Do You Resent Your Child?
Both kids had their own sleep problems that they would exercise in cannon for several nights in a row. One would wake up and, in the process, wake the other. I was exhausted and contemplating 16 hours of torture of being awake and simply living life, doing my job, and trying to be nice. As I was rehearsing the lecture I would give one child on staying in bed at night, I realized I resented both of my children. I felt they were making my life unnecessarily difficult.
Writing this makes me laugh now, but the resentment was real. I have heard many such stories from parents over the years, but I am starting to turn my attention to signs of unaddressed resentment. Parents mention "not being able to...", and then they fill in the blank. Statements include taking a vacation, getting a break, getting a good night's sleep, working in or advancing in a career, and on and on. The sentiment is that the child's behavior has kept the parent from doing good, reasonable, or enjoyable things.
All parents can likely recall when they complained their children limited their lives. So, this is a very normal thing, but the purpose of this post is mainly to make a case for letting go of this resentment.
What's the problem with resentment?
Resentment keeps parents self-focused. No one has ever been successful in a relationship, especially parenting, by being selfish. Effective parenting is other-focused. I should note that this does not mean living as a martyr for your children. Parents train children to be other-focused, which means that children are naturally self-focused. The selfishness in your children must be overcome, and it is the job of every parent to live in a way that promotes other-focus, especially through modeling. Criticizing children for being ungrateful can be a sign of selfishness in parenting. It's easy to resent children for being selfish because selfishness is their natural state.
Resentment breeds contempt. Often, we create and then hold grudges because it comforts us. The problem is that these grudges become the focus of our affections and effectively eject our children from our hearts. It's hard to do anything good or proper for people for whom we feel contempt.
Resentment is unhealthy. Holding and fostering resentment seems to have an effect similar to heavy drinking regarding coping strategies.
Resentment is counter-productive. The outcomes of resentment lead to the opposite of what we hope for our children through parenting. Consider the scenario where I get out of bed resentful of my children. I get no comfort from the apologies and reassurances of my children to do better because they are neither sorry nor committed to doing better. They are children, after all. Instead, I bathe in my resentment, and it brings me some peace (look at how I suffer for my children). My stern, self-righteous (and useless) lecture over breakfast makes me feel more justified, and my resentment builds when my children do not apologize or even seem to register my complaint. Resentment continues to grow, making me more and more ineffective in my parenting and more dependent on my grudges for comfort. My effectiveness decreases proportionally.
Where to from here?
If you feel condemned, you are as guilty as every other parent who ever was. Resentment is a normal thing and evidence that we never truly let go of the selfishness we were born with. Still, parents should do something about it due to the risks of growing resentment.
When I decided I would not hold the chaotic and frustrating night against my kids, I immediately felt a sense of relief. I decided to move on and not let any of my choices be influenced by the belief that my children owed me anything (especially an apology). Upon reflection, I realize that I pick up resentments daily, so letting these things go and failing to take up offense will have to be a daily activity while my kids are behaving the way they are.
Many people get relief from resentments by admitting them to a peer. Finding someone who can understand the struggle and listen without impulsively giving advice can itself be soothing. This sense of comfort from an understanding peer, in my experience, is always more significant than the comfort I get from rehearsing my grudges.
In my opinion, it is often OK to admit such resentments to the person you resent. In this case, I think it's OK to say something age-appropriate to your children about how you feel. However, your intention in doing this should never be for the sake of getting an apology or making your children feel sorry for their behavior, even though this may happen. Instead, you should do this for the sake of modeling appropriate self-expressive behavior. This act is how many parents can draw something positive from their own negative impulses or bad decisions.