Dear daughter, I love you so much. But because you are in such an exhaustingly difficult phase right now, I often don't like you. And that breaks my heart.

Daughter, My Heart Is Breaking

Dear daughter, I love you so much. But because you are in such an exhaustingly difficult phase right now, I often don't like you. And that breaks my heart.

By Joanna Owusu

I will always be thankful for the first year of your life, my darling daughter, third child of mine. Your brothers had started school, your dad was secure in a job he liked, our world was comfortable. There was relative equanimity at home and I was able to soak up all of your baby sweetness. I was exhausted, to be sure, but that time with you was magical.

I suppose it’s a two-sided sword that while you had the benefit of a more seasoned and confident mother in your infancy, now you suffer the pain of an older, run-ragged, more short-tempered mother in your preschool years.

Because run ragged I am. I had hoped to treasure this last year at home with you before kindergarten. I searched far and wide for part-time preschool options that maximized our time together. I remember this time so fondly with your brother, when his older brother was in elementary school and he and I had museum days and library days and took leisurely trips to the market together.

There are moments of magic. But too often, I’m eagerly anticipating your days at school. So many days, I feel like we butt heads from sunup to sundown. One minute we’re peacefully working on a craft together, the next you’ve thrown it to the floor and are screaming at me because it’s not what you envisioned. Your latest party trick: you seem to find it hilarious to let loose a keening screech in my ear. You demand that I read you a book, play a game, provide a snack. You ask me 562 times why you can’t have a candy cane for breakfast. When I can’t meet your needs in short order, you holler “Ugly weirdo!” or “Shut up!”

I’m appalled at the words you use. You live in a house with a 12- and 10-year-old, so you’re privy to some language that your brothers would never have used at your age. No amount of reprimanding, time outs, calm discussions about kind words, or removal of privileges seems to erase this language from your vocabulary.

We enjoy the luxury of leisurely mornings but getting you to school by 9 a.m. two days a week requires cajoling, cheerleading, pleading. I leave school drop-off totally spent. My heart sinks as I type the words I’ve found myself thinking lately: while I love you with every fiber of my being, you’re not a child I LIKE very much in this phase.

I own my part in our shared reality. It’s been a stressful couple of years, and perhaps you’re feeding off the latent tension at home. Some of your personality traits—your fiery personality, your strong will, your perfectionism—they’re all too familiar. I know many of these qualities will serve you well in life. And I wonder if our struggle is so fierce because we’re cut from the same cloth.

A wonderful Montessori teacher once opined that children go through two adolescences, one in their preschool years and one in their teenage years. I’m trying to view this as a period of natural rebellion, preparing us both for the break that will come next year when you head off to real school all day, every day.

I’m all too aware of how fleeting the preschool years are. Time seems to speed up once school bells and school calendars dictate our lives.

My heart breaks as these days fly by.


About the Author

Joanna McFarland Owusu is a freelance writer and editor. A federal government analyst in a former life, Joanna now spends her days wrangling two not-so-little boys and a preschool daughter.