“How Can I Help You”

I was stirring the fettuccine as the door closed behind him.  I looked over and noticed she didn’t look up. She didn’t speak.  She kept her head down as she focused on her project.

Dinner was almost ready to hit the table.  I turned to Will and said, “Buddy, dinner is close, but I’ve gotta talk to Jenny first.”

So what if the pasta was going to be mushy.

I pulled my stool next to Jenny and quietly asked her to look at me.  When she did I said, “Honey, I want you to know that I remember how that feels.  I know what it’s like to be in a room with my dad, have him talk to my brother, and leave before saying a word to me.  I know how that hurts, but I don’t want to project my feelings on to you.”

“What does project mean?”

“That means that I don’t want to put my feelings on you.  I don’t want to assume that you feel the same way I felt when I was your age.  But it isn’t right to pretend that everything is fine.  I want you to know that I see the situation – he walked in, talked to Will, saw you sitting there and didn’t say anything.  But I don’t know if talking about it makes it worse.  I just remember that pretending like it never happened doesn’t feel good either.  How can I help you, honey?  Is there something I could say or do to help you through this?”


(Jenny hears me swear.  She hears Will swear.  We have a rule in this house:  If it helps you release frustration and anger, you can say it, but don’t say it outside the house around others.  If you need to scribble it on a piece of paper and parade it around, that’s fine, but it doesn’t leave the house.  That being said, Jenny has her own personal boundaries.  She won’t swear.  I admire her for that.)


She looked up from making tiny paper frogs and said, “If you could flip him off for me that would help.  I can’t make myself do that.  But do it after he closes the door so he doesn’t see you.”

“I can do that.”




Sometime after cleaning up the Italian Cube Steaks, too-soft fettuccine and green beans, she came out to the kitchen and stood next to me.  In her soft, vulnerable voice she asked, “Is it okay if I hate my dad?”

“It’s okay to hate him, honey.  Don’t feel guilty about what you’re feeling.  And it’s also okay if someday you change your mind.”



Last evening, we viewed original art at the shows in town, stopped to get a movie and frozen yogurt.  Our moods were good.  We were looking forward to spring skiing this weekend.  Out of the blue, Jenny said, “I hate dad.”

Part of me winced.  I stifled that ingrained parental urge to say, “Honey, we don’t hate anything.”

She said hate as if it was a cuss word – her first.

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  1. Thank you for handling it that way. My parents are both narcissists and I lived most of my life in guilt and feeling wrong for how I knew I truly felt. Now, years later, as an adult I can finally say without guilt that I hate my parents. I am finally allowed to feel exactly what I feel. Your daughter will thank you for giving her that freedom. It is a freedom every person deserves. Thank you for this post and this entire blog.

  2. Anonymous,

    Thanks for writing.

    Sometimes, even as adults, we need permission to feel what we feel. I’m glad you have found that freedom to acknowledge your feelings.

    Take care,


  3. You’re an amazing mom. You’re giving her exactly what she needs. I’m sure she loves you for it now, but when she’s grown, she’ll truly appreciate what you’ve done for her.

  4. Brava! You could not have handled that more beautifully.
    It’s so hard to know if sometimes the line of support is crossed into encouragement. You found the perfect balance. xxx

  5. Pat,

    Thanks. I went with my gut on that one.

    Everyone else would have told her, “Oh, honey, you don’t hate your daddy.”

  6. Z,

    I’m tired of teetering on that line. ;)

  7. Sometimes I wish I had a girl so he would leave my kid alone… terrible, I know, but sometimes easier to deal with. :/

  8. Z,

    Thanks for that perspective.

    As recently as last night she said, “Mom, it’s weird… I’m so mad at him for how he treats me, but I still wish he’d be interested in me.”

    I’ve said it before, there’s a special kind of hell for those kinds of parents.

  9. Hi Jesse,

    Your post is so good and so painful. I can relate to every moment you described. We want our children to love and be loved unconditionally especially by their parents–that is just how it SHOULD be. Sadly, it is not that way when a child has a narcissistic parent.

    You are a wonderful Mom–insightful and intuitive. I am so glad Will and Jenny have you as I know you are so thankful to have them. I wish life were perfect or at least fair, but you seem to find a way to present life to your kids in a real way–complete with humor, love and validation–and that is and will be a priceless gift to them.

    Blessings to you and yours! : )

  10. Lynn,

    Oh you so know how this is.

    Sometimes the hardest part is getting beyond the breaks in my heart that are there because I so wanted much more for them. But that’s about me. I suspicion all our kids will be more than just fine. I do hope and pray so.

  11. I was five when I started to hold the secret of “hating my mom and dad” deep, deep inside me. Funny, cause my mom would always tell me how much she hated her mom and dad. I once ventured to ask “so then can I hate you and dad too?” You can imagine the lecture I got after that. I know you can. “How can you say that? We are perfect parents. We never do anything wrong. You don’t have a right to feel that way and if you do there is something wrong with you. Are you on drugs?” So the secret festered and surfaced with stomach pains and nervousness and worry and nightmares. Every once in awhile (because there was no one to turn to or understand) I would wonder why be here? But the fight to prove I could be me, and not be like them was stronger. I have a 16 year old now who thanks me for letting him be himself.

    So yes….you are right for allowing your children to feel what they feel and know it’s ok to feel that way and be themselves.

  12. Steph,

    Welcome! I’m glad you found us. Thanks for writing.

    I’m glad for you, and for your son, that you’ve both found a place where being who you are is okay.

  13. My Mom used to tell us “Feelings are never wrong. Actions can be wrong. It’s wrong to murder someone, it’s wrong to cheat. But feelings are never wrong. If you feel angry, that’s ok. If you feel anger, that’s ok. It’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to be sad, to be hurt. You have every right to be.” The other thing that helped me was knowing I had one parent who loved me unconditionally. I know your kids know that, too. *hugs*

  14. NM,

    Still not sure how your mom married a narcissist. Insights, please? (If you wouldn’t mind.)

  15. Hi there, the first thing that comes to mind is that why would any of the awesome thrivers (and the author, too;)…) of this blog marry narcissists or get involved with them otherwise? Why would these women who are clearly; loving, intelligent, funny, kind…. Why would any of us marry one? (Or make one their “best friend”?)

    1. None if us knew better at the time. Neither did my mom.

    2. Narcissists are utterly charming & in the ‘honeymoon’ phase make you feel amazing and special. We all know they are masters at this.

    3. A narcissist will pick the MOST brilliant/intelligent/fun/kind/attractive people to surround him or herself with. They are using you after all, and they want the best.

    4. I know I’ve seen a theme of “fixers” that have come out of N relationships. My mom was a fixer too. She thought she’d help him. She thought she’d make him better. I’m a fixer, too.

    My mom is amazing. So are you. We are going to get better, we are going to love our kids and here’s hoping we can model healthy relationships for them, too.

    I hope that helps. Big hugs to all.

  16. NM,

    Thank you so much. It’s so hard to make sense out of it all.

    p.s. I was doing that thing where I was “asking for a friend.” ;)

    p.p.s. As far as the fixing thing, I have the letter “F” on my forehead.

  17. You are absolutely right. Let them have their feelings and let them be honest. The lies and deceit are the real poison – not a few cusswords here and there.

  18. I am always here if you need a friend! And me too, that F on my head… aye yi yi! I just keep repeating that I’m the only one I can fix, only myself can I work on…. I can offer advice or help but as far as control goes, that’s where it ends. It’s really hard when that’s how you’re wired. My favorite Shakespearean quote is: “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” But it’s not my nature, may nature cries out wanting to make it all better.

  19. Sprung,

    Thank you. I couldn’t agree more.

  20. NM,
    Thanks, friend, for the kind words and encouragement – both for me and for the other Thrivers who visit this site.

    Good quote. I have a purple post-it on my bulletin board – the word “expectations” with a big bold X written over the word.

    I like to think that once in awhile we do fix things, we do improve things, we just have to make sure our efforts aren’t misdirected. ;)

  21. Oh I agree. It’s wonderful to feel like you’ve impacted someone positively. INFJs are notorious fixers anyway. I think the thing we have to come to is not feeling responsibility. Be there for others? Absolutely. Just learning not to take it personally when things don’t go the way I had envisioned them. Have a wonderful day, Thrivers!


  22. NM,

    You are so right.

    Thanks for all the effort, encouragement and kindness!!

  23. So glad I could help! :) Life has been so crazy and today I don’t have much going on, so it worked out beautifully to hang with some of my fave Thrivers. Hugs to you all! Sorry if I’ve been a stranger.

    xo, NM

  24. NM,

    I needed this exchange today.

    Come back any time!!!

  25. Thank you all! I needed that at the end of my day today. xxxx

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