Recently, I posted a tweet at @DrWendyWalsh that said “In order for kids to understand love they have to be allowed to hate their parents.” This confused a lot of people, so let me explain.
Enforced love to parents such as constant complying, forced apologies, and directives to “change that tone” and “don’t give me that look,” doesn’t teach kids how to love. It teaches them to how fake it. It directs them to push their true feelings underground where they will come up in the most unexpected ways. Well meaning parents might think they are training their kids to put on a public face when they are feeling bad, or perhaps parents simply can’t stand the idea that their kids don’t love them, but being a good parent means being a strong emotional container for the whole family. It means being the strong, stable mast while the sails blow out of control. In order for kids to truly feel loved, sometimes they need to be allowed to hate their parents. As one teenager once told me, “My parents are the only safe place for me to be real, because I know they’ll love me no matter what.”
Now I’m not suggesting that parents have no boundaries, or that they have no rules. But our job is to shape our kids behavior, not their emotions. A good parent can tolerate it when their child is mad at them. A strong, loving parent who gets the kid eye-roll or sneer, or even the scream of “I hate you!” after a rule has been enforced simply says, “I know you’re mad at me, but I still love you.” That’s the best medicine a kid can ever get from a parent. The knowledge that they are loved no matter what. And that’s how children learn how to love themselves and love others. That is true love.