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My Son Said, “I Don’t Like You!”

"I don't like you!" my son screamed from his bed after I had tucked him in for the fourth time.

It's not the first time any of my kids have said that to me, a common response when I tell them "no" or send them to time out.

And usually, I ignore it, then offer more appropriate alternatives, which usually range from giving them words that they can say like "I'm really frustrated" or actions, like stomping a foot.

Heck, I'll take a foot stomp any day over spitting.

I'm all for my kids understanding that feelings are okay, and getting upset is normal. I spent way too much of my life with feelings bottled up and pushed aside, so it's a huge priority as a parent that my kids know they can and should express themselves.

But beyond knowing that it's okay, they also need to be taught how. And they also need to realize that telling me that you don't like me or that you hate me is not acceptable.

Now this is all quite effective in theory, at least when I'm well rested and haven't been alone with all four of my children for an extended period of time.

However, when I'm exhausted and my patience is running ridiculously thin, the last thing I want to hear after a long day is a little ungrateful voice telling me that he doesn't like me.

Listen child, I just fed you, bathed you, listened to you ask me the same question over and over again. What's not to like?

Hearing those words is like nails on a chalkboard for me.

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Unfortunately, what I said didn't come out of my mouth as eloquently. In fact, I think my voice was at a shriek-level decibel when I screamed something like "DO YOU KNOW HOW IT FEELS TO HEAR YOU SAY THAT TO ME OVER AND OVER AGAIN?"

"Very sad" a little voice whispered from under his covers.

Suddenly there was a hush of silence between my kids' rooms. I hadn't heard that much silence at bedtime since before I had kids.

"EXACTLY!" I replied as I stomped out of the room. Though ironically, I didn't feel as satisfied as I had hoped. More like embarrassed and ashamed, guilting myself with reminders that I should be able to hold it together because it's my job.

But then when they all went to sleep almost instantly, I thought maybe my little outburst was exactly the empathy training they needed.

The truth is that I never remember my mother expressing much of any kind of emotion as a child, other than anger. But if I had ever seen her crying, I can only imagine that I would have found it quite shocking. Seeing how I had hurt her would have probably been worse than any punishment she could have dished out.

But I also think it would have been rather comforting, because maybe then I would have understood that being a mother doesn't mean being perfect.

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Moms mess up too. And that they also have feelings. Feelings that can be hurt.

I thought a bit more about how I had responded to my son, and while I don't necessarily believe what I said and how I said it should be something I do on a regular basis, I do feel that by expressing myself in a way that wasn't scary, I was helping to humanize myself.

As much as I believe I'm not here on this Earth to be my kids' friend, I want them to know that I'm a person, and not some robot who does the dishes, washes their clothes, and tells them what to do.

I want to have a relationship with them that's based on love and trust. And that means we both have to be vulnerable.

But it's not just about our own relationship. And it's not just about being empathic of others.

The greater lesson has to do with how they will learn to interact with other people. Because in being vulnerable with my son within earshot of my girls, I showed them all that it's okay to respond to someone when you're feeling hurt. Rather than bottle it all up inside and then act out later, which is such a common reaction these days, I said how I was feeling. I made him responsible for his words.

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I don't expect that it will be the last time my kids tell me that they don't like me. In fact, I'm pretty sure as they get older, I'll be hearing it more frequently.

Now they're beginning to understand that their words have consequences. Not just a punishment or a harsh talking to. Or a speech on how to appropriately express their feelings.

But a lesson in empathy. And responsibility.

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