Two summers ago, my daughter crossed a milestone: She told me she hated me for the first time.
She was 15 years old -- nearly 16 -- and we were arguing about her boyfriend at the time. He’s still a minor, so I’m not going to use his real name. I asked Kiddo for a substitute, but all her suggestions were unfit for print. I’m going to call him “Dick”, because it’s a name, and it’s the closest to the names that Kiddo chose for him. It’s all about compromise, right?
So we were arguing about Dick, who really was a dick, although my daughter didn’t know it at the time, and the argument wasn’t going well.
We aren’t a shouting-match sort of family, but things got out of hand and culminated with my daughter storming out the door, shouting, “You’re a fucking bitch, I hate you!” She ran up the street to her best friend’s house, leaving the gate and my jaw hanging in her wake.
It’s one of those major leaps, like cutting teeth or taking your first steps: Her Very First “I Hate You.” At 15, we were probably overdue, but she’d never said those words to either of us before.
My husband and I stood in the kitchen and tried to decide what to do next. He advised we let her calm down at her friend’s house for a while; I worried that my angry, crying teenager would be imposing on someone else’s hospitality. A few hours later, he went and retrieved her, and she spent the rest of the evening hiding in her room.
The big question that my husband Sam and I kept pushing back and forth was, “What comes next?” What do you do after your kid tells you they hate you? We wound up feeling that it was more of an assertion of independence than something that warranted discipline, but that doesn’t mean that we knew what the next step should be.
Growing up, I always felt that my relationship with my mother could be shattered at any moment. I walked on eggshells for most of my childhood, and eventually I tried outright rebellion in the hopes of just getting it over with, because eggshells are so, so exhausting.
Eventually, I went back to eggshells for a while -- for as long as I could stand it -- until I stopped speaking to her in my mid-teens. It turned out that unless I stayed within my mother’s very carefully drawn parameters, our relationship really was easily broken.
I have modeled many pieces of my parenting style on not becoming my mother. It isn’t ideal, I know, but it seems to have worked for us. The evening after my daughter told me she hated me, I decided to regard this first as a milestone, and not to accord it overmuch negative importance. It happens.
Going to bed that night, I decided I wanted to make certain that my daughter knew that no matter what happened between us -- no matter what she said -- that our relationship could not be so easily shattered. I wanted it clearly stated that nothing as small as an argument and some heated words -- even angry words like, “I hate you” -- could damage us.
I woke up the next morning and called SugarBakers, the fancy wedding cake place nearby. If you’re going to celebrate, you might as well go big, right?
“I need to buy a cake today,” I said. “and I’d like it to read, ‘You’re a fucking bitch, and I hate you,’ please.”
There was silence on the other end.
“Hello?” I asked.
“You’re serious?” they asked.
“Yes. Would you need a deposit? I’d need it for this afternoon.”
There was a pause. “The cakes we have ready in the case aren’t big enough for that.”
“Oh. OK. I guess just, ‘I hate you!’ would be good enough.”
When I went to pick up the cake, most of the staff came out to see if it was a prank. I laughed, explained nothing, paid and left.
Handing the cake to Kiddo after lunch that afternoon was incredibly healing; it dispelled the last remaining bits of uneasiness from the day before and instantly set the two of us back on our old footing. We laughed, took pictures, and ate: it was as though nothing had ever happened, because really, while it was a milestone, by the age of 15 it was just one of so many others.
We joke about it today: I call it my Bitch Mitzvah, and my phone reminds me of Hatecake Day every year. She has yet to tell me she hates me since, but if she did, it would be okay. She wouldn’t get another cake -- we explained that, as well as my reasoning for getting the cake in the first place very clearly at the time -- but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
That’s what being her mother is about: There isn’t an end to this thing.