In our house, Quinn was the king of tantrums. His meltdowns were epic: loud, impassioned, relentless.
There was one phrase he clearly felt bore repeating – to me.
“I hate you!”
“I HATE you!”
“I hate YOU!”
“I HATE YOU!”
I am not, alas, exaggerating when I say this went on for months. It felt like years.
Tears. Shrieks. Flailing arms. And always with the “I hate you!”s.
“Quinny”, I said one day in the car, channeling the nursery school director, “it is OK for you to tell me how you feel. You can feel angry at me. You can feel mad at me. You just cannot keep saying “I hate you!”
“Ah,” I thought, “Finally we’re getting somewhere.”
And then, from way in the back…
“OK, I FEEL I hate you.”
And. It. Went. On. Time-outs were had. Consequences were meted out. Doors were closed on raging sobs. Did I mention they were loud?
Nothing worked. I despaired.
And then one day, when he was crying so hard he could barely breathe and yet still found a way to shriek, “I HATE you!”, I knelt down in front of him and said, “Quinny, you know when you say, ‘I hate you’ to me?”
He glared at me, but he was listening.
“I think what you really might mean is, ‘You don’t love me.’
He gave one of those between-the sob-hiccups.
“I think sometimes you feel that I don’t love you as much as your brothers. And I do. I LOVE you.”
He never said “I hate you” again.
Quinny is the middle child, a birth order position that, he will happily you, sucks. And during all those tantruming months we definitely got caught in the any-attention-is-better-than-no-attention trap. But we were stuck there because his little five-year-old self didn’t feel loved. By me.
Makes me sad to think of it, all these years hence.
But a wise friend once told to me that it’s not when the “I love you’s” are being exchanged that children end up feeling loved. They end up feeling loved if you can somehow find a way, while dodging the “I hate you”s, for your love to get through.