Ok, right now I just don’t like my child. It’s been a really bad stretch and nothing seems to help. I feel like I am the worst mother in the world.
A true confession from a very normal mother. Let’s be honest, we’ve all felt this way at different times.
Your one-year-old who still doesn’t sleep through the night may be the cause of your desperation this morning. You’ve read all those books on “sleep training” and your best friend’s child sleeps all through the night. But this one of yours doesn’t, and you feel like you are going to die of sleep deprivation. Perhaps it’s your 4-year-old who is demanding, whining, clingy, and fond of pitching fits when he doesn’t get his own way. Or your moody preteen. You never know which “person” she will be when she walks in the door after school. Will she be in a good mood because the “right” girls asked her to eat lunch with them or in a funk because a certain boy did not speak to her in the hall? Will she burst in the door mad at the world and take it out on you or her sibling? Her mood swings are driving you crazy. She’s hard to like right now.
Our kids can cause us to feel frustrated, guilty, and a failure. What do we do with these emotions? What do we do with this child we don’t particularly like at this moment?
Several things will be helpful:
- Take comfort in the fact that your emotions are normal. Of course we love our kids but the reality is that sometimes we just don’t like one of them. There is no perfect mother. Any mother who is honest will identify with your feelings. Don’t listen to the accusation, If you were really a good mother you wouldn’t feel this way, or your child wouldn’t behave like this. This is a lie because it is a generalization. It is general condemnation which simply promotes a sense of false guilt. Valid guilt, on the other hand, arises when we do or say something specific for which we need to ask God’s forgiveness and then if appropriate, the offended person. God will always forgive us. (1 John 1:9) We need to receive His forgiveness and move forward asking for Him to help us “like” this child and to give us His wisdom to know how to help her.
- Realize that kids go through stages. It may be your 4th grader with whom you are having a difficult time. But in several months it will likely be your 5-year-old or your teenager. One of the blessings of having several children is that you learn that the child you don’t especially “like” will change. Different children have trouble with different seasons. It can be harder for a parent of an only child. They don’t have this perspective. Reassure them that they too are normal and this hard time will pass.
- Spend time with your difficult child. Make a point of taking the child out- away from home and siblings- for a special time with you. Do something the child likes. Ask him specific questions: ”What’s your favorite food, pet, game, or sport? Who do you like to play with? What do you like most about summer?” Tell the child things you appreciate about him. Perhaps he’s sensitive, a helper, stubborn (which means he will stick to things!), etc. Ask God to show you specific character traits to affirm. I have found that when I have “one on one time” with a child I don’t especially like that God changes my heart. Often this child simply needs some “one on one time” with me.
- Avoid comparing this child with a sibling. Each of our children is uniquely created. And each has weaknesses and strengths and different seasons of difficulty. So do we! One may drive you crazy with the terrible twos and threes and be easy in the elementary years. Another may throw temper tantrums in 5th grade and then become a great teenager. It will only be discouraging and unfair to compare our kids. We have to remember that growth is uneven.
- Pray for this child and for your attitude towards this child. Ask a friend to pray for both of you. Discuss your feelings with your husband. Often a child will go through a stage in which he will relate better to one parent than another. That’s normal. But you need to be agreed on discipline so he doesn’t try to divide you. Pray together as a couple. If you are a single parent, get a couple to talk with you about your relationship with this child and to pray for you. Ask the child’s teacher for any insights she may have. Coaches and other adults are also good resources. In some situations it may be helpful to get counseling. Most often a difficult period will pass and you don’t want to make a huge issue out of the normal challenges of growth.
- Ask God what He has to teach you through this child. God has chosen our families. He has given us exactly the right children in the right birth order with the unique personalities not merely so that we can raise them but also in order that He might use them in our life to grow us up into the women He has created us to be. He will use that strong willed child, that one we just don’t “get,” the one so much like us that we naturally clash, that one with disabilities. Every single child is a gift. God has not made a mistake. Our children are His precious tools in our life to help us become more dependent upon Him and to experience His power and love in deeper ways.