‘I don’t love you Mommy’

At least five times a day my three-year-old tells me she loves me. She’ll say it genuinely and out of nowhere, and it warms my heart each and every time. But it only took her telling me she DIDN’T love me once, to break my heart into a million pieces.

It was a normal workday. My kids went to the sitter’s house, and I went to my station to film some stories. We’ve been through a few different babysitters lately. Luckily, all of them are close friends of ours, so it hasn’t been dramatic going from one place to another. In fact, Ms. Brittani, their current sitter has been a friend since Lil’ J was a baby. My daughter is best friends with her oldest son, and my son has loved her since birth.

Ms. Brittani is fun, she has the gentlest voice, fun activities planned, pretty straight blond hair (that my daughter loves to point out) and the patience of a saint. We all love her. But I started to wonder if some of us love her a little too much when my daughter said she didn’t want to come home when I picked her up.

The time my daughter told me she didn't love me and a thought-provoking post about mother-daughter relationships from a young age.

Oh, but she was only getting started.

“I have to tell you something,” Lil’ J whispered to me.

“What?” I bent down, excited to hear what her sweet little voice had in store.

“I don’t love you mommy, I love Ms. Burtney.”

I don’t remember exactly what I said to her as I tried to gain composure and gather our things to leave.

She’s only three.

She doesn’t mean it. I told myself.

But it didn’t sting any less.

It’s not like my kids are there 50 hours a week. It’s just a day or two a week, tops. What next, my son starts to call her “Mama?”

“Oh, guess what? [Big T] said Mama today!” Brittani told me.


On the way home I asked my daughter why she would say that she didn’t love me.

“That really hurts my feelings,” I told her.

“Well, you locked me out of the bathroom and Ms. Burtney doesn’t lock me out,” she professed.

Yea, well she probably doesn’t let you sit and watch her pee either, I thought. Really? That was like one time, is she going to hold this over my head forever?

“Can I watch your phone?” She asked me.

HA! Not after you’ve just written me off.

“No, why would you want to borrow the phone from someone you don’t love?” I know my sense of logic and reasoning was far off base but I was angry.

“I was just kidding, I do love you,” she told me.

Yea, right.

“No you don’t, you’re just saying that because you want to borrow my phone,” I said.

“No, I really DO love you!” She said. “I’m not just saying that.”

“But you said you didn’t,” I pushed.

“I’m sorry mommy, I do love you, I really really do,” she said.

I paused.

“Ok?” she asked as if she were saying: “Are we good now?”

“Ok,” I agreed. We were good.

“So can I borrow your phone now?”


Then my husband called and said Snoop got out because I left the garage door open and hopefully we’d find him, yadda yadda yadda. I was not in the mood to hear this. By then I was pulling into the neighborhood and the anger was boiling over and cooling into misery.

“What’s wrong with you?” He asked as he saw the look on my face when I got out of the car. I saw Snoop behind him so either he had found him or he was exaggerating the whole “lost dog” scenario to teach me a lesson.

“NOTHING!” I shouted.

“Just tell me,” he said.

I tried to unbuckle Lil’ J out of her car seat, but I missed a latch and somehow pinched her in the process, sending her into full-on meltdown mode.

“[Little J!]” I shouted again.

“I’ll get her,” my husband told me, sensing I needed a break. “Did everything go ok picking them up?” He asked, probably worried something very serious had happened and my vagueness was not helping.

“Yes, it was fine.” I told him blankly. Then I grabbed our happy son out of his car seat and stormed into my room, accidently bumping his head into the wall as I turned which also sent him into a screaming fit.

Yesterday morning, if you had asked me the last time I’d cried, I wouldn’t have had a clue. I am a big crybaby, but something about having kids has made my emotions rock solid.

So I was a little taken aback by the waterworks that came after this conversation with my daughter. But what else would you expect when you’ve been stabbed in the heart?

Was this the beginning of the mother-daughter friction I’ve read about, which would always push her closer to her daddy, and leave her wanting nothing to do with me? How could she ever say anything like that to me when I’ve done nothing but love her?

I nursed Big T, stroked his curls, and thanked God for sending me a boy as well so if all Hell breaks loose with my mother-daughter relationship, at least I have a son.

My husband came in our room to check in and try to get more information out of me.

“It’s dumb,” I told him, not wanting to say the words out loud.

“Just tell me!” He pleaded.

“[Lil’ J] said she didn’t love me and that she loves Brittani more than me.”

I tried not to look at his reaction, which was probably a suppressed laugh.

“She didn’t mean it,” he told me after a moment. “She’s just a punk kid. Besides, she can’t even say her name right, she can’t love her that much.”

Somehow, he always knows what to say to make me laugh, especially when I’m in tears.

“It’s just cause we’re always playing those games asking her who she loves more,” he added, trying to console me. “She doesn’t even know what she’s talking about.”

He walked away and let me be, then a little while later Lil’ J came in (obviously coached) to apologize and tell me she loves me more than everyone except daddy.

My husband took us out for dinner and dessert outdoors, and my mood quickly lifted.

Texas wildflower bluebonnet field

I still am wondering if it’s true about girls clinging to their daddies more, and boys preferring their mothers. Is this the start of some tragic law of nature? Can I fix it? Am I just overreacting?

Now every time my daughter tells me she loves me—which is still several times a day—My heart doesn’t get the same warm fuzzy melting feeling it did before. Now it aches a little, still sore from the wounds she gave me yesterday. I’m hopeful it’ll heal completely soon, and toughen up a lot because I’ll need some thicker skin before she turns 13.

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  1. Ok, we’re just gonna chalk these tears up to emotional PMS & nothing else. K? Wow, not sure why this post got to me so much. Maybe because my only child is 13 and I’ve felt what you’re feeling. Even though you know they don’t mean it, it doesn’t make the hurt any less. While mine has never said I don’t love your or I hate you, she does prefer her dad over me. I feel so selfish & guilty because I sometimes (not that often) but sometimes resent their closeness. LOVED your hubs response though. He’s a great guy!!! Hugs to you Jennifer!!!

    1. Whenever I publish a new post I get anxious for the first comment. Especially with a post like this. I wonder if I’m crazy or if someone will understand where I’m coming from. I’m so glad you do!

      In 13 years that’s awesome that your daughter has never said that. You got 10 years on me!

      I’m sorry you feel like she prefers her dad. Despite how they treat us I take solace in knowing they still need us too 🙂

  2. THIS.
    This made my heart hurt and I probably would have cried if I weren’t at work right now.. My daughter is one and I would be wrecked if this happened… I already feel some type of way when I come home and she says “Nana”! I know it’s only because she is used to Nana coming in the door every morning…just like whenever she hears the phone ring she says Dada… but for some reason it still bothers me a little….

    Hopefully time will heal your pain…

    And hopefully my emotions won’t be this tender once I’m done with this pregnancy! LOL

    1. Congrats on your pregnancy! I’m hoping maybe in just PMSing like the commenter above, and overreacting a little.

      My daughters mood swings so fast it gives me whiplash, but it didn’t make dealing with this easier. Thanks for your sweet words!

  3. I’ve totally been here. My son is usually fairly loving, but he has a wicked stubborn streak and temper to match. He has screamed down the hallway more than once “I don’t love you! You’re BAD!” It shot me through the heart too. Especially the “you’re bad” part actually because I’m really careful to describe and focus on the bad behaviour rather than have him think he’s a bad kid. I hope that makes sense. Now he loves to tell me “you’re poop!” When he’s angry and I can’t help but laugh. Three year olds are tough! I hope she doesn’t say it again but I think it’s just a three year old phase.

  4. Oh Jenn… It’s just the beginning. You’re gonna have to toughen up sweetie. It sucks.. I know but she’ll grow out of it or say something else less hurtful. The first time I told my 4 yr old that we weren’t “best friends”.. she cried so hard. I felt awful so I had to say we’re not “nail polish friends”. So that’s what she says now when she’s mad at me. It’s so much better hearing that than the “don’t love you”. Like Lisa says (above), it’s a phase and she’ll grow out of it soon.

    1. I like that trick you’ve got there. I should try that. You’re right. I need to toughen up.

      Another odd part about all this is she said in the nicest, sweetest tone. As if she was given g me a compliment. Who does that?

  5. I. Totally agree! My then 3yo now 4 yo would tell me she doesn’t love me, she wants new parents and then on all days last thanksgiving she told me she hated me. I don’t know where she gets talking like that…she is the sassiest most teenage like toddler I know. It literally kills me and breaks my heart every time she says something like that. I tell her those are not nice words and she always apologizes but it cuts like a knife especially when she is crying and screaming to me about it….it makes me feel like she means it. All I can do is teach her the importance of saying kind things and not mean things to me when she doesn’t get her way. She hasn’t said it recently, but she has thrown her shoe at me…whoa, three-four year old problems….I am so not looking forward to her teenage years. All we can do is love them and let them know they are loved!

  6. This will make you giggle. My younger daughter was about three. She was angry with me because I wouldn’t let her do something. What it was I don’t remember. However, she didn’t like my answer. So, she said to me as only a three year old could, “I don’t like you anymore mommy.” Now, I had been through the three year old like you, not like you drama with my older daughter. So, when my little one said that, I replied, “I don’t like you either.” Her reply: “Yes you do.” I replied: “No I don’t.” We did this back and forth for a few more times. Now the moral of this is, don’t take what Lil’ J said to heart. Yes, in the coming years you will battle (or you may not), but what will never change is the love you both will have for each other….deep in your heart.

    Oh yeah. Another funny story. My best friend baby-sat for my little one for a year. So, one day I said to my little one, “Who’s the best mommy in the world?” Now, I was expecting her to say, “Mommy is.” Instead, she said, “Heidi is.” (My best friend). Needless to say, I ate humble-pie that day. And now, as she prepares to graduate high school, we laugh about each of those stories. She has shown in many ways how much she loves me.
    Lil’ J will do the same. And you can always get a chuckle about this.

  7. My daughter (5 yrs) hasn’t said that, but she did get so upset at me that she said “I hate you” in the almost whisper/sulky voice. She was in the middle of a meltdown to begin with about cleaning up and I was already telling her to go up to her room until she cooled down and she just said it. Like it was nothing. On the inside, in the blink of an eye, it blew my world apart. I blinked again, looked at her completely calm and told her to please go upstairs, no one in this house gets to tell anyone they hate them. E must have known I was a different sort of serious all together because she started apologizing and back peddling. I made her go upstairs for 10 minutes (until she calmed down) so I could figure out what to say.

    When she came back down we talked about feeling angry and frustrated, but why the rule of the house is NEVER to say I hate you. I keep reminding myself of exactly what you are wondering- our girls do these things to help prepare us for those teenage years. E is going to test me to the limit, I am sure. She and I are very different and I keep convincing myself that these things she says are ways to test me- do I really mean it that I will always love her. It hurts. Thank goodness I also have a son (who is SO MUCH a boy) who seems to never “hate” me. Hang in there, girl! You are not alone!!

  8. I JUST had this happen with my three-year-old yesterday. We were riding pleasantly in the car when out of the blue he said, “I don’t like you.”

    I sat silently in shock, and he thought I hadn’t heard him, so he said it louder. “I DON’T LIKE YOU, MOMMY.” Not in an angry way, just matter-of-factly.

    When I asked him why, he said it was because (hours before) I didn’t let him climb on the couch while I was sitting on it with a full cup of coffee. After scalding myself multiple times from him climbing all over me, I instated this rule. It’s been that way for months, and he’s never seemed particularly upset about it.

    Even though I knew the reasoning was ridiculous, and I know he’s only three, I maturely retorted, “Well, that’s a MEAN thing to say, and you’re being MEAN. And I like you ALL THE TIME, even when you’re not being a good listener. And when you say you don’t like me, that HURTS MY FEELINGS.”

    To which he cheerfully replied, “Oh, sorry!” in a “Sorry-I’m-not-sorry” kind of tone and asked me if he still got a snack when we got home. I so wanted to say, “NO!” but got myself together. Still not over it, though!

  9. What a great post. This hit so close to home with me today. With all my struggles about working full time and coming home to a screaming toddler who doesn’t want to leave his cousins, it’s almost more than my poor little heart can take. Here’s to hoping it’s also, just a phase.

  10. Just wanted to say thank you so much for sharing this. Motherhood is hard and people rarely share the tough parts, which just leaves many of us feeling isolated and hurt. I find myself increasingly trying to be as honest as possible though with my three year-old about when she makes me angry or frustrates me, so that she can have an increasing vocabulary to say what she’s feeling, though she has said she doesn’t love me and a whole host of other things that hurt my feelings, poked me in sensitive spots that I already have immense guilt about, and brought me to tears.

  11. I definitely think this was just a case of her lashing out and hitting below the belt because you wouldn’t let her stay with the sitter. Our spouses aren’t the only ones who know how to get under our skin. I remember when Moo told me she didn’t love me once. I was beyond crushed and cried over it for weeks in private.

    Even though, you know they don’t mean it, that doesn’t stop your mind from playing cruel tricks and making you wonder if it’s a little bit true. I think at this point Moo still enjoys me and the Mr equally, but JJ is without a doubt a mama’s boy, but I’m seeing him start to finally enjoy being with his dad more and that warms my heart. At the end of the day, we’re great moms and we have to know that when our kids say things like this that it’s just them having a verbal tantrum. In time, this wound will heal.

  12. 1. Even as an adult, I’ve said things I don’t mean in anger. I remember telling my parents I hated them and even though I didn’t mean it, I was trying to say something hurtful as a revenge comment.
    2. As the parent of an almost 3 year old, I realize sometimes they don’t have the vocabulary to express what they actually mean and oversimplify. Loving someone else probably just means they had fun, and that’s a good thing!
    3. If our kids always love us the best, we are probably not being very good parents.
    Love your blog, I always think your posts are interesting and thought provoking. Sorry I mostly stalk and don’t comment:)

    1. Thanks for commenting Karin! I think you’re so right about saying things in anger. Looking back I probably said some things that crushed my mom too. I’d better apologize.

      And you’re right I bet she was just trying to say she loves both of us, or that she felt like staying with her sitter a little longer. At least that’s what I’ll tell myself 😉

  13. I’m way closer with my mom than my dad. And, they’re both great people, no divorces or anything. I’ve always been friends with my mom and told her everything growing up. I don’t believe in the whole girls/dads and boys/moms. I think it depends on the personality of the parent and child. With all of the great leg work you’ve put in with your daughter, I’m sure you’ll both be close!

    1. Thanks Megan. I hope so. Yesterday J told me she loved her dad more. Why, I have no idea cause I’m way nicer 😉

      But I’m telling myself it’s his brainwashing. I was closer to my mom growing up too. But we definitely butted heads at times. I hope to somehow avoid that with my daughter. We shall see!

      Thanks for your comment 🙂

  14. I have been checking your posts off and on for a few months now, but this one really spoke to me. I also have a daughter, she just turned 4. She has always been a big time Daddys girl which I have learned to accept. But about a month ago she said something to me that shook me to my core. She says very calmy and randomly “Mommy, when are you going to die?” I replied ” not for a very long long time”. The look on her face said she didnt like that answer so I asked her if she wanted me to die, she replied “Ya, but not Daddy” OUCH!! I have to be honest, Im not sure when Im going to recover from that one. So I feel your pain, but I like to think they dont realize what they are saying…

  15. I’ve literally just had this experience for the second time (which is how I found this blog – problem=google search!). I haven’t reacted well. I try and stay calm and reasonable, and then I burst into tears. And when I burst into tears, she bursts into tears. But she didn’t retract her words. She also frequently says that she wants to go “home” to her daddy’s house (we separated in January) because there are more toys. My heart is hurting. So I feel for you too 🙁

    Aww, Kansas, that’s awful for you 🙁

  16. If I dont respond to alll the mommy, mommy, mommy’s quick enough my daughter in all her 4 year old sass will say – “Oh! So you’re not talking anymore? Well I’m not talking to you ever again.” Hand on hip and all. Crazy funny! But I really think in the moment she means it. Doesn’t hurt my feelings, just helps me remember she has feelings too.

  17. So I only have one child so far so I’m no expert, but she is OBSESSED with me. Everyone comments on it. I am not naturally a super loving affectionate person, but her dad is and she has taken after him. That being said, I think all kids are different. Some girls gravitate towards their dads and some their moms. From what everyone has told her Little J’s age is usually the daddy age. When she is a bit older (maybe 8) she will probably be more of a mommy’s girl while she thinks boys are horrible. I understand what she said really hurting though. I could have probably handled the not loving me part, but the loving the babysitter more would have sent me over the edge. I work outside the home and always feel guilty. I would totally have a meltdown if this happened to me.

  18. and this is precisely why i absolutely love you carino! You word everything in such a perfect way. the way you write really has the ability to resonate so many emotions inside the reader. I found myself busting a gut —the she doesnt even know how to say her name correctly part to imagining myself in that same situation as if Micah had uttered those words to me. you’re doing a great job love! I gravitated towards the fathers I didn’t have all through my childhood and adolescence up through her being our one and only backbone here in the United States as first generation immigrants — I still have a complex relationship with my mother but there is nothing like the depth of a mother. sadly in my case it took me getting into motherhood to realize the glory that is my mother. that she is my all and that I find myself yearning to muster up the courage to love my boys with 1/2 of the amount of fierceness and tenacious confidence that she loved us as she created our world, our future. with such sacrifice, with such selflessness. you are building for them, mami. for her. for her to see that her mother defies anything she is fed by those wishing to marginalize a mother’s experience. there are so many dimensions to us as women and you are showing little J by example that she too can as dynamic and phenomenal as her mother who sought to utilize those beautiful gifts that our Heavenly Parents have given her. chin up hermosa, you are doing an OUTSTANDING job.

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