I'll never forget the time -- the first time, that is -- my daughter told me she hated me. It's irrelevant in that emotional moment whether the hate is real or justified. All you know is that the person you love more than anyone -- the person you loved through the sleep deprivation, colic, explosions on your business suit before a big meeting, elimination diet, earring ripped from ear, broken serving platter, stomach flu on deadline day, powder dumped all over entire living room, toy left out that tripped you resulting in sprained ankle, whining, and all those other glorious parenting moments -- just said, "I hate you!"
What do you do?
I took about ten deep breaths and said, "Room. Now."
Then I had a Mom Time Out and I thought.
Eventually, I said, "You can be angry and tell me you're angry. You can hate things that happen, bad things or unfair things. Like your sister breaking your toy. But. Hate is a hard word, a hurtful word. So you can't say it to me, or other people."
In fact, I discourage the word hate. We "don't prefer" certain things. At dinner, my children may say "I don't prefer uncooked broccoli, I prefer it cooked." They may also say, "I don't prefer any sort of tomato, but thank you." But they may not say "YUCK!" or "I HATE tomatoes."
Hate, like love, is a big word that needs to retain its meaning. Overuse cheapens it, calluses us to its harm.
With my first daughter, when we were trying to deal with her anger and words in an okay way, I found a great book called When Sophie Gets Angry by Molly Bang. It was a brilliant book for both explaining anger in words and in pictures. It had ways to run off anger, literally. It resonated strongly with both my daughter and me.
At home with an authentically busy and occupied mom, Leo spends the day testing boundaries, such as rolling tomatoes across the floor, dropping string beans in the fishbowl, squeezing toothpaste on the toilet, yelling while mom is on the phone, and, after going to his room, drawing on the wall.
I loved that. I honestly did. It was a standard day with my five-year-old at any age in her life starting from the minute she could crawl. She's the kid we got the wall chalkboard for to give her an okay place to draw, since she loved wall drawing so well. And instead, she drew all around it.
I loved the busy mom, who, unlike parents in most kids' books and TV shows, had other things to do. She was occupied, which is different than preoccupied. But she was occupied, with things other than focusing exclusively on her child. And that's real. Sure there's that old saying about "dishes will keep but kids won't keep," and many variations thereof. That's great, and true, but it can't be the operating procedure for every.single.moment. of every.single.day.
Sometimes, you have other obligations, ones that won't keep, so kids must, for a bit.
I actually think that's a good thing. It teaches kids about priorities and timing. Respect, especially of other people and their time.
In this book, Leo was acting out because he wanted his mother's attention. I've been there. Sometimes, I can set whatever I'm doing aside and give that craved attention. Sometimes, I have to look at my child and say, "I hear you. I want to color with you too, but I need to finish this work by the deadline. After I do, you are my number one."
My kids often don't buy this gracefully, unlike most kids in most kids' books and TV shows.
But just like Leo in this book.
Mommy lays it down for Leo and says, "Sometimes, I have to say no." Molly Bang beautifully illustrates each word, giving it life and emotion. The words get bigger with big emotion, with brighter and more vibrant colors.
Leo replies that he hates no, and right now, he said, "I HATE YOU!" The words are huge, covering an entire page opposite Leo's red and furious face. Each letter is a pattern of red, orange and yellow.
My kids loved it. "That's how the words feel inside my head and body sometimes, too," my eight year old said, "Sometimes they are that big and colorful."
In the book, as in real life, Mommy and Leo talk it out. My kids liked that part best of all, especially when Mommy assured Leo that although she hated that he said that, she still loved him.
"You get angry at me a lot, Mom," my five-year-old said, and my heart sank. We do get to have a lot of "learning moments" together, she and I. "You don't like it when I do a lot of naughty things like Leo, but I know you always love me."
A better endorsement I could not ask for -- and from a great discussion of a great book.
I can recommend the book, which you can get in paperback now, for ages up to 8 and possibly beyond. But that's the limit of my experience and test group, so far.
I can also definitely recommend these types of experiences, reading and talking.
It gets us through some tough situations and gives us a safe third-party (the book and its characters and stories) to talk through the situation and emotions.
The power of reading.
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