The First Time I Heard “I Hate You”


“I hate you!” As a mom, hearing those three little words hit me right where it hurts.

The scenario was a perfect storm. My husband was traveling for work, I arrived home after a nine hour work day. I was attempting to nurse and put my seven-month-old down for bed and my three-year-old was playing in the same room and being very loud.

After three attempts to prompt my three-year-old to play quietly, I asked him to leave the room and play independently. He did not want to, so I took his hand to guide him out of the room and close the door. As always, these moments of tough discipline test your limits as a parent.

As I closed the door with my son on the other side, I waited for the reaction. I was anticipating tears, maybe even some whining. The reaction went something like this; first, loud crying began. Then yelling occurred, and pounding on the door…finally I heard those three little words…”I hate you!”

I was so stunned during the initial moment that my mouth was just hanging open as I tried to absorb those words. My first thought was, where did he learn those words? Of course I thought to myself, I never use the word “hate” in that context around him. He must have learned it at school, or while watching TV, or in passing from a neighborhood kid.

My second thought was, I have failed as a parent. Doesn’t my son know he is loved? Doesn’t he know that after three warnings he has a small consequence for his actions and that this doesn’t mean I don’t love him.

My third thought was, isn’t three too young to say and know hate as an emotion? We have a house full of laughter, play time together as a family, and my son has had consequences before. Let’s be honest, he’s had many consequences before, but they’ve never resulted in the use of those words “I hate you!”

All of these thoughts led to a tough night of sleep, replaying the past three years of memories with my son. I just keep hearing those words that he didn’t just say to me, but yelled at me.

The next morning brought a new mommy perspective, as it almost always does. I walk upstairs, anxious about my son’s response to seeing me. I am greeted with a well-rested son, who is full of happy energy. He smiles at me, and in that moment, from his perspective, last night’s emotional outburst didn’t happen. As we were eating breakfast, he turns to me, unsolicited, and says, “I love you.” Now, those three little words are the most powerful, and those are the three little words that I am holding on to.

Hang in there mama. For every negative word you hear from your child, there is a positive one coming.