Tonight I ran across an article on Huffington Post entitled “When My 9-Year-Old Daughter Told Me I’m a Terrible Mom.” The writer tells the story of the day that she and her nine year old had an argument over which pants the child should wear (it was cold and wintry and she wanted to wear white cotton capris). After demanding that the girl put on jeans instead, the writer found a note on her nightstand. Her nine year old daughter had written, “You’re a terrible mother. I hate you. I’ve always wanted another mother, anyone but you.”
Now, this is not necessarily a shocking or unusual thing for a child to do. I suppose it happens, kids saying things to their parents that are harsh and hurtful and that they don’t mean. But, I am quite shocked by this mother’s reaction to it.
First, she says that in retrospect she realizes that what the nine year old puts on her body is none of her business. She says the child dresses herself and that as her mother she shouldn’t have tried to get her to wear long pants.
Then she says, “I’m proud my child can express herself through language, glad that she feels safe enough at home to vent her emotions.”
Welcome to the upside-down, backwards world of parenting a child in 2015.
I don’t blame the writer of the article for saying these things. I really don’t. I don’t blame her for feeling like the whole thing was really her fault. I don’t blame her for trying to put a positive spin on it to make her child seem well-adjusted and like-able. This is what we are told to do.
We, mothers of this age, are told that a child’s feelings are important above all. We are told that we are ruining our children in 40 million different ways, from the way we feed them to the way we do or do not talk to them, to the way we respond to their bad behavior. Our smartphones are filled every day with articles that tell us we’re doing it all wrong, that kids deserve more, that we’re being too harsh, that we’re making our children feel un-listened-to and unimportant.
So, these days when a mother gets a nasty note from her nine year old, her first inclination is to think, “Ok, this is good. She’s getting her feelings out. I really shouldn’t be trying to squash her personal expression by making her wear pants anyway. I’m so glad that she has taught me today all of the ways that I am messing this thing up. Thank goodness I am proud of her ability to express her emotions in this terrible, hurtful way.”
I just wonder, after we have dissected and re-assembled all of the little pieces of bad self-help parenting advice that we’ve gotten on the internet, in what universe do we think it’s something to be proud of when our kids are disobedient, angry, and hateful?
All human beings experience emotion. All children have feelings. Just spend an hour with my two year old and you will see a huge range of feelings pouring out of her in rapid sequence. It’s okay to have feelings. It’s okay to have opinions.
But, in a home, and in life, there is a hierarchy. Do you hear me, mothers? There are people in the home whose opinions matter more than the kids! Namely, the parents!
We can and should listen to the children. We can and should care about their feelings. We can and should help them manage those feelings in productive and kind ways. We can and should teach them that mean letters to people you love are a bad idea. We should tell them that a nasty note on a bedside table is hurtful, and we should show them better ways to deal with their feelings.
Mamas, you don’t have to just take it when these emotions pour out of your children in cruel and unproductive ways. And, by the way, you have every right and duty in this world to tell your nine year old daughter how to dress.
I worry about our children when we are so afraid to tell them the truth about their behavior and attitudes. Life will not treat them kindly if we send them out there with no real handle on their emotions. We can’t continue to teach them through our acceptance of bad behavior that their feelings rule the world.
It will end badly for them. I promise.
So, yes, we will feel these arrows that kids shoot into their parents’ hearts with their emotionally-charged actions, but we can’t just lie down when it happens and say, “Ok, you got me. I shouldn’t have made you feel upset. I was wrong. I’m proud of you for saying what you felt.” NO! We should stick to our guns, remind them who’s in charge, and teach them that the way they feel isn’t the center of the universe or our home.
They will be better people for it. And, we will enjoy living with them so much more.