Loving the Child You Don’t Like

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.

2 comments on “Loving the Child You Don’t Like

  1. My daughter, now in her mid-30s, has been one of life’s biggest mysteries to me. As other mothers here have expressed, one of the most difficult things to accept in my life is the realization that my relationship with my daughter will never be what I envisioned it would be when she was born. I’ve learned that sometimes things just don’t make sense, and it’s crazy to continue to try to fix what can’t be fixed. My kids grew up in a loving home where they were told they were valued for who they were and were worthy of our love no matter what. We communicated openly, had family meetings, house rules, the usual limits and consequences. But my daughter resisted all of this from a very early age. I’ve stopped trying to figure out what went wrong, the constant analysis of my parental shortcomings. My only goal with her now is to accept her as she is, listen as much as I possibly can (there are limits), let her know I love her, and then let her know when I’ve had enough. It’s never been a matter of love. She knows she’s loved, and I know she loves me, but love isn’t enough. It just isn’t. I’ve had the benefit of some very supportive counselors and it basically comes down to valuing my own sanity and well-being over hers. That’s a hard one and is not something we’re naturally wired for, but it’s the only healthy choice for me. There’s a huge amount of grief in letting go, and I hope it gets easier with time. But it’s craziness to allow someone — even your own child — to vent their rage and betray your trust through manipulation and dishonesty. Having said all that, when my daughter is “on,” she is one of my favorite people to be around, but it is always short-lived and I have to protect myself. I call it “riding the wave.” I have limits on how often she can call or even text me, and she doesn’t have a key to my home. Sometimes weeks go by when I hear nothing from her and she won’t respond to my “just checking in” text messages. I accept that. She has qualities and talents and is extremely bright with a wry sense of humor, and I remind her of these things as often as possible. I know she suffers from diagnosed OCD and anxiety disorder and has had countless medications prescribed over the years. She takes them for a while, then stops. Recently, a counselor suggested that she may suffer from borderline personality disorder, and I think it’s pretty likely she does. But I’m not sure it’s relevant at this point if she’s not willing to get the help she needs to deal with that reality and possibly improve her life. Instead she lives in constant crisis mode (real or imagined), continuously makes bad choices — although she feels she has no choice, burns bridges, ends relationships, has incredible debt (including child support arrears), and is full of resentment and blame. She genuinely sees herself as the victim of life’s continual unfairness, and that’s sad. Part of protecting my own health and well-being requires protecting myself, and that includes not comparing our mother-daughter relationship with those of others. It is what it is, and I’m still grateful I’m her mother. But damn, it’s hard to see the lesson in it all sometimes. Trust your judgment, practice self-care, and know you’re not alone.

  2. I have been in this same predicament. While I am not completely estranged with my daughter, I do not have a good relationship with her. I too am baffled by this and at times can’t believe this is the daughter I have raised when she is so rude and frankly mean to me. She says, this is how she is. Like the other parent explained, I don’t like being around her. I make more than my effort with her, but now I am setting boundaries where I didn’t before. I used to feel so badly that she wasn’t nice to me or her sister. She blames most everything on me. And where I see my responsibility in some things, I do not reflect this behavior at all. I am not a mean person. She has seen only generosity and compassion and hard work. To be honest, I feel this from most people her age. She feels entitled to feel happy with all the “goodies” in life without having to work hard either physically or emotionally to get there. She manipulates me into feeling badly or guilty and now I am taking better care of myself. When she comes to visit and she isn’t nice, I leave the room. I will always welcome her home. But I don’t welcome being a door mat. I also don’t know how to make her see that her participation or lack of contributes to the tone of the household. But I am letting go now. I no longer feel as responsible because she has had OCD a diagnosis since a very small child. I have tried to help her manage it the best I knew how with outside resources. I now see the OCD as an excuse to not get things done or be mean. I find myself the one who does not want contact as much. I tell her when she can treat me with respect then we can move forward. It comes and goes and then goes back. I am learning to let her be her own person and realizing that I may not like her that much. That is a hard thing to feel. Now I must stop making excuses for her I think and step back. any advice. P,S, there is so much more to this story of course. just a piece of it.

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