'It scares me': How to parent your child when you don't like them much

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

When we hold our tiny babies in our arms, it's almost impossible to imagine a time that they won't be perfect.

We gaze into their perfect little faces and swear to love them forever, which of course we will, but this parenting gig has never been sold as entirely smooth sailing.

The love we have for our children is undeniably boundless, but as they get older and begin to exercise their independence, it's to be expected that they won't always agree with us or behave in a way that we appreciate. 

Brisbane single mum of one Celeste* found that out when her son Aiden* turned 10. It was then that Aiden began to voice is disapproval of Celeste and her parenting.

"Almost overnight Aiden changed from a sweet, cuddly little boy into an angry tween," she says.

"If I asked him to do anything that involved getting off his computer, he'd slam doors, shout abuse, and refuse to come out of his room. It's been horrendous.

"It also scares me because I know he's just a few years away from being bigger and stronger than me, and I don't know where these moods are going to take us."

Celeste and Aiden are currently trying to work through Aiden's mood swings with a psychologist, but she admits she's found it hard to be loving with him when he's abusive towards her. 

Melbourne mum of two daughters Katherine* says her elder child Chloe* started acting out when she was 12 – sneaking out, smoking, and refusing to contribute around the house.

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"I actually think Chloe is suffering from depression, but she won't even talk about it with me," says Katherine.

"It's so hard. I love her a lot, but she seems to be consciously pushing me away and finding ways to be unlikeable. 

"I want to help but the more I try the more she withdraws. I don't know what to do."

Parenting coach Karina Lane says it's perfectly normal to go through phases of not liking our children, but stresses it's important to remember it's their behaviour we don't like, not the children themselves. She recommends taking some time to think about where these feelings are coming from.

"It's important to try a bit of self-introspection if these feelings come up for you," she says.

"Increasing your awareness is essential. Ask yourself what the feelings are about, specifically.

"Is it about the way your child has spoken to you? Is it about their behaviour at school? See if you can trace the origin of these thoughts – quite often it goes back to our expectations or the way we were raised. And that means the problem lies with us, rather than our child."

Karina recommends separating your expectations for your child from the person your child actually is. 

"Aim to get to know your child better, so you can find some aspects of their personality that you enjoy," she suggests. "It's important to remember that your child needs you to be their coach, not their friend. So you can encourage desirable behaviour and help shape their personality."

Karina also recommends being mindful of the way we communicate with our children when we're feeling negative towards them. 

"Negative or critical tones will likely cause your child to react defensively, or internalise the negative feelings," she says.

"Concentrate on acknowledging positive behaviour rather than focusing on the parts you don't like. Try your best to be positive, even when you need to address behaviour; for example, using a softer tone and keeping your facial expression and body language friendly and open."

Throughout all of this, it's also important to cut yourself some slack, says Karina.

"Parenting is a tough job," she says. "And we all have expectations about the way our children should behave, or the type of person they should be. 

"When these expectations aren't met, we experience disappointment, and this can start a negative cycle of feelings and communication around our children, making the experience a lot more emotional. Rest assured, it's very normal for these feelings to come up, and, with some awareness and tweaks to our parenting approach, it's possible to resolve them and enjoy family life more."

Taking responsibility for our own emotions and calming the situation can only benefit the entire family, says Karina.

"Not only will this improve family harmony, but your children will see that you want things to be better," she says. 

"Additionally, you'll be setting a great example of taking ownership and making necessary changes."

* Names have been changed to protect privacy and to stop children from finding out their parents don't think they're perfect.