I’m ashamed to say it, but sometimes I resent my child. Is that normal?

You can stop feeling guilty. People rarely admit it to each other, but resenting your child now and then is a perfectly normal part of parenting. You may feel that it’s not acceptable to share with your friends. But you can bet that they’ve felt resentful toward their kids, too.

As much as we love our children, they don’t always act in ways that reward our sacrifices. We have almost unlimited expectations for what we should be able to do for them. That can create intense pressure.

If your child has challenging mood, behavior or learning problems, the chances are greater that you’re feeling stress. And when you do feel resentful, you may feel especially guilty, since you know it’s not her fault she’s struggling.

How Attitudes Toward Parenting Have Changed

Surveys show that despite the huge influx of women into the American workforce since 1975, all parents spend more time today with their children than they did 40 years ago. In Changing Rhythms of American Family Life, sociologists Suzanne M. Bianchi, John P. Robinson and Melissa A. Milkie also note that:

  • 71 percent of married mothers say they need more time for themselves.
  • 57 percent of married fathers say they need more time for themselves.
  • And yet, 85 percent of all parents still report feeling that they don’t spend enough time with their children.

The pressure on parents is getting aired in books like Barbara Almond’s The Monster Within: The Hidden Side of Motherhood. These days, she argues, the worst thing you can call a woman who has a child is a “bad mother.”

And it doesn’t take much to be a “bad mother” these days, according to Almond. Forget about “major sins” like going back to work too soon, feeding your kid refined sugar or ignoring your crying child while you’re talking on the phone. Even fleeting thoughts of finding your child annoying or resenting the loss of time for yourself, she says, can make you feel as though you’ve become “inhuman, unnatural, unworthy, disgusting to the core.”

The bottom line? As parents—and particularly as mothers—we’ve developed ridiculous expectations for ourselves. And the pressure parents put on themselves only increases the resentment they’re likely to feel toward their children.

Admit the Resentment and Move On

Accept your feelings as normal and forgive yourself for having them. Then you can do something to change the situation. Look at those feelings as a sign that you need to take some time for yourself and for your relationship. If you are the caretaker of a child with a chronic or serious psychiatric condition, it’s even more crucial to build in some breaks to protect your emotional health. If you’re depressed, it’s important for both you and the child you’re caring for to get help.

Give Yourself a Break

If you don’t take good care of yourself, you won’t be able to be an effective parent for your kid.

Ask for help. A lot of parents of kids with special needs feel that they’re the only people who really know how to take care of their kids. You have to be willing to let go of some control. Ask for and accept help, even if it’s not perfect.

Be what several child-rearing experts refer to as the “good enough parent.” The ordinary day-to-day love and care you give your child is enough to make her feel secure and safe. You don’t have to be perfect.

Take time to see friends. Seeing other adults on a regular basis will not only reduce your resentment toward your kid (especially if your kid has challenges that make your life challenging), but will help you build a much-needed support system.

Avoid getting isolated. It’s easy to become part of a tight-knit online community of parents whose kids share the same diagnosis. Joining chat rooms and forums where parents can get advice from one another or just vent their frustrations is an important outlet for caretakers.

Take Care of Your Relationship

A disruptive child can seem to use up all the oxygen at home, leaving you and your partner with little time or energy for each other. Sometimes parents disagree about the diagnosis or treatment. Sometimes one parent is obsessed with helping the child, and the other feels left out. The friction can lead to marital problems so severe that they end in divorce.

That’s why it’s so important for parents of a child with a serious psychiatric disorder—from ADHD to autism to OCD—to get professional treatment for the child as soon as possible. And it’s also why parents can’t forget about the importance of their relationship. Here are things you can do keep that from happening.

Take time for just the two of you. Make dates and keep them.

Get on the same page. Discuss treatment options together with your child’s doctor and hash out the pros and cons until you reach a decision you can both get behind.

Present a unified front. Anxious or impulsive children become more anxious and impulsive when they get conflicting signals from parents about rules and chores.

Be consistent. Positive reinforcement for desired behavior and predictable consequences for undesired behavior can have a huge impact on reducing disruptive behaviors. Parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT) can help you with this.

Resenting your kid is normal and is probably a sign that you need to take care of yourself. Think of it like the safety instructions you get on an airplane. When the oxygen masks come down, you need to put yours on first if you’re going to be able to save your child. The stronger and healthier you are, the better chance your kid has of getting what she needs.

About the Author

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Child Mind Institute, Understood Founding Partner is dedicated to transforming mental health care for children everywhere.

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