I got my first "I hate you!" from my 7 year old daughter last night. I thought it would hurt, but it actually struck me as amusing because her emotions were so front and centre and intense. And if she had said it, maybe it would've stung, but she wrote it on a Hannah Montana postcard, slunk into the kitchen while I was washing dishes, and left it on the island for me to discover.
I came home from work at 5:15, tired after a busy day, and found the kitchen an absolute disaster after Jason made us spaghetti for dinner (he worked from home to be with the kids while I was at work). I appreciate my husband's good cooking from the bottom of my heart, but when I cook, I clean up as I go, so there isn't a huge mess. Jason does not hold the same philosophy.
We ate, then William went in the bath, and Ava chose to create a glitter picture at the table with her new Hannah Montana set instead of having a bath. Jason took his book and went in to supervise William. I normally enjoy cleaning the kitchen with no little voices around me, but last night it seemed to take forever with the massive disaster zone Jason is somehow able to create while he makes a meal.
Sometimes these things combine to create a recipe for a relational storm. I asked Ava to come and clean up her art supplies, and put on her pajamas, and get ready for bed. I asked calmly the first time, but since she was playing with barbies in her room and didn't feel like coming to clean up at that moment, she chose to ignore my request. I asked again, and by the third time I was angry.
I began to think about all that I was doing to clean up, and I felt I wasn't asking too much of Ava to take care of her own mess so I didn't have to. Violins begin soaring in my head when I start to feel at the bottom of the family pile. It all becomes maudlin very fast. I raised my voice, and Ava raised hers, while both boys hid out in the bathroom and tried to ignore the fight heating up in the kitchen.
I'm so used to fighting with William that a blazing yelling match with Ava caught me by surprise. It's very rare for us not to get along, but in all relationships, if we aren't considerate and kind, the possibilities for arguments are always there. My need to have the kitchen clean clashed with her need to finish what she was doing and then come and clean up, and when both parties are mad, it's hard to communicate clearly.
She finally came, crying, to clean up everything I asked and get in her pajamas. Then I found the note. I took a deep breath, tried to calm down and see the situation rationally, and went into her room where she was crying on her bed, every inch the teenager she will eventually become, with her heart on her sleeve for me to embrace or crush. At that moment I realized that we all need to be heard and understood. It's hard to be a kid and feel like you have no power in the situation; that you must always do what you are told. I experienced this recently and hated the way it made me feel.
I sat down on her bed, rubbed her back, and waited until the storm of tears had passed. Then I asked her to tell me why she was upset. She was honest, listing off all of the things I had done that she felt were unfair, and telling me I "did nothing but yell at her since I got home." I shared with her why I was mad, and apologized for raising my voice with her. We heard each other, and worked out a compromise for the future to try to avoid what had happened.
Then I brought up the note. I explained again, very gently, that we can love each other always, but be angry with each other sometimes, and the anger doesn't change the love into hate. It remains as love, and when we work out the problem between us, the anger goes away.
I think it will take many similar discussions for her to truly understand this, but it's an important relationship concept. We must have the freedom to express our emotions within the safety net of a loving relationship. I don't want her to ever question my love. That doesn't change, but the emotions will come and go, and that's a part of any human relationship.