David, age 57, sighs heavily. "I'm tired," he admits. "I don't want to be worrying about my kids anymore. I don't want to keep carrying their problems around with me; I have enough of my own. I know it's a terrible thing to say, but I'd be very happy if they just all got up and moved to the other side of the world. I need a break."
Carly, 26, expresses a similar sentiment. "Am I the only woman who doesn't enjoy parenting?" she wonders aloud. "Don't get me wrong – my kids are great, as far as kids go. It's just that I'm not at all interested in playgroups and talking with other mothers about what I fed the kids today and sitting on the floor with puzzles. It's just not my thing. In fact, I can't wait to finish my mat leave and get back to the office to be with other adults. Is there something wrong with me?"
Marni, 38, has a slightly different problem. "I can't stand my son. He's not like the other kids at all. They're all easy-going, well-functioning, pleasant children. But Daniel is impossible! Everything with him is an argument, an exhausting debate. He can never just say 'yes' and move on – everything has to be negotiated. And he makes everything difficult; every small bump in the road becomes a major catastrophe with him. There's so much drama! And he's not like this just with me – he's difficult with his teachers and his father and his siblings. He's just a pain for everyone to deal with. I know it's an awful thing for a mother to say, but I don't like my own child."
The Parenting Job
Some people really enjoy parenting. They enjoy their babies and toddlers, school-age kids and teens. They enjoy their adult children. But most people feel stressed by parenting at least some of the time. The stress may be caused by the endless demands of the task: the 24-hour days, the enormous responsibilities, the neediness of children. It's all normal and understandable. There is, however, another source of stress that people can't usually talk about. This is the stress of actually not liking the job of parenting, whether that pertains to parenting in general or parenting one particular child.
The truth is that people don't always enjoy their children. They may enjoy them more at some stages of development than others or they may enjoy some of their children more than others or they may even enjoy them more at some times of the day than other times (e.g. when they're sleeping!) – but clearly, people can find parenting some kids to be hard, disappointing, frustrating, overwhelming or even just tedious. Since this isn't the way parents are "supposed" to feel, those who don't enjoy parenting usually keep it to themselves. Not wanting to appear deviant or mentally disturbed, they suffer silently and alone. They don't realize just how common and normal their feelings really are.
Coping with Negative Feelings
Feelings of dissatisfaction in parenting occur to almost everyone at some time in their parenting careers. A personality clash with a particular child can trigger such emotion. A badly behaved child can trigger it. A houseful of noisy, messy, wild youngsters can trigger it. A rebellious or disrespectful teen can trigger it. Even the expenses of parenting can trigger it. In fact, there are endless triggers for unhappy responses to parenting.
Of course, parenting has its good times as well. Over the twenty years of raising a child or the thirty or forty years of raising a family, there are plenty of ups and downs. What can parents do to help themselves negotiate the down times more successfully? Here are some ideas:
- Accept the dissatisfaction as a normal part of the parenting journey. Expect negativity to fluctuate, to come and go as the situation changes.
- During stressful periods of parenting, try to find personal satisfaction in other endeavors. This may be the time to take a course you've always wanted to take or get involved in an activity that you've been interested in. This is a good time to strengthen your marriage and spend more quality time with your spouse. A bit more attention to your social life, sleep habits and diet will serve you well, as will a dedicated exercise routine. The more full and balanced your personal life is, the better you will be able to tolerate and deal with a difficult parenting situation.
- Don't try to raise challenging children on your own – enlist the power of prayer! Ask G‑d to help both you and your child(ren). It's not all up to you.
- Get professional support if your negativity is affecting your mood or your health, or impacting your relationships with the child or children in question, or your marriage.
- Learn specific stress-reduction strategies that can lighten feelings of anger, resentment, helplessness, despair, anxiety and other negative emotions. Such techniques make it easier to cope with difficult periods in parenting.
It's easier to enjoy parenting when we give ourselves permission to not enjoy it, too.