When Loving Your Child Seems Like Hate

Boy, do I ever hate my nine-year-old son. Hate him! How do I know this?

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Put another way, we’re giving them what they want, rather than what they need. Very few of us are going to have children who grow up to have reckless morals and to make fools of themselves on national television, but we all know that Miley Cyrus is an extreme. It’s far more likely that we will hear our grown children say things like what a 26-year-old friend told me recently.

“A lot of my friends are going through a crisis,” he said. “We were all taught that we could be anything we wanted to be. Nobody ever told us ‘no.’ Now we’re out in the world, and it’s ‘no’ all the time. We aren’t prepared to deal with that.”

This is something my wife and I struggle with all the time. We don’t want to be the Mean Mommy and the Mean Daddy. But we also know that if we don’t give our children moral boundaries and enforce them, it will hurt them in the long run. Lucas knows this too, though he won’t admit it. A while back, he went over to a new friend’s house for a get-together. Back home, he said that he felt “unsafe” there. We knew for a fact that he was in no danger at all. What did he mean?

"The mom let us do whatever we wanted to,” he said. “It didn’t feel right.”

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As much as my nine-year-old protests parental discipline and restraint, the lack of it unnerves him. One day, he’ll appreciate what we’re doing for him. My sister Ruthie and I grew up in a household considered strict by many of our friend’s parents. But I don’t remember it that way. I remember our gentle father as giving us kids a priceless gift: a sense of moral order in which to grow up safely. It became the foundation of our consciences.

Ruthie and I both rebelled as teenagers, of course. One weekend, when she was a college undergraduate and the rebellious years were behind her, Ruthie came home for Sunday dinner and told my parents that she had something to say to them.

“That group that I graduated with? Only three of us are left in school now,” she said. “And I want to thank y’all for what you did for me. I know it wasn’t easy to be tough.”

Recalling this story decades later, my mother said to me, “You can’t imagine what hearing that meant to us.”

Oh, but I can. I imagine it every time I hear a sullen nine-year-old boy tell his father, “You hate me!” Thinking of what Lucas will say to me when he is older, and understands this, helps me bear his anger and insolence.

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