A quick backstory before I get to my question:
I once had two cats who were my babies before I had a baby. The older one had to be put to sleep two years ago at age 17 because she was in so much pain. She was never officially diagnosed with G.I. cancer but her symptoms seemed to point to the disease. Her passing was painful but I still had my other cat to turn to for solace. He was strong and healthy at the time and I honestly believed he'd live at least another 3 - 4 years.
Last summer I had to have him put to sleep at age 14 because he developed the same symptoms as the first cat and deteriorated quickly. He was diagnosed with intestinal cancer and given a week at best to live. I made the decision to have him put down and stayed with him until the end. His death hit me hard; I'd had him since he was nine weeks old and he slept by my side his entire life. He was a mush and loved nothing more than to curl up in my lap and purr contentedly. It's been six months and I still cry when I think about him. I miss him terribly.
It took a lot of begging and cajoling to convince my husband to get another cat. Four months ago he relented, more for our 8-year-old daughter than for me. We adopted a gray and white tabby at the animal shelter we named Lucy. Lucy seemed very sweet and all three of us were taken with her immediately. In the months since Lucy came home the crazy has come out. She's not sweet at all; while she's not overly aggressive she gets into everything and attempts to bite whoever picks her up to stop her from damaging whatever she's gotten into. She's not friendly and can be quite mean. She's not a snuggler and definitely not a lap cat. I really dislike her and would take her back to the shelter if our daughter weren't so attached to her. I know I'm unfairly comparing Lucy to my little guy I lost but Lucy is so unlikable. I've tried but I just haven't developed an attachment to her.
Now to my question:
Yesterday I had a long, stressful day capped off by a visit to the dentist for our daughter's semi-annual checkup. In addition to the traffic I had to listen to my daughter gripe and moan the entire trip about how she didn't want to go. The dentist visit went well but the traffic going home was horrendous. Adding to my stress was the mess at home, which my husband made no attempt to pick up when he stopped home for an hour before heading off to his second (part-time) job.
I haven't been feeling well for over a month, I've been overwhelmed with worries about our finances, my daughter griped continuously about her homework and now Lucy was being a pest and clawing at my daughter's pencil as she tried to work. She accidentally scratched my daughter and when I tried to pick Lucy up to get her off the kitchen table, Lucy turned and bit my hand. It didn't break the skin but it hurt and as I dropped Lucy to the floor I completely lost it.
I don't lose my cool very often but the stress of the past several weeks finally caught up to me. I ranted like a lunatic about how much I hated that ****** cat and would get rid of her in a heartbeat if I could. My tirade probably only lasted a couple of minutes but the look on my daughter's face told me the damage had been done. She gathered up her books, ran into her room and slammed the door.
I felt horrible. It was one thing to wig out as moms occasionally will, but to rag on her cat that she loved and threaten to get rid of her was cruel and unnecessary. I composed myself and knocked on her door. She was crying and I felt awful. I apologized for my outburst and by way of explanation told her that sometimes when adults were particularly stressed and angry they said things in the heat of the moment that they didn't mean. That part was true in general, but I knew I was also lying: I really intensely dislike the cat and don't want her but my daughter adores her and is so attached to her that it would be even crueler to get rid of her regardless of how I feel about her. I would never hurt Lucy; in fact I play with her and pet her in an attempt to form some sort of bond but I believe Lucy senses my dislike for her. She comes around at feeding time but otherwise she seldom wants anything to do with me.
My daughter accepted my apology and cheered up, but several times last night and this morning she asked me if I really was going to get rid of Lucy. I assured her repeatedly that I have no intention of getting rid of her and that I said that in anger but I can tell she's still not convinced. I feel so guilty about my outburst and that I hurt my daughter's feelings so badly. How much damage did I unintentionally cause and will this come out in therapy in 20 years? Is my daughter mentally writing her version of "Mommie Dearest"? How can I even begin to make this right?