When I became a mother for the first time 23 years ago, I never thought it would be possible to dislike my own child. Yet, over the course of the last few decades there have been moments when I haven’t liked one of my children, especially as they crept into their late teens.
While I have loved them intensely — and still do! — I was surprised by these feelings of dislike. I mean, it’s not something you want to admit to yourself, let alone to friends and family. And it certainly wasn’t written in any manual that these horrible negative feelings would rear their head and fill me with guilt, confusion, and anger.
Recently, after a very trying time with one of my kids, I actually cracked and talked to a couple of other moms of young adults. Both had been going through very difficult times, both felt utterly worn down, and questioned their mothering.
It made me think: if we have these feelings, other moms must have them, too. And it actually made me angrier. We are three loving mothers who’ve always done our very best for our kids. We all work hard and try to instill in our offspring the values that are important to us. Yet, our efforts, according to our children, are apparently not good enough.
A wake-up call
Hearing all of us voice our experiences was a huge rallying cry: “We are good moms!” But how do we move forward with negative sentiments towards our children?
Then I thought of my own mom who had 9 children. Did she ever dislike any of us? She’s so wise and so understanding; surely has the secret to dealing with dissatisfied teens.
I thought of an expression she often uses: “Everything comes out in the wash.” I didn’t really understand what she meant when I was younger — especially since one of her many talents is removing stubborn stains from clothes that normal people would leave for dead.
Now in hindsight, I understand what she means. Our kids are born and placed on a long, hot cycle. During the various cycles they spin around, make lots of noise, then calm down, then off they go again. The washing cycle will one day end. There will be calm; we’ve just got to hang on and be patient.
It’s hard. We have to stick to our guns. By admitting that we dislike our children, we can take steps to help ourselves like them again. It’s not easy, but here are the tactics I’ve been using that seem to help:
1Accept your feelings
It’s so horrible to look upon the child you love and admit you don’t like them. Remember, it’s not a permanent state of mind. If you don’t like a meal you’ve prepared you make adjustments until it works. Try and think of your kids as a meal that isn’t quite seasoned properly.
2Don’t discuss things when it’s still heated
One of the worst things to do is to broach difficult subjects when your child is shouting at you. They will say hurtful things. Do they mean them? Normally people say things in the heat of the moment that they go on to regret. It’s a natural defensive mechanism to lash out when you’re angry. Think of your child as an angry, wounded animal, and talk to them when you are calm.
3Don’t list all their failings
This is a tricky one. Bad behavior is unacceptable. Kids need this behavior signposted, but only in a way that can help them move forward. This means coming out with practical solutions to their issues. If your child needs help with time management, for example, suggest a realistic schedule that can help them.
4Take time out
One tactic that really helps me when I’m in the midst of dealing with an intolerable teen is to take a break away from them. I recently had a situation where I was left feeling so devastated that I couldn’t talk to my child. They needed know to know the consequences of their words, and how much they’d hurt me. My silence was probably the strongest message I could have sent.
5Say no to guilt
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of wondering what you should have and could have done better. Stop. As loving parents, we do what we think is best at the time. We don’t deliberately try to sabotage our children’s lives. There are external factors that play a huge role, and it’s important to remember that while we feel our children are a reflection of us, they’re also very much their own person. And more importantly, in early adulthood they’re grappling with a myriad of feelings and frustrations that they can’t always verbalize or understand.
I’ve spent the last few years blaming the pandemic for pretty much everything — especially the impact it’s had on all our lives. In reality, the pandemic has affected our kids in ways we can’t yet understand. At a time in their lives when they’re meant to feel carefree, they’ve had to contend with restrictions that aren’t consistent and often don’t make sense. The longterm impact of SARS-COV2 won’t be known for a long time, so bear this in mind when you see your kids struggle.
And pray hard! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve beseeched Mary to show me the way, to teach me patience, and to give me the faith to not give up on my child. It works. It’s always when I’m at my lowest, at the end of a challenging time, that she comes to me at night and soothes my angst, and reminds me that it will all come out in the wash.