Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Angry Letter

A few days ago I found a letter one of my children had written to me. It wasn't a nice letter. It began with,

"Dear Mom, I'm writing this letter so I can express my true feelings without being shot down or told that I'm wrong. . ."

Well, I read that letter, in utter shock. I have a feeling it was a venting letter, not a letter that will ever truly be delivered to me, but it broke my heart all the same. After reading it, I cried. I prayed. I cried some more. I wrote a pitiful entry in my journal about how now that I've failed as a mother I suppose I'm a complete failure, and what in the world is the point to my life. Then I cried some more.

I tried to remember back to when I was an angst-filled, disgruntled kid, and how I felt about my mother. My view was very selfish. I spent a lot of time criticizing the things she did wrong as a mother and deciding how I would do everything differently. I saw only my needs and my wants. I recognized only what appeared to be injustices against me. I saw her as "the mother" and not really as a person. I suppose in a truly honest evaluation I was horrible to her at times, for which I've long-since apologized over and over.

So, why did I think my children would be different? Why did I think I would be immune, passed over by the Blame Your Mother Angel of Hate and Hurt? I supposed I had it coming.

After getting past all of that, I read the letter again, just to really hear what was being said. I had to hand it to this child of mine, the letter was well-written, and well-expressed, even if often misguided and inappropriate, maybe even downright mean. Several times I found myself wanting to correct a perception, offer new information in answer to an accusation, but then I found myself right back at the opening of the letter, ". . .without being shot down and told that I'm wrong. . ." So, I let those things go. Kids aren't supposed to have all the information about their parents' lives. They see what they want to see, and what they are allowed to see, and some of what they shouldn't see, but it's always, always only the tip of the iceberg of what is real, and what is really there.

Of course, you try telling that to a teenager. Go ahead, I dare you.

I kept reading. Slowly. Trying to discern the state of the heart of the angry writer. I felt some shame with the recognition of things I am truly guilty of. I felt sadness at the hurt I have caused, unknowingly, and certainly against my intentions. I never wanted to fail my children or let them down in any way. I took some mental notes. I thought for a second about a tearful confrontation when the child got home, but what would be the point in that? Induce guilt for having and expressing feelings? Manipulate an apology and a false I-didn't-mean-it? Instead, I heaved myself into the load now in front of me, and decided not to give up. There are definitely things I can improve upon, and chances are (please, Lord!) this child still has growing and maturing to do too, which hopefully will bring with it a deepened perspective and an increased capacity to forgive. I'll probably never reveal that I even read that horrible letter.

And at least in the end, after all the blame and criticism, and even some hurtful threats, it ended with "I do love you, Mom." So, there's something there to work with. I guess?


Heidi said...

Oh, wow--how hard! I have to admit, the way I see myself as a mom (human, vulnerable, justified) is so different than the way I saw my mother growing up. What a good reminder this is to me that my kids are (naturally) let down when I don't get it right. But, do we ever really get it right? I just console myself that my kids will understand when I'm a grandma.

Misty said...

it really gets to the heart of things when we find something like that- doesn't it?

Why Not? Because I Said So! said...

I think that parenting is a learning process as much as anything else we do. How wonderful that your child decided to write this letter instead of some other way of venting anger.

I remember once when I became angry at my 11 year old daughter. She came downstairs later holding her "Feelings" book. She pointed to a paragraph about how the adult should stop and listen and not just sound off. I was very humbled by this and have tried to be a better listener.

Don't be too hard on yourself. You gained great insight from this experience and you are a better parent because of it!

Sheila Staley : Book Reviewer

Come visit me at my blog at

Olga said...

What a hard place to be in, but also a good place. You were able to get a little window into their soul. But you were right to never ever share with that child what you learned. Also what I have learned our feelings are like waves we have high moments with someone and we have low moments. You got a peek into a low moment. What a smart child to write out their frustration instead of keeping it in. What an insightful post.

Braden Bell said...

That was a very thoughtful post. Good for you. It made me think about the letter my adolescents might write to me. I admire your restraint in the way you handled it.

Anonymous said...

Hang in there Jenna!!!! You did good... sometimes silence is the best action to take.

YogaNana said...

Nothing to add, except a hug of support.


Anonymous said...

I have been at the end of one of those letters too. It hurts but I think it is a sign of a child starting to become an adult and voice their feelings the correct way. I also have been at the end of a 4-year old hateful tantrum as early as today and I think I like the letter better. Hang in there -- you are a great mom!

Luisa Perkins said...

This makes my heart hurt--but at least the child wanted to communicate, which means there is great, great hope for the child and for your relationship.