Lessons from one exasperated parental moment . . .

Here is what I remember . . .

I was, perhaps, four or five years old.  We were standing near the wall heater by the living room at the end of the hall.  You were sending me to my room – I don’t remember the transgression for which I was being banished.  As I turned and walked down the hallway, I mumbled something under my breath.  Then I remember sitting on my bed crying. I remember feeling a sense of injustice.  Something I thought was unfair had just happened.

You came into the room and asked me, “Why do you hate me.”  I felt confusion that morphed into feeling wrongly accused.  I answered, “I don’t know” because I had no idea that I did hate you, let alone why.  I was afraid to contradict you and say that I did not hate you.

You accepted my “I don’t know” as an admission of hatred, not hearing the confusion from which it arose or seeing your culpability in setting up the conversation.  You continued, “I hope you never have a child that hates you.”   And, as was typical for you, you walked away before I could respond any further.  You always claimed the last word and left me no chance to speak,except to your back, or be heard.  Whatever  upset feelings I was experience, clearly, were not of interest to you.  Your feelings were hurt because you perceived an upset child as hating you. That was all that mattered to you.  It is too bad there was no adult in the room.

I have analyzed this event many times.  I can see many messages that I took from it and carried with me throughout my life.

The question, “Why do you hate me?” was a loaded question that contained the underlying assumption that I hate you.  I was quite young and used to you being the authority on everything, so I internalized that assumption and accepted as true that I hated you.  I was probably angry and upset, so one of the more superficial messages I received was that being angry or upset at Mom means I hate Mom.

You taught me that hating was bad and I accepted that as true, but it left me in a difficult position because whenever I felt anger, I thought it was hatred.  I felt guilty and ashamed for hating.  When people would say, “Of course you love your mother, she’s your mother” I felt inadequate as a daughter and as a person.  I was afraid that people would discover that I was hateful.  I have carried that guilt and shame into other relationships and have been afraid to express or even feel anger because I did not want to hate the other person or have them discover how hateful I was.

I wish I had been taught to just say, “I’m mad.”  I wish it could have been okay to be mad at you.  I wish I could have felt safe being angry and safe expressing it.  I wish I could want my way or want whatever it is that I wanted that day without feeling like wanting something you cannot give means I hate you.

I realize that what I mumbled as I walked down the hall may very well have been something like, “I hate you.”  I know it wasn’t because I cannot recall ever feeling hatred before that day.  It was more likely something like, “you’re so unfair.”  But, it was typical for you to not ask me what I said or meant.

I have since learned that kids use the language of hate when they do not like a decision an adult has made.  They use “I hate you” because they do not have the reasoning and language skills to say they are mad and explain why.  I wish you had been able to interpret whatever I mumbled and understood that I was just mad because I did not get what I want or did not get my way or did not like a decision you made.

I would have loved for you to have come into my bedroom and comforted me instead of confronting me with that loaded question.  I wish you had the skills then to say, “I hear that you are upset, but when I hear ‘I hate you’ I feel hurt.  Can you just say you are mad instead?”  A hug might have been appropriate.  Perhaps a chance to tell you what I had actually said and meant would have been appropriate. Even just leaving me alone with my upset feelings to work it out for myself would have been better.

The statement, “I hope you never have a child that hates you” is also loaded.  It contains the implication that you, yourself, would prefer to not have a child who hates you.  Again, I internalized.  I had just been identified as a child who hates you and was now being told that you did not want that kind of child.  The message I took away was that you did not want ME.

I can see that it might have been a statement of love – wishing for me something better than you had.  But, I was much too young to feel anything but unloved, unwanted, misunderstood and sad.  That feeling of being unwanted was reinforced every time you or dad joked about your marriage lasting only because you had an agreement that whoever asked for divorce had to take the kids.  As an adult, I can see the humor in that joke.  As a child, when I heard that joke, I just felt unwanted and burdensome.

I still cannot even talk about the conflicted feelings I had throughout my nine pregnancies and the loss of eight children.  I was not sure I could risk having a child who might hate me.  I was not sure I could risk being a dismissive mother like you.  I can say that I am very careful with how I talk and, more importantly, listen to my one miracle daughter.

I learned some other important lessons from that day.

I learned to be very careful to say what I really mean.  I have spent my life learning to be precise in my word choices and selective about how I communicate.  This has benefited me in the practice of law, in teaching, and in most of my relationships.

I learned to hear, “I hate you,” when spoken by a child, as an expression of anger or upset.  I learned to say, “I hear that you are angry, would you like to talk about why?”   I learned how important it is to teach children how to express their emotions and how important it is to make it safe for them to do so.  I learned to not take it personally when a child cannot express herself well.  I understand how fragile children are and how powerful adults are in relation to them.  I also understand the responsibility adults have to nurture children.

I wish we could have a “do over” but life does not work that way.  Instead, we can only move forward choosing a new way to be.  I want to write.  In fact, I write frequently, but I am afraid to even try to get anything published.  I am afraid that I might have said something wrong or that what I write might upset somebody.  Mostly, I am afraid that you will take things I write personally and think I hate you.

It is sad that one small event – one you likely do not even remember – could have had so much impact on me.  What is more sad for me is that you still refuse to hear what I have to say about it; that you refuse to acknowledge that any events in my childhood had any impact on me whatsoever; that you cannot help me undo the damage and heal.  What is most sad for me is that, because you refuse to acknowledge my pain and do anything to help me heal, I do hate you now.  It is too bad you could not have a sign on your back that says, “I’m sorry,” so I would get that message somehow.




Post Christmas Follow Up

Our new Wii is in the house.  There is a new Wii in a neighbor’s house as well.  The difference is that the neighbor’s Wii came with my favorite – you guessed it – Guitar Hero.  I finally got to see Guitar Hero first hand.  Although I actually did not spend much time checking it out, I did notice some of the song titles and was not surprised to see that even the song titles contained suggestive themes.  Being familiar with those songs, I knew they were not the songs I want stuck in my daughter’s head. 

We all know that sex sells.  Combine those suggestive themes with Rock and Roll and you have a match made in capitalism dreamland.   And the game even looks fun. 

Fortunately, the neighbor’s Wii system also came with an Indianapolis speedway game that was more fun – something about driving backwards through the brickyard and causing crashes really appeals to those kids who are, in my opinion, much too young for the suggestive themes of Guitar Hero.  Ah, the innocence of youth.  I just hope they don’t grow up driving that way in my neighborhood.

Walmart’s Values – rated “L” for “Lacking”

Wow, Walmart, bringing families together, way to go.  Oh, excuse me, my tongue got stuck in my cheek there for a minute.  What I meant to say was, “Could Walmart be any less family oriented?” 


Several times lately (obviously, I am watching too much television), I have seen a commercial for Walmart and Guitar Hero® that absolutely blows my mind.  (You can see it here:  http://commercial-archive.com/node/146624.)  At first, it all seems so incredibly nice – a whole family, gathered in the living room, playing Guitar Hero® together.  Music, dancing and smiling faces – what could possibly be wrong with this picture. 


The baby in the high chair is swinging his/her feet in time to the music, with head bobbing.  The preschool daughter jumps up and down in her purple patent shoes while her blonde ringlet curls bounce along with her.  The son, probably 7-8 years old plays drums, with his head bobbing to the beat.  Dad sets the rhythm at the beginning of the clip and then is seen in the background jamming on a guitar.  Mom is the star, up front playing guitar and thanking Walmart for making the Xbox and Guitar Hero® affordable so, “now this family is always together.”  The whole family. 


Are you wondering yet why I think this is not a “family-oriented” commercial and Walmart really blew it?  The answer comes at the very end of the commercial when the voiceover informs us that Guitar Hero® and, indeed, maybe this entire vignette, is “rated T for teens.” 


Now, I don’t proclaim to be any kind of an expert on rating systems, but I assume that “T for teens” means there is something about Guitar Hero® that is inappropriate for younger children.  The Guitar Hero® website identifies “mild suggestive themes” as the reason for the rating.  I have no idea and will probably not bother to find out exactly what “mild” or “suggestive” mean in this context.    


Walmart, on the other hand, should find out.  Walmart is sending this not-quite-Currier-and-Ives scene into our homes for the holidays.  Why, I wonder, could they not have used a family with teenage children.  Don’t families with teenagers need togetherness?  I suspect they have already saturated the teen market and are looking for a new demographic to target. 


Is anybody else offended by Walmart and their “togetherness” family beaming with joy (and greed) while the baby in the highchair participates in an activity rated “T for teen?”   I really can’t blame the mom – I know she is only an actress and those are, likely, not her children.  And, besides that, she is barely out of the teen years herself. 


My friends know that I am not against my daughter watching television or playing video games in moderation.  They also know that I try to keep my daughter away from television commercials.  She is way too easily influenced by them in extremely subtle ways that she cannot comprehend and guard against.  She knows that Walmart wants her money, but she does not understand the extent to which Walmart is willing to portray life unrealistically to get it.  She has no idea that Walmart is willing to ignore family values and common sense, sacrificing the greater good of children and families in the process, in their quest for the last Christmas dollar of the season.  Unless prompted, she would not even question the underlying message that we should all just ignore the rating system and let even the baby play the game rated “T for teens.” 


My daughter does not know these things.  The adults watching should. 


When the teen market has been saturated, Walmart needs to go after a younger market, so Walmart does.  That is capitalism.   Maybe the target of my outrage should be Activision Publishing.  According to its Guitar Hero® website, the game ratings range from “Everyone 10+ to  Teen.”  Is this really necessary?  It seems simple enough to create a version of Guitar Hero® that is appropriate for all ages.  There are plenty of good songs with family-appropriate lyrics and no suggestive themes, mild or otherwise.  I think it could be done.   


Even at E-10+, Walmart’s happy family need not apply.