The first time I heard the inevitable words that every parent dreads, my daughter was just 4 years old. I don't even remember what the disagreement was about, but most likely she wanted to do something that I would not allow her to do (such as flushing marbles down the toilet, or cutting her brother's hair). As I turned to leave the room, I heard her mumble, "I don't like you." I spun around. The words were shocking because they came from someone so small. I expected this out of the teenage years. But already? As her words continued to pierce through the most tender place of my heart - the place from which I held... and nursed... and cared for... and gave EVERYTHING I HAD to my babies, I felt anger start to bubble up from the fresh wound. Fueled by the sting I felt, rather than grace, I spat back at her, "Don't you ever speak to me like that again!" Her grief was immediate and raw. "I'm sorry, Mommy," she begged as tears fell down her perfect little cheeks. She wrapped her tiny arms around my waist, desperate for me to offer her my forgiveness.
But here's the thing...I was so very wrong that day. This realization was pretty instant. And I knew that the only way to make this situation better was to ask her to forgive me, while reassuring her that she is always completely entitled to her feelings and opinions - even if they are painful to me.
And it's funny, because she taught me about being a grown-up that day (the way kids so very often do). She taught me that feelings do not always have their feet planted in reality. They can be so fickle and phony, changing course like the wind - based off of nothing more than c i r c u m s t a n c e...or hormones...or just a bad night's sleep... And too often they are rooted far deeper in selfishness than we realize - or perhaps, just that we're willing to admit. Emotions are real. They are raw. They are powerful. But they are not always genuine. Somewhere in our romanticised 'follow your heart' culture, we (generally) started putting absolute faith in our feelings. That's not only wrong, it's downright dangerous. But the answer here isn't to train up our children to not have certain thoughts or feelings. It's about teaching them what to do with those thoughts and feelings when they come. How to sort through the rationality of their emotional experiences and how to make strong and healthy choices with that insight. Not to scold my child for feeling as though she doesn't like me, but to have her acknowledge those feelings, express them in a respectful way (which she did), and work through them.
But before I can start training my children to have a healthy relationship with emotions, maybe I first need to cultivate a healthy understanding within myself. What my child said to me that day was hurtful and made me feel angry...but was not w r o n g. (Even when my own pain and anger made me feel certain that it was.)
There comes a time in our lives when the emotions become much bigger than 'not liking mom because she wouldn't let me fingerpaint the cat' or the deep, deep sadness that results from having to turn off Little Einsteins. There comes a time when the emotions become so big, the force of them so driving that we must have the skill and the insight to manage them properly. If I don't allow my children to have their feelings when they are little, how will they ever learn how to manage them when they're older?
And what about me...? Where do my shortcomings fall in all of this?
Well...I guess I have a Father in heaven who uses my babies to teach me the things that I still need to learn....