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When Your Kid Says He Hates You

Photograph by Getty Images

Part of my work as a women’s empowerment blogger leads me to field phone calls from anxious women in crisis. The calls are usually relationship-related; one mom called in because her daughter was in an abusive relationship, another woman called in because she was depressed over a breakup and other women have called in to hear my opinion on the various life choices they are about to make. It’s not like I have all the answers, but I do have a unique ability to help shift a person’s perspective about a tricky situation.

Today I received a call from a young mom who was trying to decide if she should allow her sons to live with their father. She mentioned that she read the article I wrote about my decision on this website. I listened to her story and shared the intimate details of my own custody exchange. We realized that the problem she was trying to escape was the fact that her sons (ages 4 and 8) do not have respect for her. She shared that her sons often tell her that they hate her, among other unacceptable behavior. She wondered if living with their dad would help them have more respect for her.

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From my perspective there are generally three reasons why young boys disrespect their mothers.

1. They are imitating behavior. Somewhere in their experience they are watching a man treat a woman with disrespect. The woman who accepts the abusive behavior is also teaching her sons that this is OK.

2. They want more attention. Sometimes single mothers are so busy trying to survive that they are too tired to discipline and nurture their sons. Instead of understanding that mommy is tired, they begin to believe that she doesn’t care and they lash out emotionally out of frustration.

We cannot seek approval and set guidelines at the same time.

3. There are no consequences for their disrespectful behavior. It can be common for moms—single, or otherwise—to try to obtain the unconditional love we seek through our sons. In doing this, we hinder their progress because we cannot seek approval and set guidelines at the same time.

With these reasons in mind, this mom and I came up with four ways to help heal the damage done and move forward.

1. Speak to their dad and ask him to talk to his sons about modifying their behavior.

2. Seek out a “real man,” someone who respects the women in his life and would be a good role model for her boys. This man can be a friend, a brother, a co-worker or a pastor. This person should be open to spending time with the mom and the sons together on a fairly consistent basis, and should also be willing to directly instruct the boys on how to treat a woman.

3. Implement static, swift punishments for deviant behavior, and be consistent. Trade their action for your action.

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4. Split time with the boys' father. By implementing a weekly schedule, one with mom, one with dad—their sons will have the exposure to their father, and mom will be able to rejuvenate herself so she can be better equipped to handle the discipline she has been neglecting.

What would you suggest for this young mom who is at her wit's end?

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