Mommy, Is Hate a Bad Word?

I became a mother accidentally. I had decided at some point in my turbulent twenties that I would not birth children, for fear that they would be too much like me. Nor had I ever planned to adopt. Children would be incompatible with the life of travel and abandon which I had dreamed up for myself for as long as I could remember, and which I had just begun to build. How would I move from country to country, nest to nest, with mouths to feed, bodies to shelter? What did I know about how to make a person, imperfect and tormented a soul as I was myself? What did I have to teach about life, when I barely knew how to live my own?

One day, I woke up and adopted the child I hadn’t known until then was mine, my beautiful boy, the root of our family tree. A few months later, I woke up married to the most gracious man there ever was, who happened to be from the same island as our son. And then, one morning, I woke up with a miracle of a baby girl, whom my flawed body had somehow made, and who was nestled sweetly in my arms. It had all happened so quickly that seven years later I am still wrapping my head around what it means to be a mother.

Motherhood is a bottomless well of decisions and choices. What will my children eat and not eat? With whom will we choose to have play dates, and whom will we always respectfully decline with a legitimate excuse? What kinds of books will we read, and which ones will we avoid? How can I answer all their questions, even when I don’t know the answers and don’t have the time to look them up? How can I raise them to be fierce, but polite, invincible, but kind, unafraid, but cautious? How do I teach them not to simply accept and obey our choices for them, but to make their own sound choices? How do I earn their trust, in all ways, for all time? How do I learn to trust them, and to let go?

It never ends. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night, weary from making decisions in my sleep.

I grew up riding the ferocious waves of my mother’s extreme emotions, her hyperbolic intonations, and sharp language. My children are riding my own waves. Some things run deep in the blood, and in how another’s ways of being become our own by virtue of exposure. This takes a lifetime of undoing. But when the cerebral part of me does persist, I try to mother consciously enough to carefully choose my actions and words.

One of my greatest struggles as a mother thus far has been finding a way to explain to my children why hate exists, and why it is so hell bent to shape so much of life. To pretend that hate does not exist, or that it is a thing to be gotten rid of by ignoring it, would be unwise. To act as though hate is not worthy of concern is to miseducate children on the state of many of the world’s affairs. But to explain hate is to admit that there is such a thing as evil, a thing that is beyond comprehension, reconciliation, or remedy, a thing rooted entirely in the desire to annihilate. There are two kinds of hate, it seems. First, there is the hate born from ignorance and fear, aimed at particular people because of something that defines them, and that is so intense as to necessitate their oppression, subjugation, or extermination. Second, there is the hate that is born from suffering and pain, aimed at whomever or whatever caused this unjust, cruel suffering. Either way, hate is rooted in evil.

The first word I chose to tell my children they were not allowed to use was hate. I should say, though, that for the first three months of our relationship, my son would scream, almost every day, that I was ugly and that he hated me. I knew that I was not ugly, and that he didn’t hate me. I knew that the words he was choosing came from the sorest part of the deepest wound he had ever had. They were a true reflection of the intensity of all that he hated, and of which I was then a representation. (He stopped using the word in my direction a few months after we became a family because he no longer suffered. Of course, now that he is becoming a teenager, he has told me a few times lately that he hates me. Sometimes, the most innocuous of requests to do this or that chore or favor causes great suffering, almost an existential crisis. Therefore, the occasional mentions of hate.)

I realized on one of those nights–while my boy raged, and I wept, silently because outwardly I needed to be unbreakable, so that I could help him piece himself together–that I knew nothing of suffering, or hate.

The Ottoman Empire slaughtered my ancestors and the ancestors of every Armenian I’ve ever met anywhere in the world. But I don’t hate Turkish people. The Soviet Union held my people in the captivity of dogma, doctrine, and propaganda for almost enough decades to make up a century. But I don’t hate Russian people. My father left. But I don’t hate fathers who don’t stay, or even my own, for that matter. I don’t embrace any religion, but I don’t hate people who do.

There are two reasons for this lack of hate: I was never taught to wish for anyone’s destruction or suffering based on who they were, or even what they had done, and I was never made to suffer.

I decided to teach my children that when the taste, feel, look, smell of something disagrees with us, or when we find ourselves disagreeing with someone’s way of being or thinking, this is a dislike, a discontent, a dismay, perhaps cause for severance of ties and bonds, maybe even for rebellion or protest.

The idea, albeit then implicit, was that by teaching my children to avoid using the word hate for mundane annoyances, frustrations, or opponents, I would effectively teach them to distinguish between hate and dislike, to understand that, like all other extreme emotions, hate is reserved for occasions that merit such intensity of feeling. No, you don’t hate eggplants; you just don’t like them. No, he doesn’t hate you; he just wasn’t in the mood to play today. No, you don’t hate me; you are upset with me.

My daughter once asked if hate was a bad word. I truly can’t remember how exactly I responded, but I made an effort to explain that it is a word that is far beyond dislike, one that implies a desire for the destruction of someone or something, and that in that sense, it is a dangerous word, a treacherous feeling, a weapon of destruction.

My children don’t use the word hate, at least as far as I know. When they do, it should reflect, in principle, that they are beyond a place where comprehension, forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation are possible. It is my hope that the lack of the word in their lexicon corresponds to the lack of the feeling of hate. Hate uses up a great deal of energy, and we all know energy is a limited resource, best conserved for essential use.

The challenge ahead, the thing I’m not at all prepared to explore just now, is how to explain to my children, in a meaningful, honest, and productive way, that there are people out there who wake up and go to sleep hating certain groups of people for no reason other than that they are defined by something the haters, in their ignorance and fear, deem to be abominable. Learning about this kind of hate, its causes and effects, is a prerequisite to learning why things are the way they are, and how to adequately persist, resist, and rise.

Down into the well goes this bucket of questions, sure as hate to come up at some point soon, demanding to be answered. I hope to be ready then to explain this thing I don’t quite understand myself.

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