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No Haters

Photograph by Getty Images

My general policy is to stay out of my husband’s relationship with our children, because he’s a great dad and there’s no need for me to micromanage everyone. I do not, however, have a policy against eavesdropping. And the other day, I found myself straining to hear what my daughter was saying to my husband during a heated exchange they were having in the kitchen.

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I heard my husband whisper, “Well, that makes me feel sad.” Oooh, something juicy had gone down so I hung around the kitchen hoping to find out what it was. When my daughter emerged to stomp into the living room, her cheeks were flushed and her usual defiance was tinged with what looked like confusion and shame.

What the hell happened?

I bided my time, and when the dust settled, I asked my husband for the details. “She told me that she hated me,” he said, his eyes pinched with sadness. I felt my gut contract with surprise. “What? Hate? She’s 4. What does she know about hating us? That’s supposed to be years down the road. Years.”

We both agreed that her proclamation of hate was not full of the venom we expect when we set outrageous boundaries in the future—like not allowing her to leave our house with her “assets” on display or enforcing a curfew. But neither of us was expecting to deal with hate for at least a decade.

There’s something about the word “hate” on my preschooler’s lips that makes me want to lay down on the dirty kitchen floor and bawl.

My husband’s offense was asking her to wait until he’d had lunch to take her to the park. While she often displays the irrational logic that we’ve been told is “appropriate” for someone her age, we’d never heard her express hatred before.

And I don’t like it. I want my kids to be able to express their emotions—anger, joy, sadness, frustration, rage, wonder, gratitude. All of it. But there’s something about the word “hate” on my preschooler’s lips that makes me want to lay down on the dirty kitchen floor and bawl. I know it’s only a matter of time before that word gets directed at me.

So, I want a boundary. My plan is to support my family members, including and especially my children, in expressing their emotions, but in the course of that expression, I don’t want to hear “hate,” just like I don’t want anyone to strike another person. I accept that rage and anger are part of life, but I don’t want a household where people get to say they hate each other.

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I’m sure I’ll have to tweak this boundary as my children grow older and become smarter than I am. They’ll find loopholes—Can I say that I “hate” what you are doing to me?—and they’ll find other words that push my buttons, but for now, I get to say, “No hating other people in this house.”

Yes, haters are gonna hate, but in my house, they’ll have to use another word.

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