What do you do when you don’t like your child?
How do you overcome annoyances with your own kid?
How do you choose love over dislike?
I wish I could say that I don’t relate to these questions, but I do. I have disliked each of our children at one time or another. For years, I have kept these occasional struggles to myself because I don’t like when I don’t like my own precious children.
My children are hurt by my broken affection; it permeates how I speak to them and how I treat them. I’ve worried about how it may affect them in the long run. Do you ever feel the same way?
God is leading me on a mission to understand and overcome this struggle. And I want to share the things He’s teaching me that are helping me to gain some perspective and victory. I hope they help you, too.
But first, I think it’s important to recognize that “liking my child” isn’t the objective of motherhood. Instead, it’s:
- Raising him to know and love Jesus Christ.
- Talking to her about God’s Word.
- Feeding, clothing, and protecting him.
- Sharing wisdom with her.
Then why do I feel so ashamed and distraught when I simply don’t like my child? I feel badly because my broken affection can hinder her from believing that God created her with infinite dignity, value, and worth. I feel badly because it reveals my shallow, selfish love, and I grieve my inability to extend constant, unconditional parental affection.
When we don’t like our children, we see our need for Jesus.
Four hundred years before Jesus was born, the prophet Malachi wrote this about Jesus:
“He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (Mal. 4:6).
Without Christ, our hearts are turned away from the precious people we are called to nurture, train, protect, and lead to God. God hates when parents don’t have affection for their children; it is one of the reasons He is coming to judge the world.
On one hand, I’m glad. I’m counting on God to straighten out the crooked road of parenting, to purify all of our imperfections and negligences. On the other hand, I’m sobered—without Christ, I deserve God’s judgment. I do not love my children as a parent ought to love.
Before God unleashed His judgment on a world of selfish, brokenhearted parents, He sent His own Son to work a miracle within the walls of my little home and the walls of my hard heart. More than that, He sent His Son to absorb the judgment that all of us imperfect mothers deserve. When God looks at mothers who trust in Christ, He sees perfectly loving, constant, faithful moms. This is a “dream come true.” Truly.
Jesus came to turn my heart toward my children.
What to Do
In light of these truths, here are four steps to take when you dislike your own child. Through these, Jesus will change your heart.
1. Confess your sin to a prayerful friend.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working (James 5:16).
A few months ago, I decided to bare my guilty soul to one of my dearest friends. Without sharing my child’s name or my specific complaint, I said, “I’m really struggling to like one of my children right now. Do you ever struggle with this? What should I do? I feel terrible about it.”
My friend—a wonderful mother with happy, thriving children—instantly said, “Of course I struggle with that! I can remember times when I didn’t like each one of my children.” Her honesty and familiarity with the problem put me at ease. She offered some wisdom that moved me to the next step. She asked . . .
2. Why do you dislike your child?
Turns out, I’ve been caught in a tangled web of both valid and ridiculous reasons: I’ve disliked my child because of a personality quirk, a character weakness, or an immaturity. I’ve also disliked them when they are disobedient, disrespectful, or unloving toward me.
I’ve disliked them because of their never-ending neediness, because they are in my way, and because they are keeping me from achieving certain goals or experiencing certain pleasures.
I’ve disliked them because I didn’t get a good night’s sleep, because their hair looks stringy, or because their outfit doesn’t match.
3. Consider the right response.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Often, we feel averse to a child because something is wrong that can or should be fixed. Perhaps we don’t like a behavior or character quality that is sinful or immature. Perhaps we don’t like a personality quirk or weakness that jeopardizes their future well-being or relationships. Perhaps we don’t like our child when we are tired, stressed, or distracted.
These are all things that can be improved with wisdom, attention, and time. None of these is a “quick fix.” Each one will require us to prayerfully develop a plan and devotion to follow through. But as we work alongside our children, we’ll probably notice our hearts beginning to soften. In time, maybe we’ll think something like, I thought my son would always be angry, but God has transformed him into a self-controlled, strong, and gracious young man. I truly like the person God has made him to be.
Other times, we dislike our child’s unchangeable circumstances or character qualities. Perhaps we don’t like that our child is a boisterous, extroverted, dogged leader. Or a reserved, soft-spoken, unimpressive servant. Maybe we don’t like our child’s weakness or disability. Or we don’t like that our child is, well, a child who naturally has many needs and requires our time and attention. God will give us grace to accept these things.
It’s not beyond God’s power to replace our aversion with surprising affection. This may take weeks, months, or years. Renewing the mind, being grateful in all circumstances, and growing in graciousness happens one moment after another until a solid foundation of truth is well-established in the soul. In time, maybe we’ll say something like, “I used to be turned off by my child’s quirky little ways, but now I admire her for them. I can see that they are part of what makes her an amazing artist. As it turns out, I like her just the way she is.”
4. Consider whether it’s a big deal—or a little one.
I’ve come to realize that I’ve often interpreted my feelings incorrectly. As it turns out, it wasn’t really my child that I didn’t like; it was something my child was doing or something difficult we were enduring.
Do you see the difference? (It’s quite relieving to say to my guilt-laden soul, “Oh, I just didn’t like her outfit. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like her. Duh.”) You may realize the same thing about your own struggles. In these cases, breathe a sigh of relief and move along. Let freedom ring.
Other times, our dislike is a big deal. Sometimes we dislike our children because they are downright difficult to like. Many mothers are called to love and nurture children who disrespect, hate, and reject them. This isn’t rare or shameful, nor is it beyond God’s care, but it does require serious attention. Don’t let time pass without seeking biblical counsel and help. Perhaps a wise friend or counselor could help you to see a possible solution that you hadn’t imagined. Maybe God has wonders He wants to show you as you walk with Him through this wilderness.
You’re Not Alone
I hesitated to write this post because I don’t want my children to find it someday and wonder how often I struggled to like them. (Hi, kids! It wasn’t very often, I promise. Thankfully, you were all very likeable. Usually, I felt much better after you brushed your hair. Usually.)
But I decided to publish this anyway because I thought of you, the reader, and how you might need to know that you’re not the only one who has disliked her own child. I also decided to publish it because I thought about my children who will probably feel similarly about me from time to time, and about their own children. I want us all to remember that Jesus will save us from our tangled web of mixed affections.
We don’t need to wrangle our fickle hearts into perfect parental affection; Jesus turns the wildest heart toward home.