When we talk about the difficulty of connection with our children, one of the factors that can contribute is a sense of disappointment or resentment.
Some parents experience deep disappointment with their child — that he or she is not the excellent student, athlete, or social butterfly for whom they had hoped.
Other parents simply dream of having a reasonably compliant child instead of the challenging behavior they often deal with. While parents of children with obvious handicaps usually receive sympathy and support, an intense or behaviorally challenging child is likely to elicit criticism from others, which adds to more guilt and stress for the parent. Parents may deeply resent their challenging child because of the public embarrassment he or she brings.
Disappointment with, or resentment toward, a particularly challenging child may cause parents to not even want to be around the child, let alone to express unconditional love and affection. When this happens, parents are continually frustrated that children won’t change in response to their diligent parenting efforts. Why are they like this? Why won’t they change?
Sometimes, even attempts at “connection” may be part of a parent’s strategy to change kids. When this happens, the parents are not actually communicating unconditional love to their children, and often kids can sense it.
We ran into this dynamic in our family when our second child was born. Daniel, our eldest, didn’t seem to like this invasion of his secure place at the center of our lives. He became aggressive, defiant, and irritable. Up to this point, he had mostly been the child of our dreams. But we were losing our sense of connection with him. It was quite upsetting.
I decided to take him on a special father-son outing to the mall, hoping to reestablish some of his sense of security that came from being an only child for almost three years. I hoped this might help him to be less edgy at home.
From the moment we arrived at the mall, Daniel seemed to have an insatiable desire to get exactly what he wanted and stay as long as he wanted. He finally found a favorite toy, and out of frustration I just let him play with it while I shopped nearby. When it was time to go he stubbornly resisted my attempts to get him out of there. “I’m NOT leaving!” he yelled. It seemed every eye in the place was riveted on us as the conflict continued to escalate. Infuriated, I finally grabbed him, flung him over my shoulder, and headed for the nearest exit. His frantic screams echoed through the mall. My anger boiled. When we reached the parking garage, I looked to be sure no one was watching and spanked him.
I decided not to take Daniel to the mall again for a long time. We arrived home angry, defeated, and in worse shape than before we left.
Looking back I can see that what may have looked on the outside like an attempt to connect with my son was actually an attempt (rooted in my feelings of disappointment) to manipulate Daniel’s behavior. When it was clear that my tactic was not working, I grew angry and resentful.
Back then I wasn’t able to accept Daniel and the challenging stage he was in, because my own disappointment and resentment got in the way. Now, after many years of learning and growth, I know that only once we have done (and keep doing) the work to deal with our own emotions can we let go of our need to control our children’s behavior. Only once we have begun to address our own feelings can we help our children begin to deal with their emotions and freely communicate that they are loved no matter what.
Apply It Now:
- Take a moment to reflect: In what ways do I struggle to accept and enjoy my children just as they are? How does this affect my ability to connect with them in ways that express unconditional love, “You are loved no matter what!”?
- Read about Lynne’s journey to identify and work through her feelings and beliefs about her kids for some ideas about how to move forward.
- If you’re feeling stuck, consider contacting us about parent coaching.
This post is an excerpt from our book, How to Grow a Connected Family.