry word, often said when one doesn’t really mean it. But then I felt like I was arming him with a word he will want to use, he now knows it has a strong meaning, that it does hurt me. Then I told him that I love him no matter what, even if he thinks he hates me.

Later in the kitchen after our son finally went to bed, my husband told me how surprised he was to hear the word hate come from our son. “I never in my life said I hated my parents.” My husband comes from, ironically, a strict yet hippie background where feelings were not expressed and yet children were treated like adults from Day One. He was raised in a mutually respectful home where the word hate was outlawed. I, on the other hand, have yelled at my parents countless times as a child and have even said I hated them when I was an unruly teenager, seeking love and attention. I don’t think my 4-year-old has any idea of what the word hate means. I know this is just the first of other incidents where he will be upset with me and express himself in hurtful ways. And I want him to express himself, it is vital that he tells me how he feels, that he puts a name to his feeling but I have to remind him that when he thinks he hates me, he is actually just frustrated that he isn’t getting another book. Or when I am mean because I am not buying him a toy, he is actually feeling sad or mad or a host of emotions that are difficult to navigate at his young age. And I have to remind myself not to take it personally even when it hurts.

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