Parenting When You Don't Like Your Kids
There are so many parts of parenting that are wonderful and bring so much joy! Those are the easy parts to talk about. Those are the parts that show up on Instagram and Facebook, and the parts that validate us as worthy parents. What about the other parts? The parts that usually aren’t written about in parenting books or talked about at the park? We’re going to explore one of the more unpleasant aspects of parenting that can be experienced in this blog, handling the emotions of not liking your child.
Over the years I have heard multiple parents I have worked with share that they haven’t liked their children. Not that they haven’t liked their children’s behavior, but that they haven’t liked their children. For many parents, this is temporary and can be related to a particular phase, but for others, this feeling can last longer, and come become chronic if not acknowledged and managed.
So many parents have felt this way at one time or another, yet it’s not something that we usually feel comfortable sharing with others. Expectations about how we thought parenting (or our child) was going to be, versus the reality, inability to fully understand our children’s developmental stages and needs, and challenges with personality fit between parent and child can all lead to times when we feel like we don’t like our children.
Here are a few things that we can do to help to manage those feelings and get back to the more joyful parts of parenting a little quicker.
1.) Acknowledge that you are having those thoughts and feelings-go ahead and say it out loud if you haven’t already. Wishing to feel a different way or pretending you don’t feel that way because it seems “wrong”, is not going to help you get past it. Acknowledging the feelings of not liking your child can allow you to explore some deeper questions about yourself and the buttons your child may be pushing. This can give you greater control over the emotions you are having. Just knowing that it’s ok and you are not alone can also help to validate this part of parenting so that you don’t develop guilt or shame around the thoughts or feelings.
2.) Know and understand your own feelings-Where are the feelings coming from? Do you feel like a failure as a parent because you are raising a “disrespectful child?” Are you struggling with confusion or impatience in parenting a child with a different personality than you? Do you see parts of yourself in your child that you deny or don’t like in yourself? Are your expectations unrealistic, causing feelings of disappointment? Whatever the feelings are at the root of “not liking your child,” my guess is, they have nothing to do with your child. When we can understand exactly what we are really feeling and why, we can work to resolve that within ourselves (with or without cooperation from others). When we’re able to do that, we take responsibility for our feelings, and no longer place the responsibility for our feelings on our kids.
3.) Care for yourself-Have some self-compassion and don’t be too hard on yourself. Parenthood is a daily challenge and it can be easy to let all of the challenges pile up until we have just taken on too much. Allow yourself to have some downtime when you notice you are running on empty. When we are not caring for ourselves it is hard to manage our emotions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others if you need some time to re-charge through self-care.
4.) Communicate-Talk about your feelings, please! With your spouse or partner, a close friend, or your therapist. Explore where your feelings are coming from and experience the powers of sharing with another person. You will likely feel better after naming and talking about your feelings and hopefully, those feelings will feel more normal and accepted, allowing you to focus on solutions instead of self-judgement for having those feelings.
5.) Get to know your kids and their motives-Getting to know your children’s unique personalities and understanding their needs and motives can help you to parent more confidently, and with more satisfaction. If you know that your child has motives that are different than yours (i.e., P: “I need you to listen so we can get to school on time” vs. C: “I need free time to do what I want before going to school”), it’s easier to have empathy for them, and help to meet their needs before behaviors or attitudes start, which may cue feelings of dislike in parents.
6.) Stop talking and start playing-In general as parents, WE TALK WAY TOO MUCH! Our kids zone out, don’t care, and aren’t motivated by our words. When we find that we can’t get through to our kids we may become resentful or hopeless, and we can start to think that we don’t like these people very much. When this happens, no matter the age of your child, try to find something playful to do which can lighten the mood and highlight the more fulfilling parts of the relationship. What happens if you are angry and don’t feel like playing? Play anyway! Whether you are feeling like you don’t like your child because of a particularly defiant phase, unrealistic expectations, or a more long-term relationship issue, acknowledging and putting our feelings aside in favor of playing and laughter can have an amazing restorative affect for both you and your kids. Child led play eliminates the power struggle which may trigger negative feelings in parents.
7.) Start therapy if needed-If your feelings of dislike toward your child last longer than a phase, or you notice the feelings are persistent without being able to experience joy with your child, it may be time to see a therapist either individually, as a family, or both. Therapy can help you explore your feelings and learn coping strategies for parenting that may increase your overall satisfaction, in a safe and judgement free environment. Therapy can also help with diagnosing underlying issues which can affect our ability to parent to our full potential.
If you or your family are experiencing negative feelings or conflict that is affecting your relationships, email me. You’re not alone.