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When My 4-Year-Old Son With Apraxia Would Say, 'I Hate Dad'

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“I hate Dad!”

I heard it over and over again from my 4-year-old son, Ben, who has childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) and developmental delays. It came out of nowhere and struck us really hard.

Ben has always preferred me (I’m his mom, of course!), but suddenly, his preference skyrocketed. I was the only one who could put him to sleep. The only one who could give him a bath. The only one who could take him to soccer. The only one who could feed him dinner. He wouldn’t go anywhere or do anything without Mom. He wouldn’t even do highly desirable things with Dad, like going out for ice cream or a trip to the park. And his demands for Mommy weren’t quiet or polite. They were big and loud and angry and forceful.

Because of his medical and developmental issues, we have a developmental pediatrician in our arsenal of special needs resources. This particular doctor was helpful in telling us that some kids like Ben can usually be more intense. I assumed other behaviors, like extreme parental attachment, might be more intense as well. I read books. I scoured the internet. I guess I was looking for consolation that it was nothing serious.

Even though I found “nothing serious” about this issue, there were serious effects on our whole family. I was drained. I had very little to give to the rest of my family. My husband felt neglected and sad. My daughter felt left out and missed her mom. The constant tension resonated in our home, and we were all on edge.

Ben has worked hard in speech therapy for three years. We have appreciated and loved every single word he worked so hard to get out of his mouth. But to hear such a negative word like “hate” as such an angry sentiment was truly heartbreaking.

Friends and family kept saying, “It’s just a phase.” That comment trivialized our real challenges for four-plus months. These “phases” can look different with our son. This phase was disconcerting. Ben couldn’t verbalize his feelings. And if you knew my partner, you would know what a fun and caring person he is and how any hatred towards him is unwarranted.

Maybe you’re thinking I shouldn’t have given in. I should have insisted that Dad do the dinners and baths and bedtime. But what I have learned painfully over time is that this kind of forceful parenting just doesn’t work with my son. There are usually decent reasons why he does what he does; he just can’t tell me because of his apraxia. I wanted to make our house as peaceful as possible, and for months, that meant I did it all.

As you might have guessed, this story has a happy ending. Two things solved this issue over time:

1. My husband: He stuck it out. He stepped into the background for a while. He kept testing the waters and tried to find things “the boys” could do together. Usually, he encountered a lot of resistance. Then he would back off and try again later. He kept at it over many months despite a lot of frustration and fatigue. I’m so grateful he didn’t give up on Ben!

2. A special intervention from one of his speech therapists: I mentioned this “hate” problem in an IEP meeting, and she suggested using a social story about Dad. She noticed Ben did well with social stories in the past. She wrote a story about how mom has to leave sometimes, but she always comes back. She even included pictures of Dad and Ben together and wrote about how they have fun and go places together and like spending time together at home. Ben read this story with me for two weeks and slowly we heard the dreaded hate word less and less. One day a few weeks later, I turned to my husband and asked, “Has he said the H-word lately?” He looked back at me incredulously, “No!” We realized our efforts finally worked.

We have gone a few months without hearing “I hate Dad.” I think the boys’ relationship has gotten stronger.

Ben knows Dad isn’t going anywhere.

Mom is always coming back.

And we are a cohesive unit again.

We also recognize that parenting our son is full of intense peaks and valleys and have come to appreciate those “wins” so much more.

Ann Weiss's husband and son

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Originally published: April 12, 2016
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