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Three Little Words

“Go to your room! You’re grounded for the next week, and I don’t want to hear any excuses about how it’s homecoming!” My mother was furious, although I knew it couldn’t be too awful since she was yelling at me instead of doing her whole creepy quiet thing. But I was furious, too.

“I hate you!” I blurted out before running back to the relative safety of my bedroom. I couldn’t believe I had said that. I had sworn to myself never to be one of those teenagers who just blurted out the three dreaded words simply because she was mad at her parents. It was just…so unfair. It wasn’t my fault that I had broken my curfew; I wasn’t the driver, and I couldn’t exactly walk down the highway at 11 o’clock at night. She hadn’t been answering her phone, either, to come get me or listen to an explanation. All I had wanted was to make sure my best friend was alright! Didn’t she understand that he was in the freaking hospital?!

Just thinking about it riled me back up. Maybe I did hate her. She was being unfair and cruel, keeping me from homecoming. It was the one week a year that I could actually show some school spirit, which I had in abundance, and not be teased. There were activities all week, decorating the halls, the pep rally, the game, the dance. She couldn’t seriously mean to keep me from the last homecoming with all my friends who were graduating. Could she?

For the record, she did. I also missed the fireworks display with the boyfriend who kept me out ten minutes passed my extended curfew. But still, the bigger question that remains, is how did my mom deal with me blurting out those three hurtful words?

For her, ignoring them worked the best. As far as she was concerned, at least in talking with me, I had never said them. She recognized them for what they were, an upset, hormonal, teenage girl lashing out at the one who was taking away what seemed like a very important rite of passage. She remained calm and cool in the face of my fury. By the time the week was out, I had even apologized for saying them, even though I was still livid simply because, by her ignoring them, they plagued my thoughts. I wondered what she thought, what she was going to do, if she cared, or if she did not care. My need to know what was going on in her head led me to broach the topic with an apology that she accepted with a head nod and continued her quiet ignorance. I never said the words again because they seemed to affect me more than they did her.

That may not work for every kid though. If your child is the kind to hold on to his or her anger or hold a grudge, ignoring the words won’t make them go away. In fact, it may make them come with more frequency. One of my friends was like that. She enjoyed punishing her mom with those three little words, so she kept saying them. Her mom figured out a different path from mine. Instead of ignoring it when she said I hate you, she responded. In an oh-so-cool voice she’d say, “Well I don’t like you much either,” before walking away. Other moms say “I know” or “I love you, too.” Each approach shares a calm, cool response, to deaden their child’s anger. Without room to grow, my friend’s anger would die down, eventually dissipating completely, until the conflict was resolved. Responding in this manner may not have kept her from saying it ever again, but it lessened the frequency considerably.
The truly important thing to remember when faced with an “I hate you” is to stay calm. Remember that you aren’t the one growing up, facing all these new challenges no one warned you about, like boys (or girls), and homework, and hormones. You aren’t the one learning how to control yourself, or be yourself. You are the adult. Everything you do, they absorb into themselves and learn that that is the way I should act in this situation. If you scream and yell, so will they. If you say “I hate you, too,” they may believe you, even if you understand that it was just your anger talking. So no matter how you react, try and remember that one day, a long time ago, you said it to your parents too, and you didn’t mean it either.

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Christy Monson, a retired family therapist, provides in simple language concrete examples and clear language to family success through family councils.
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