Dear Tzippora,

Why are some kids so hard to love, and some just so easy? I wish I could say that as a mother I love all of my kids equally, but no matter how much I lecture myself, or try to pretend, the truth is that with some of them I can relax, and some of them just seem to push all my buttons and put me on edge. With those kids, I breathe a sigh of relief when they are not home.

Unbalanced Mom

Dear Unbalanced Mom,

I believe many mothers are now nodding their heads in agreement as they read your question. You have courageously brought up a very real issue, an issue that strikes at the heart of what our role and responsibility is as parents.

That fact is that we don't choose our kids, and all kids are not created equal. In reality, some kids truly are more high-maintenance than other children and, consequently, parenting them is more exhausting. High-maintenance children require us to grow and expand our capacity for giving in order to fulfill their needs. Giving to them is not an automatic process, as it may sometimes seem to be with their siblings.

Yet it is important not to equate the conveyance of effortless parenting with our actual ability to love our children. In fact, our capacity to love matures as a direct result of our heightened capacity for giving, as pointed out by Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler in his work Strive for Truth. In other words, we grow to love our children through the act of giving to them. When we give more, we grow to love them more.

However, it is not always possible to recognize this deep principle in our day to day interactions with our children. Sometimes our innate love for our children becomes submerged in the power struggles and angry storms that characterize our interactions.

Here are some tools that you can use to clear away the negative baggage and reclaim your love for your "difficult child":

  1. Love is not only about granting favors. Remind yourself that enforcing bedtimes, and maintaining behavioral limits are also acts of love, and not acts of anger or punishment. These limits are what will ultimately allow your child to become a productive member of society. This is true even if your child doesn't recognize this, and actively struggles against submitting to your authority.
  2. Invest extra resources in your relationship with this particular child. Set aside special time to strengthen your bond with them through sharing a game, a slice of pizza, a nature walk, or a visit to the zoo. You need to make an extra effort to reconnect with what is special and loveable about this child, and to help them feel loved. At the same time, make an effort to let your other children know how special they are to you, too, so that no one feels left out.
  3. Make a list of this child's special and unique qualities, and read it daily. Continually expand this list as new examples occur to you. For example, perhaps the same energy which drives you crazy at meal-times is also reflective of a fun-loving nature and a special sense of humor. Perhaps kicking the bar under the table reflects their musical ability—something which needs to be channeled to a more appropriate outlet. Let your child know that you are aware of their specialness by seeking out occasions to compliment them on these qualities.

Remember that G‑d doesn't make mistakes. When G‑d chose you to parent this particular child, He bestowed you with sufficient love for them. Feelings of irritation and frustration can conceal your awareness of this love, but they cannot negate it.