Daddy Blogger: The Day my daughter said I didn’t love her
I went into my 6-year-olds room. She was on her bed, stomach down, face buried in a pillow. I’d been waiting for about 10 minutes for her to calm down. She was in her room for refusing to help clean the dining room table, and ever since she’d been screaming.
Norah is dramatic. When punished, she often screams in a crazy language that I can’t understand and makes me want to call a priest.
I entered the room and Norah spoke to me with her face still in the pillow. She was in blue pajama bottoms with pink hearts and no shirt. It was just after 8 p.m., and when I put her in her room, I asked her to get ready for bed. This was as far a she’d gotten.
“Norah,” I said. “I can’t hear you through the pillow.”
She tried speaking louder into the pillow, in hopes that I’d be able to make out what she was saying. In the moment she reminded me of an ostrich with its head in the dirt. Norah does this. She wants me to know she’s mad, but she doesn’t really like facing me, so he speaks with her face buried in something, or from behind a door, or while looking down. I don’t fully understand how I have become so scary to her.
Everyday I tell her that I love her. Every day I give her hugs and kisses. And yet, when she is being punished, suddenly all that love is irrelevant.
I have to assume its just part of being a parent. Or at least it makes me feel better to say that. I often feel like Jekyll and Hyde. I have to be the giver of treats and the taker away of toys. It’s a stressful job and there’s a fine line between being the fun dad and the angry dad, and I often worry that she only sees my angry side. I work more than I’d like to, and when I am home in the evenings, I often spend most of my time getting the kids ready for bed. There are no good parents at bedtime. Or at least I’m not a good parent a bedtime. Getting my kids to clean up and get ready for bed is really stressful, and I often end up yelling, or putting someone to bed early, like I’d just done with Norah. What I’m trying to say here is that my time with Norah isn’t always a rewarding Hallmark moment, and I worry that she sees me as an ogre.
I sat on the lip of her bed. I had a book in my hand.
“I’d like to read you a story before you go to sleep. But before I do, I want to ask you a question. Why did I put you in your room?”
Norah sat up, her brown hair in her face, and said, “Did you hear what I said?”
“No. I couldn’t hear you through the pillow.”
“I said that you don’t love me.”
I looked at her for a long time, taking in what she said. This was not the first time she’d said something like this, but it was the first time that I felt like she really meant it. In the past, it was more of a childish retort. “You don’t love me because you made me eat broccoli…” kind of thing. But Norah’s eyes were a little misty and rich with anger, and I knew that she honestly, in that moment, felt like I didn’t love her.
I’ve heard stories of children saying things like this. I’d seen it play out on sitcoms, but when faced with my little girl, who I loved 100%, and hearing her say, without a shadow of a doubt, that I didn’t love her, hit me harder than I expected. I felt it in stomach.
“Do you really believe that?” I asked.
“Well… it’s not true,” I said. “I love you very much.”
She shook her head.
I thought about how to respond, and I felt at a loss. It’s difficult to love someone so much, and then have them question your love. I wanted to let her know just how much I love her, and yet I didn’t know how to explain it. That’s the difficult part of something as intangible as love. How do you describe it to a 6-year-old? I didn’t know, so I decided to tell her about my actions.
“It’s true. I do love you. Every day I tell you that I love you. Every day. And when you played soccer, I never missed one game. And when you were in ballet, I went to every recital. I help you with your homework, and I read you a story every night. When you wake up in the night, I get you a cup of water, and get you back to bed. I don’t do that stuff for everyone. Just you. Because I love you.”
Norah was smiling now. But I could tell that she didn’t want to. She was fighting it.
“Then why did you put me in my room?”
“Because I love you,” I said.
Norah gave me a slanted look.
“Someday I want you to grow up to be a really amazing Norah. I want you to be the kind of woman who takes charge and isn’t afraid to get work done. I love you enough to teach you that. And sometimes teaching you how to be an amazing Norah means putting you in your room. I don’t really like it either, but I love you enough to do it. Does that make sense?”
Norah twisted her lips to the side. Then she pulled her hair behind her ears, her blue eyes shifting side to side.
“No,” she said.
I let out a breath.
“Do you still think that I don’t love you?” I asked.
Norah thought about that question, too.
Then she smiled and gave me a hug.
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes,’” I said. “Are you going to help clean the table tomorrow?”
“Good,” I said. “Someday this will all make sense. But for now, please just know that I love you.”
She took her arms from around my neck and I said, “I brought in a book to read to you. I know I don’t usually read a book when you get put to bed early, but I just really wanted to read story with you.”
“Because you love me?” Norah said.
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