Why is it that dealing with hurt feelings (my own) is still the most challenging thing with my children after all these years? I’ve learned to deal with my angry, irritated and impatient feelings quite well over the years, but those feelings are easy compared with hurt feelings, because all those other feelings don’t make me want to cry (well, not usually).
Having my feelings hurt by my kids is not something that happens very often so maybe it’s partly a lack of experience, or maybe I’m usually just more thick-skinned when it comes to them. Either way, it feels a bit inappropriate, as if emotional hurt is something that’s only supposed to happen with a partner, not your kids. So when I have hurt feelings I automatically feel like responding in the same way as I am tempted to respond to a partner (and very often did when I was younger).
I find myself pulled towards behaving very badly. I feel overwhelmingly tempted to do that whole ‘No, I’m fine’ act while my eyes moisten and my lips tremble, and my whole body-language screams out ‘No of course I’m not alright, and if you don’t even know why, I’m not going to tell you! You will have to work really hard for at least five days to find out how deeply you’ve hurt me!’
It’s like an overwhelming urge to hurt back and make someone really suffer and pay for their insensitivity in the most victimy emotionally-manipulative way I can muster. Ooh it makes me feel good just writing that.
The problem is, it doesn’t (and never has) worked for me in real life, no matter how much I have secretly enjoyed wallowing in victimhood, carefully and thoroughly nurturing my hurt feelings and preparing a good rock-solid case for the prosecution.
And the other thing is that emotional manipulation is about the one thing I happily threaten my children with. I say ‘If you do that I’m going to give you the silent treatment for days and pretend I’m ok whilst making it uncomfortably clear to you that I’m really not.’ So I can’t actually do it, I’ve already given the game away.
By now you’ll be wondering what happened. Well, I feel a bit silly now. The kids didn’t thank me enough for their Easter eggs. There, I’ve said it. It was almost like they just had an expectation that they would get them (Where did that come from??) with no real appreciation for all the time and effort it takes to source all those 2-for-1 offers.
So when my second son arrived for the special Bank Holiday Monday slap-up feast of a leg of lamb (doesn’t come cheap) with the words ‘Come on Mum, isn’t it ready yet?! I’ve got to get a shower yet before I go out!’ I reacted with actual, real tears springing unbidden into my eyes. (Obviously the eggs thing had been getting to me more than I knew).
‘Oh Mum, I’m sorry’ he spluttered, looking shocked, ‘I was only joking. Are you ok?’
And, tempted as I was to give him a tight-lipped ‘Yes, I’m fine,’ I said ‘No I’m not. The joking gets too much sometimes. I feel really hurt. I do all this work and I don’t feel it’s appreciated, I feel like you come just out of obligation. I feel used.’
‘I don’t come out of obligation’ he said, enfolding me in a bear-hug, ‘I really want to be here and I really appreciate what you do. I love you Mum.’
‘I love you too,’ I said, ‘Only sometimes I’m not as tough as I look, and I want some thanks.’
And that was it, all dealt with and finished. So simple really. And I do know that this works, and I’m glad it was resolved quickly and that I managed to be a grown-up despite my hurt feelings. And I’m also doing quite well at managing to suppress that teeny part of me that feels cheated out of at least five days of sustained martyrdom.