Mothers with newborns please look away now. The following may shock you and lead to a serious case of motherly denial. Almost certainly, your little bundle, who at the moment can’t get enough of you, will one day tell you that they hate you. Or that you are the worst/meanest/bogey-est (from my charming five-year-old)/horrible-est mummy in the whole world. And boy, will it hurt. You will probably be devastated, cut to the quick - and perhaps a little indignant. You may have to turn away to blink back the tears. But then you will breathe deeply, sort out the tantrum and move on, with slightly thicker skin.
My skin started thickening fast five years ago when my eight-year-old, then three, said in a great rage, “You’re not my friend anymore.” Oh, the agony. I, like most newish mums harboured dreams of being the kind that sons always cherish and adore. The dream seemed over before it had begun. Interestingly though, now I have the hide of a rhino I feel more capable, less buffeted by the swirling emotions that come with motherhood while at the same time acknowledging the fragility of my heart in terms of my children’s hurts.
My six-year-old had a major meltdown in the car the other day, sobbing “I hate Mummy, I’m never giving Mummy a huggle ever again.” All this, because he was third to get his croissant. Who knew? It was all my husband and I could do not to snort with mirth as we stared maniacally at the road, trying desperately to straighten our faces. We have obviously bred sons who are emotionally voluble and thankfully by the time we got to the park, the sight of a huge flying fox was enough to launch him out of the car he had been threatening to stay in for “all my life”.
My friend Anna’s* son is one of the cutely cross boys I know and has developed a novel way of coping when his parents fail in his demands. Anna explains, “He retreats to ‘Jakeyland’, where he has an alternative set of parents who provide him with the stuff of his dreams, like endless chocolate and Mcdonalds. I wouldn’t say we are overly strict, but we do have boudaries around treats so for Jake a world without boundaries sounds amazing. I like the fact that he is using his imagination, when the world we live in is so regulated.” says Anna. “And I actually find it quite hilarious and cute, especially when he says to his brother, ‘come on, let’s go to Jakeyland.”
Not everyone manages to develop the emotional armour we sometimes need to protect us from angry offspring. “I must admit, I’m rubbish,,” says Mags, whose five-year-old son Dillon often has her in tears. “I try not to let it upset me, and I know he doesn’t mean it but I just look at him and remember when he was little and so cheerful and loving and now, when he shouts ‘I hate you’, he sometimes looks so properly angry. I usually don’t let it get that far though, I’ll often give in to avoid the shouting.”
Developing a thicker skin as a mother “probably helps” according to Abi Gold, from Juggle Family and Parenting Consultancy. She says, “it will help you not to remember it for too long, and to accept that it was a momentary expression of frustration, not necessarily designed to do you real damage.”
Though it is difficult not to take it personally when listening to your upset child, Abi goes on to remind us that “as mums, part of our job is to teach our kids how to manage their anger and frustration, to channel it, and not to harm others in the expression of emotions.”
So what is the best strategy when your child is channelling his anger and frustration directly towards you? I have probably run through every response there is; I have shouted back - usually something like ‘don’t you shout at me’; I have pretended to cry - then realised that trying to guilt-trip your own child is about the worst thing a parent can do; I have sat on the floor and mirrored the tantrum - that can work, I’ve found if you make it silly enough, resulting in unstoppable giggles.
What I try my hardest to do is what Abi recommends, “if they are old enough, suggest that they take five and think about how that made mummy feel, very often, they will see why it was wrong. For younger kids, just express something like ‘that wasn't very friendly,’ or ‘it makes me sad when you say that.’ And whilst that may not have an immediate effect, saying it each time they are rude to you will leave them with the very firm impression that you don't like it and they shouldn't do it.’
I find my boys’ anger very quickly dissipates and one in particular seems to feel awful when he has upset me, often holding out his arms for a cuddle. Most of the time I am relieved and happy to hug, but there have been occasions when I have wanted to stew for longer. Abi recommends going for the cuddle since this “shows that your love is unconditional, and that request for a cuddle is often their way of saying "sorry," and of making peace with you.”
Chloe* has two teenage daughters and an eight-year-old son. To say she has run the gauntlet of emotional exchanges with her children would be an understatement and she believes “a thick skin is essential to surviving these times when you feel you don't know your own flesh and blood at all. I have learned to be patient and loving under extremely testing circumstances but have faith that it will all be worth it in the long run. Our babies are after all our most precious treasures.”
So the next time your child throws a wobbly and aims it all at you, remember that it is not really about you (but about the chocolate they’ve been denied or croissant-receiving-order), take a deep breath and tell them that you still, and always will, love them, tantrums and all.
*Names have been changed
Julia Cahill is a mother and freelance writer. She writes about life at www.juliacahillswords.com