My 5-year-old came over to my bedroom door with a paper heart she had colored in and cut out ... and then cut in half. She taped the broken heart to my door.
We had been wrestling over bedtime. I had tucked her in and she sang, "I'm going to follow yooou." She hopped out of bed with a grin. Repeat, repeat. It's one of my triggers: my fuse suddenly gets very short. I told her I didn't appreciate this little game. We'd had a nice bedtime together; why ruin it? As I turned my back on her, she tried to take swipes at me. Out of patience, I picked her up, set her in her bed, shut her door, and went to my own bedroom nearby. Just as she ran over and tried to open my door, I locked it. I heard a howl and then quiet.
I paced in my bedroom, simultaneously upset with her and with myself. She needed comforting, and I was too mad to do it. A few minutes later I heard her at my door, and I opened it to find her taping on the broken heart.
"I don't love you anymore, mama," she said.
She walked back to her bedroom. Just before she shut her door, I nodded and said, "That's fair."
"What?" She said it gently, almost in disbelief. She turned toward me.
"I hurt your heart," I said sadly. "Thank you for letting me know." I squatted down. She came over to me but wasn't ready for a hug.
I went on. "I was feeling really frustrated, and I didn't handle that the way I wanted. I need a do-over. I wish I had said, 'You need some more mama time' and just talked with you in your bed for a little bit."
"Yeah," she sighed.
She said she needed to do something in her room. When she came back, she had made a new heart, a whole one, to replace the one torn in two.
Looking back, what shifted our dynamic, what moved us forward toward wholeness, was my sincere acceptance of her feelings.
When my daughter said she didn't love me anymore, I can imagine plenty of other responses. "You don't mean that." "That hurts my feelings." "Well, I'm not feeling too loving, either." "All the things I do for you..." "You need to be in your bed, right now." "I wouldn't have ___ if you hadn't ___."
All would have been dismissive of her feelings. Which, if you think about it, was the very thing that sent us down this path in the first place.
The "Guide" section of my book, Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science, is about the perspective shifts that allowed me to have the response that turned things around with my daughter. And that, more often, can keep us from getting into power struggles in the first place.
You can get an excerpt here.