Hello, friend! Welcome! I assume since you’re here that you have joined our esteemed club. Come on in, have a seat, help yourself to a handful of M&M’s. You’ve earned it, and it is our favorite snack of choice here in the “Club of Hated Mothers.”
It’s not news to you that parenting teenagers is one of the most profoundly difficult experiences of motherhood. These turbulent years drive us to tears regularly with the stress, confusion, and turmoil they can cause. But is there anything that hurts worse than the first time our kids spout a venomous “I hate you!” in our direction? The only thing comparable is when that same child announced at age three that we weren’t their best friend anymore because we wouldn’t let them put Play-Doh up their nose. But that time, after storming off for all of 2 minutes, our little cherubs returned to be stationed ever presently at our side as if nothing nefarious had happened.
This time around is different. The words carry more of a bite, and it is harder to trust that they don’t really mean them. To further complicate the hurt, we are torn between how we should feel at their declaration of loathing. There is the shock and indignation that these young humans (who we have done everything for, who we have spent all our money on, and who trash our house and eat all our food) would dare say such a vile and disrespectful thing to us. There is the devastating heartbreak where it seems we can literally feel our hearts shatter inside us. Guilt begins to creep in because, of course, as moms, we blame ourselves for everything. Perhaps there is shame and embarrassment that our child doesn’t have better control of their emotions, or we feel remorse for whatever led to their fury.
If your child has ever said (or yelled, or screamed, or hissed, or even texted) these three words to you, welcome to the club. You are not alone. You are not even in the minority. The truth is, our growing people feel things intensely. They say outrageous things to express the intensity of what they are feeling. Sometimes as their mom, these kinds of intense expressions can make us feel like verbal punching bags. Our first reaction is to want to respond with equal intensity to quench these outbursts, partly because of our own hurt and partly because we feel the pressure to put them back in their place as our subordinates.
The most important thing I have learned from my experience with teenagers is this: Don’t take it personally. Look past the actual words erupting out of your teen and find the heart behind them. Fight the urge to react with a stern “How dare you talk to me like that! After all I’ve done for you? That’s it! No x-Box for a month, and there’s no way you’re going to Casey’s party this week either.” Take a deep breath and try to maintain your composure, and calmly respond, “I hear that you are really upset about <insert problem> right now. I understand that. I know you don’t really hate me, but you are just very angry at this moment.” They may still storm off with a few pointed daggers aimed at your heart thrown over their shoulder. They may sulk and pout for a few hours.
But this response has shown them something far more important than “winning” the power struggle. You have shown that you are a safe place to express their feelings. And that is the key to a great relationship with your teenager. In a world full of difficulty and confusion, you want your child to know that you are their safe place. All of us long to be a source of comfort, security, and guidance for our kids as they navigate their way through life. The desire to be our children’s safe place doesn’t go away as they grow older. If we want to be this for them, we have to handle their emotional expressions in an accepting way.
It takes a LOT of control on our part not to react strongly when our hearts are reeling from the sharp comments our kids throw at us. Before responding, take a deep breath (or two or three!), remind yourself that this is not really a personal attack, seek to find the heart behind the words, and remind yourself that your response shapes how your child will feel about sharing their true feelings in the future.
So grab a few more M&M’s while the rest of us give you a hug. Know that you are doing a great job, and you are not alone. We don’t judge you or condemn your teenager for the fact that you are joining our ranks. Here in the “Club of Hated Mothers”, we get it. We get you.
That old saying about sticks and stones is both outdated and untrue. Words hurt. Hearing “I hate you!” from the people we love more than life itself is crushing. But these moments can be unexpected opportunities to actually create a deeper connection with our kids if we respond with the love and grace their tumultuous souls need.