QUESTION: I wish you would write another book and title it “How to Love the Child You Don’t Like.” When I check out the forums, I relate to a common theme among many of the members that appears to be the elephant in the room. That is, that many of us – though we are deeply saddened by the estrangement – don’t actually enjoy our estranged child during the contacts we DO have and if we are honest, we have disliked our child for a very long time. As one mother put it, “I wouldn’t choose my daughter for a next-door-neighbor.”
Speaking for our own situation; our daughter displays the exact character flaws we tried so hard to teach against. Her nastiness is evident with many people over her whole life, not just with us. I can see how those who had a rough life can develop negative traits as a defense and I feel so sorry for them. But our daughter had a wonderful childhood – except maybe for us giving her consequences when she showed her true nature by mistreating others or by making selfish demands of us. We thought it was immaturity, but now that she is in her upper twenties, we have come to realize that this is her true nature. We have long since quit trying to change her or teach her differently.
So, as we progress through your estrangement webinars I am beginning to ask myself what hurts more – the actual estrangement, or the realization that the relationship will never be the close wonderful one that I dreamt of when I held her as a baby. Estrangement or no estrangement, the relationship is broken. Though I try very hard to recognize and honor my daughter’s good points, (she’s witty, intelligent, clever, interesting etc.), I could never like someone whose personal style involves putting others down for her own aggrandizement, raging so she can feel powerful and twisting the truth so she can feel righteous. I must love her, or I wouldn’t be writing this, looking at websites or buying into your seminars. However, even if we do all the “right” things and she becomes willing to visit with us, I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready for a total reconciliation or that I’ll ever hang up the phone without feeling a deep sense of sadness and disappointment. Yet, I’m afraid to lose her.
In short, I can’t live with her and I can’t live without her. She KNOWS we don’t like her. She’s said it (in a rage), and we’ve denied it – but she was right. Do we admit it? Do we fake it forever? And how do we handle the pain? How do we keep from being hurt every time she lashes out?”
Answer: I think it’s an important question, and one that more than a few other estranged parents have wondered about. There are several issues here that are worth highlighting:
While we all wish that we’d love all of our children equally, the reality is that many parents don’t love all of their children equally and that has to be okay. Some children are more lovable, engaging, rewarding than are others. In addition, some children are more responsive to the efforts of the parent and that also can cause the parent to feel more positively inclined toward that adult child than one who is critical or rejecting.
That doesn’t mean that a parent isn’t still required, at least for a while, to try to empathize with the child’s complaints, take responsibility for whatever ways they felt hurt or neglected by the parent, and make an effort to repair whatever harm was done. If she does behave in ways that you find unlikeable, be direct. “Honey, I do have a really hard time with this behavior. You know that.” In other words, make it clear that you’re willing to do your part to work on the relationship, but the ways that she sometimes behaves does cause you to want to withdraw from her.