07/19/2012 04:13 pm ET | Updated Sep 18, 2012

My Daughter Thinks I Hate Her


This is the note my 5-year-old daughter, Angela, wrote and slipped under my bedroom door, where I had sequestered myself from her sassy, surly complaints on a day when she was being particularly difficult.

I ignored her and her note, so she knocked on the door. Twice. Then she sighed, snorted and cleared her throat.

"Ahem," she said. "Look under your door."

I didn't dare look, knowing Angela's special delivery would most likely contain some new twist on an old theme: My daughter thinks I hate her, and she takes any opportunity to remind me that I'm the worst mother ever.

She shouts it, cries it and whines it. She draws pictures of the two of us, with her looking sad and me looking large and grumpy. She even makes songs about it.

Last week, she serenaded me with a ditty called, "I've Tried My Best, I've Tried My Worst, But You Still Don't Love Me." I'm no expert, but I think it might have been a country song. Now that Angela has learned to read and write, she puts her guilt trips in the form of nasty letters (which is nice, because now I have something to show her when she becomes a mother). I suppose I have her kindergarten teacher, Mrs. McDonnell, to thank for that.

Angela's expressions are nothing new. She's been professing her disapproval of me ever since she learned to talk. She assumes there is hatred in my heart whenever I refuse her request for a second popsicle or I insist that she wear underwear to the playground.

On a good day, she simply scowls in my direction. On a bad day, she screams in my face. Or kicks me in the shin. Or throws her stuffed cow at me.

At first, I regarded Angela's outburts as something that needed to be nipped in the bud, with extra hugs or discipline -- maybe both. But time outs and scolding only amplified her indignation. She hated me harder. She hated me louder.

Then I took her meanness personally. I found a therapist, went on endless Internet searches for information about angry children and spent a lot of time crying in the bathroom.

As a single parent, I figured I had to work harder to convince my daughter that she was loved. I feared that, by divorcing her father, I had somehow cracked her psyche like a hard-boiled egg (which, by the way, Angela also hates).

Then I realized that hate and love are cousins, not strangers. Only someone who loves me would go to such lengths to express their hatred. Only someone who adores and trusts me, and knows that she is adored and trusted as well, would put her deepest fears on paper.

Sometimes hostility is just a test. Sometimes anger is really an affirmation. And sometimes, when you learn to read between the lines, hate mail looks a lot like a love letter.

Now when Angela writes a song about how much I hate her, I compliment her singing voice. When she writes me nasty letters, I remark on her excellent penmanship. And when she is surly and snarky, I retreat to my bedroom, knowing that it won't be long before she's knocking on the door.