Friday, July 5, 2013

Q&A: What if You Don't Like Your Child?

We received a heartfelt email through Power of Moms the other day from one of our community members who has a child who is difficult for her to love.

Because I don't have all the answers, I forwarded the text of the email to our Power of Moms Board (leaving the name anonymous) and asked for advice.

The responses I got were absolutely beautiful, and I thought, "Why keep this powerful exchange a secret?"  So I'm posting a portion of the Q&A below.  Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!


From the time I was very young I wanted to be a mom. I knew with all my heart that that was what I wanted to do. I often thought about that day, and dreamed of what it would be like. When that day finally arrived and I held my baby girl in my arms I was overcome with emotion. I was so happy. 

As the years have worn on, I feel stuck in a battle with myself. My oldest child is my BIGGEST challenge. She is incredibly hard headed and stubborn, and very tough to love. At first I thought it was just me, that I wasn't up to the challenge of being a mom. But I find that I am a completely different person around her than I am with my other three kids. 

Nothing I do to mother her ever works, it always backfires. I am constantly putting out fires with her teasing her siblings, getting mad at somebody, yelling at me, being rude to her dad. We have not raised her to be like that! We've done the same thing with each of our kids and for whatever reason she is always angry. 

Most days I go to bed completely exhausted from having to deal with her. It's so bad that I actually look forward to her being gone at school or over at a friend's house. When she's gone there is peace in our house. I almost feel like I'm at a loss for what to do. I cry when I say my prayers at night because I feel like a horrible mom. I'd like to stay anonymous, but are there any moms who have ever been through this before? I love my daughter with all my heart, but I just don't like her sometimes.


Dear Power of Moms friend,

April forwarded your email because she thought I might be able to respond, as I have some personal experience with what you wrote about. By way of introduction, I am on the Power of Moms board, and I have three boys ages 10, 7 and 5. My oldest has also been my biggest challenge. I relate to your tears and your struggles, and your desire to do right by your daughter but feeling like you don't measure up. 

The past 10 years have been a real struggle for me to come to terms with how hard raising a child can be and how some personalities offer a lot of resistance to our best efforts. I have wet my pillow with many tears, and one of the greatest challenges and desires of my heart in my life is to find a happy balance with my oldest child and to manage three strong willed children. 

As I have struggled, I have found that there are many other moms out there who struggle with one child (or more) noticeably more than the others. Many moms face different struggles but it just so happens that the challenges you conveyed in your short email are very familiar to me and my struggle with my oldest. 

For the first few years I was busy having other children and feeling that I just didn't measure up as a mom. Then came the explosion of blogs and Facebook updates with mostly positive sharing of parenthood experiences. We all love highlighting the joys, but there are struggles too. I promise that while my life looks pretty rosy to my Instagram friends, we have hard moments every day, even hour by hour. 

Over time and through prayer and exposure to other moms and their stories, I realize I am not alone in my struggle. All moms have different struggles with their kids, and over the course of our years we may experience a little bit of many kinds of challenges or a lot of a certain kind. I have finally come to accept that even wonderfully present, deliberate moms are faced with challenges that often feel beyond their control. You're in that category of deliberate, caring moms because you care so much and you want things to get better.

It sounds to me that you are like me in that you use prayer as an outlet. Continue to pray specifically for guidance. In still small moments I have had whisperings in answer to my prayers. For example, I have prayed to know how I can bond with this child when so much of our interactions can turn sour. The answer a simple, practical thought that has come - "Read to him at night. Snuggle and read to him." Simple, though it requires commitment from me, especially when I'm ready to have space from him. But I find in those moments that he becomes sweet, sensitive, and ready to snuggle. It is then that I can build a lasting memory with him. 

We have had some success with this, and I have to keep recommitting to read with him whenever possible as it is often during the day I'd rather invest that time, but at night there is something different when they're snuggled down and relaxed. It's worth it for me to ask my husband to give extra attention to the other two so I can spend at least a couple nights a week reading to the oldest. 

Another answer that has come when I've prayed about how to manage all the fighting that can happen and often instigated by the oldest has come as a clear, but again practical solution - "Take them to the park as much as possible." As much as I love to be home with our kids, when I take them to the park or the beach, there is more harmony and memories created. Again, I have to go out of my way to do this, but it has proven worth it. 

Another blessing from my prayers has been to see the strengths of this particular child. For example, while he can sure dish out slugs in the arm, he's the first to run to someone's aid when they fall and get hurt. He grabs the boo boo bag and examines them. He also says the sweetest, most loving prayers in our family. I always make sure and point out to him what a special strength these things are for him. 

Your answers from God may be different than mine, but keep in mind that some of the most obvious or practical ideas can go a long way. I've realized there's not a magical solution, but multiple, deliberate ways we can make a difference. As is often said, "By small things are great things accomplished." 

Another resource is professional help. I have finally gotten to a point in our family life where I have the time and feel ready to pursue some additional help to understand my son's unique makeup and temperament. Rather than mentally berating myself for not doing this sooner, I am accepting that now is the time that this was possible. 

I'm grateful for a fresh perspective. Professional help from a child psychologist may or may not fit your family interests or budget right now. Nor can I suggest that it's definitely necessary. I'll tell you my experience with it though. Through a two-hour evaluation with a psychologist who evaluates children though is that my son, while very bright and an A student, is a very slow processor. I know this is a trait that was inherited. I also understand that he is very impulsive. This is where the impulse to pick on his brothers and touch them or hit has come from over the years. I also now understand that he gets emotionally disregulated and overwhelmed easily. 

Some of these traits are familiar from another side of the family. These bits of knowledge are valuable because they help me have compassion and understanding of why my son feels he can't respond the way he or I would like. I'm actually going in to the psychologist later this month so she can help my husband and I understand how we can modify our approach in action, expectation and communication to have more success with our oldest son. 

When I spoke to her I felt so much validation knowing that so much of what my son struggles with are traits that are part of his makeup that neither of us have understood. Even better, we're not at fault that we clash. That's a huge weight lifted for mom and child. Down this road we will go, with more knowledge and ideas, knowing that we'll see improvements here a little, there a little, that this child learns the hard way...for now. 

So today I offer you the knowledge that you are not alone. Yes, there are indeed other moms who love their kids so much and struggle hard each and every day to make it through. Many of our lives look pretty grand from the photos - and they most certainly are - but we wet our pillows at night with you and we get on our knees day after day to get help. 

The answers come seemingly slow, the solutions take time to implement, and the results won't appear perfect. However, I think if you and I continue to pray and actively seek answers and fill our children's "buckets" the best we can - be it validating words, fair consequences, one-on-one time, smiles when we greet them, and whatever else you know your child can benefit from - we'll succeed. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, there are ups and down, but it will be worth it. Keep on being a deliberate mom. You are not alone!

I thought that was such a great response, and I would love to collect more suggestions, resources, and ideas in the comments here.  Can anyone else suggest best books, online programs, strategies, articles, etc.?  I know there is an amazing power when moms help each other.


  1. You know about the book I love, "Raising your Spirited Child" by Mary Kurcinka. It has absolutely helped me change my perspective with my "firework" child and has changed my dialogue and language when I talk about him. Another thing I did was to start writing down every day 2-3 positive things I noticed about him that day. It is so easy to get caught up in all the negatives, but each child is unique and special. We have also had some professional counseling and testing and that has helped by leaps and bounds for us to get answers to why he is acting out and aggressive and the strategies that work well for him (we use different discipline techniques with him than with our other children). Most of all I hope this Mom will give herself a break and not beat herself up for her feelings. Love for herself and unconditional love for that child is what will make the biggest difference. Now that my son is 8 sometimes he communicates that he doesn't feel as loved as the other kids and that breaks my heart so I have been making an extra effort to spend more one on one time with him and learn his love language (which is affection and time). Hugs to this Mama!

  2. I also read "Raising Your Spirited ChIld" and it helped immensely. You are not alone! It helps to know that this struggle is not unique to me. I called my older sister in tears not too long ago because I had these same feelings. My sister is an awesome mom, and I was shocked when she said that she too has a child that she just clashes with. She has found ways to cope with their personality differences and even though it is still hard, she is making it through one day at time. SO I have been trying to do the same. One day at a time. Focus on strengths. Take time to recharge, and Always pray. This has been my motto. Also, we changed the way we parent and have had to use some non-traditional methods that have really opened up doors for us. Also, another book that is helpful is "The Explosive Child" by Ross Green. Even if your child isn't as extreme as some of the children he talks about in his book, the methods he underlines really apply to any child. I can attest to that.

    1. Thank you for your great thoughts here, Jill! I love hearing of additional books that have been helpful to other moms. You're doing great work!


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