When You Don’t Like Your Child

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An interview with Jennifer Waldburger, MSW

It’s the ugly truth – sometimes our beloved children are incredibly unlikable. Often, this feeling passes. But for some of us, this dislike of our children remains long-term and can be very upsetting. While the situation might feel untenable, Jennifer Waldburger, LCSW says this agonizing feeling is potentially a gift. She shares some insight on how to open it. – TMC

How common is it for moms to feel they actually don’t like their child?

I think it’s important to distinguish between a passing feeling of not liking your child, and a feeling that is chronic.

Most moms who feel they don’t like their child are going through a developmental phase with a child who may be acting out, talking back, and defiant.  These phases can last weeks or even a couple of months, and they’re certainly no picnic.  It’s perfectly OK – and very common! – not to like your child’s mood and behavior, even though you love him underneath it all. There’s a big difference between “I don’t like what my child is doing” and “I don’t like my child” – the former is temporary and refers to behavior, whereas the latter goes well beyond a phase and indicates troubled dynamics in the parent-child relationship.

It’s hard to know how many moms fall into the category of a genuine dislike of their child, as such a situation is difficult to admit and talk about. That said, more moms are speaking up.

How do you recommend moms deal with the issue of the short-term disliking?

First, know that every child goes through these phases sooner or later, even the ones who seem so perfectly behaved on play dates or at school.  Most kids save up their strongest testing behavior for good ol’ mom and dad, in the privacy of home.  It’s actually a backhanded compliment – they feel safe enough with you to let their guard down and to unleash strong feelings of fear or anger they may be experiencing, as all young children do.

Sometimes the intense mood and behavior are related to changes that are temporarily rocking their world (new baby, new social dynamics at school), but sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint a root cause.  Kids may feel anxious as they’re maturing and becoming more independent from you; they may feel angry that they are no longer a baby but not yet a big kid, and they can’t find a foothold for their identity.  Often, kids will act cranky and defiant when they’re undergoing significant cognitive development, which of course you can’t see.  If your child’s behavior isn’t connected to a recent change in her external world, watch as she takes a big leap forward cognitively, emotionally or socially just after the difficult phase has passed.  Then the next time you’re going through a similar phase, you can remind yourself that it probably means she’s gearing up for an internal growth spurt.

Remember that every close relationship goes through ups and downs – periods where you feel more connected and those where you feel you’re on different pages, if not different planets.  It’s disconcerting when this happens with your child, because you’re supposed to love her unconditionally, no matter what.  When you go through a phase where you feel you don’t like her, you may panic:  Where did that heart-cracked-open feeling go?  Will it ever come back?  Don’t worry, your love is still there – it’s just harder to access when it feels like you’re on a battleground all the time.  As hard as it is, summon your deepest resolve not to engage in the battle; even if you’re the victor in a power struggle, it never feels good to “win.”  Take advantage of the many resources available these days – books, websites, workshops, private sessions – that offer guidance on positive discipline, parenting without power struggles, and teaching your child how to manage her feelings.  As you become more empowered with effective parenting strategies, you’ll find that she doesn’t push your buttons nearly as much.

For those moms who might be suffering from the more chronic version of not liking their child, how best to cope?

If your negative feelings toward your child are escalating to the point where you’re losing your temper regularly, or you still feel you don’t like him even after the difficult phase has passed, it’s time to take a deeper look at what’s going on.

If exploring these issues seems too overwhelming to do on your own, seek help from a professional who can help you pinpoint where you are stuck.  You don’t necessarily have to dig around endlessly in the past; it’s more about learning to honor and recognize your own feelings, which then helps you address what your own child is feeling (versus always reacting to what he is doing).  Once you’re no longer emotionally triggered by your child – which also means he’ll act out a lot less – the door opens to a whole new kind of relationship.

Any words of encouragement for moms going through this tough time?

When you’re in a difficult phase with your child, it can really wear you down, depleting your energy and spirit.  Acknowledging the truth of what you’re feeling – even if you’re wracked with guilt and shame for feeling it – is a good first step.  Make sure to take some time away from your child to refuel and just focus on you.  Talk to your spouse about how you can support each other through this challenging time, and lean on friends who are good listeners and won’t judge. And just remember, this too shall pass.

Jennifer Waldburger, MSW, is a regular contributor in our extraordinary stable of experts at The Mother Company.  She is co-founder of Sleepy Planet, a company that offers collaborative consultation, education, parenting groups, counseling, and products to parents of children birth to five years. She is co-creator of the book and DVD “The Sleepeasy Solution,” and also maintains a private practice as parenting consultant and educator.  Check out more of Jennifer’s helpful articles:  Tantrums, Testing, & Talking BackWhen You Don’t Like Your ChildNightmares, and In Search of the Holiday Spirit.

The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out the first episode of our DVD series, “Ruby’s Studio: The Feeling Show,” which helps children express their feelings. We want to be a parenting tool for you!

Posted in: Expert Advice, Learn, Modern Parenting, Tough Topics

Comments (25)

  1. Don’t kno what to do

    When i was 23 i got with my now to be husband. He’s 5 yrs older than me so at the time he was 28.I came in the relationship with no kids and he had already 4 at the time was 4,5,6,and 7 yrs old .he was mom and dad at the the time no baby momma there biological mom just left them with my husband this was 3 yrs prior to me needless to say ok so I became instant mom right away the kids got attached to me started calling me mom so I started raising them as my own ,doing Everything a mom does for them ,doctor appoi tments,school ,sports loving them as if they came out of me you kno so had yrs passed had many oppsticles with my mother-in-law and sister inlaw whom which I can’t stand cause all the hurt theve caused me Well now the kids are 12,13,14,and 15 yrs old 8 yrs have passed and it’s been the longest 8 yrs of my life .theres 3 girls and 1 boy and my heart breaks when i say this but I can’t stand the girls there just plain rude, disrespectful just aweful girls and make me and my husband fight all the time i dont kno what to do , i suffer from ptsd,anxiety,bipolor depression and acute stress disorder and I just don’t kno how much longer I can deal with these kids I love my husband so much just most of the time i feel like it ain’t worth it. I talk to the kids,cry heart to heart and nothing they just don’t care .it’s hard to say but I dislike the kids and I’m starting to hate my oldest and this feeling just don’t go away


  2. It

    I can totally understand not liking and on verge on not loving your daughter. Mine lies, steals and turns it around and blames me. I’m so tired of supporting a 28 year old woman while I work 12 plus hours a day. She feels entitled and I am ready for her to be out of my life. When all this happens it makes you question, certainly does me, should I have had her?! If I could go backnow, I would have made a different decision. She is a thief, liar and an oxygen thief. She will one day regret what she has done. I have no more pitty, I don’t care what happens to her any longer. I only want her out of my life, don’t even care how. Go ahead and judge me. You better be perfect.


  3. Melissa

    I really don’t like my 14 year old son and it makes me feel like such a horrible parent. I had him when I was just 16 years old and even as a baby and toddler he was just horrible. I’ve worked so hard to raise him even when I was a single parent I worked all the time and did everything I could to try and raise him into a good person but he’s just not. He’s extremely lazy, he lies about everything, he lies about stuff just for the purpose of lying! He always talks back to me even if I’m trying really hard to be nice. He was diagnosed with adhd when he was 6 after he kept getting in trouble at school and his dr tells me it will eventually wear off but he’s 14 and still has to take medication for it. I also have a 6 year old son who couldn’t be more opposite of him, he is just a perfect child and I love him so much that it makes me feel even worse for hating my older son so much. I’ve spoken with so many different people about my sons horribly disrespectful attitude and they all say it’s just a phase but he’s been like this since he was a toddler so I’m pretty sure that’s just who he is. His biological father left when he was just 1 years old and hasn’t had anything to do with him but I met my husband when he was just 6 yrs old and he took my son in as his own child right away but even now he cannot stand him either. My husband is such a great father, husband and provider for our family that it makes me feel so bad for giving him such a horrible step child. My sons teachers have told me numerous times they don’t like him either, he doesn’t have any friends and our whole family doesn’t like him coming around because of his rude disrespectful attitude. I wish things could be different but they just aren’t and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better as he gets older. My annoyance of him has gotten to a point where if he’s anywhere near my I’m in a bad mood even if he’s not saying or doing anything, he has just pushed me for so long now that everything he does annoys me. I really feel like a horrible mom when it comes to him.


    • Kk mt

      What you have discribed is something I have in my ex husbands family- personality disorder. Lack of social skills, borderline personality disorder or autism spectrum disorder. There is no real treatment unless the person wants to change. My susgestion try and create good boundaries. Be open and honest about what you see and feel. Their reality is different, and really need and want help and closeness but do not know how to go about getting it


  4. Jo

    I don’t like my daughter and she is now 20 years old. She used to be a nice girl when she was younger, but it is horrible now. I was a single mother and it was overwhelming but I worked hard and provided so well for her. Gave her everything I can and she is now just so horrible. I found out she was working as a prostitute and doing drugs and I just hate her even more. I feel after everything I have given her and all the sacrifices I made, she is just ungrateful and selfish. It has reached the stage where I am going to cut off all contact with her. Being a mother has been a horrible experience and very unrewarding. I wish I could live my life over again and I wish I never had been a mother.


  5. Cass

    What to do when the father is deceased? I have no one to just look after her when she becomes too overwhelming. I have had these feeling since she was born, I believe it is resentment from her father abandoning us via suicide when she was 7 mos. I feel like I hate all aspects of my life. Everything is 10x harder than it should be and just enjoying a day with my daughter one on one is difficult to say the least. Does anyone else have a similar situation? I hate feeling this way and my doctor has not been helpful. No one wants to hear that you don’t so much like your child. Of course I love her and would do anything for her safety. That doesn’t mean I enjoy her company. I’m at a loss.


  6. Tracy

    We have an 11 year old son. He’s our only child and is adopted. He was adopted at 5 months, from a well managed orphanage. Our son has severe ADHD which has gotten better with age, and he’s managed to stay off medications since he was 8. He has a very kind persona, and he also has a very curious mind, and will abandon everything, just to go and spectate something interesting. He loves to stare at people, to the point where it’s embarrassing. He won’t take any initiative, and will never pull his weight around the house, including taking his own dishes to the kitchen sink. This child has been raised in a home where everyone is expected to clean after themselves, be helpful and mindful of others, and to be appreciative. But 11 years on, I feel we have failed to raise this child to be anything but a dependent. You can spend all day looking for activities to keep him engaged (remember he has ADHD), and after a long day of driving and searching for fun activities, you get home to find that the one task he was required to do, is undone and he has no remorse. I feel drained as a parent. Why do I work so hard and efforts are unreciprocated? I worry that this child will be a burden on future spouses (if he ever settles down) or even the government. Is love ever enough? I have read so many parenting manuals, and I think that some children are just chemically wired to be defiant. I focus on the fact that he has a very good kind heart, and hope that that one fact will prepare him for the big bad cruel world out there.


  7. Confused

    I had my first child at 18 and was going through so much. I got wih my now husband when I was 7 months pregnant with her. She was constantly acting out and just cold, she is 11 now and just so mean. My mom keeps her most of the time since my dad died. We actually moved close to her for this reason, I still see and talk to her daily and pay for all of her stuff. I had another child at 21, she was great and still is at almost 8. She has always just been great, I never needed a break from her and still don’t. We decided to have another child to try and have a boy, we ended up with another girl, but that was ok too. She immediately started crying all the time and had colic, I thought it would never end. It finally did, but then she turned one and developed more behavior problems, she is now 2 1/2 and I can’t stand to be around her, but have no sitter, so I’m with her 24/7. She never,never stops. She tears up anything she can get her hands on, throws fits constantly especially when we go somewhere, I am now taking my feelings for her out on my middle child and I feel awful. I have never spanked my child but thelastfe weeks I have been spanking the younger child more and more and then I feel so guilty. I just want this to end. I feel like everyday is a new form of hell that gets worse and worse. My husband is always at work so I really don’t have any support. Even when he is home she drives him crazy too and we end up fighting bc I’m so stressed at her I take it out on everyone else. I have even considered adoption, but know the stigma with that. Honestly, I don’t think I could give her up anyway, I just want help, I need time away from her, but can’t get it. I live in a very small town and am over an hour from any cities. I have the money for a sitter. But can’t find any. When she was a baby,my niece and ex sister in law would keep her like every Sunday. Now they get her once every few months, they don’t say so, but I now it’s bc she is so wild they can’t handle her either. My mom who has the oldest won’t keep her much bc she says she can’t handle her and also tells me she won’t keep her when my husband is home bc we don’t need to go do anything. We don’t drink or party, all we want is a few hours when he is for to spend some time together, but we rarely get that. I am at the point where I’m almost afraid I’m going to hurt my child if I don’t get a real break and I hate,urself for it. I’m just losing my mind and have no where to turn.


  8. soph

    I wish my son was different it’s like every time he’s next to me I feel uncomfortable his step dad found him very awkward to be around also he used to try to get along with him but my son would just not interact properly with him then I started to notice it more it’s like he’s made me feel embarrassed as why can’t he just be easy to get along with. My son is so uncomfortable to be around I feel so frustrated he is so robotic emotion is very forced out of him if I say can you play with your brother he is weird around him like he put a yellow ball inside his own mouth and was pushing his face into my new 1 year sons old face it’s awkward and unnecessary. He doesn’t talk in a normal way as he doesn’t reply he just stares with quite evil cold hearted gaze it scares me as I can’t ever tell what he’s thinking I do think he’s a cold person with no reel emotion and he reminds me now a days of his useless ex criminal dad who was so robotic and cold with emotion I hate that my son has turned out nothing like me I am putting all my time and effort into a child I can’t stand. If I talk to him he just sits there like I’ve not even spoke Iam embarrassed that he’s my son cause he’s weird he’s like a freak that makes people feel uncomfortable. I turn up to watch him in a school play he hides from me so I can’t see him he’s done it since he was young! I’ve done everything for him I’ve over protected him his whole life he makes up stuff all the time to get special treatment like says his leg hurts so he doesn’t have to sit on the floor at school. He turns nasty towards people trying to talk to him. He doesn’t take turns in conversation he literally waits for you to shut up then goes on about anything that has nothing to do with what you said. I stare at him trying to work him out but I can’t at all. Me and my his step dad are no longer together but I still can’t stand my son as for some reason I feel he is one of the main reason that everyday there was an awkward feeling in whole house we hated being around my son. Wed try and cuddle him and he’d move away he always physically looks so awkward like mentally weird and disabled unable to interact in anyway normal. If u tell him not to do something cause it’s inappropriate he will still do it like calls me and his aunt sexy when he’s been told not to say it sometimes I feel him staring at me and I get so upset as I don’t no if he’s thinking inappropriate things I don’t no what to do anymore.


    • soph

      My son is 8 this finding him awkward started when he was about 6 but it was more his step dad who pointed out how awkward my son is. I then started noticing it and then he would then be awkward around me I don’t remember things being this hard before I was with his step dad but I don’t no how to now make things not awkward!


    • Abbie

      Soph, Can you see if your son should be tested for having special needs? Can you ask your pediatrician and his teachers if they feel he is on a typical spectrum and share your concerns? The sooner you seek support, the sooner you will all be supported. No reason to go at this alone. Sounds like you could both use some assistance to make the situation better.


    • HP

      Soph, he sounds just like my son with Asperger’s Syndrome. The way he acts, thinks, and behaves are very awkward too just like your son. I stronglu seggest you get him tested for Autism Spectrum Disorder from psycologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, development dr and thru school. It will help you guys greatly.


    • Elizabeth

      Hey I’m sorry your feeling that way I am going through my own struggles with my daughter as well. It sounds like your son may have behavioral issues that are beyond the “normal” spectrum. My friends son is similar and was diagnosed with special needs. It’s honestly so common these days because of all the heavy metals our children are exposed to in the elements, vaccines, and chemicals in the food. I have noticed that my oldest child has behavioral issues and she is the only one who was fully vaccinated so I think it had some effect on her mentally and emotionally. It gets worse when she eats unhealthy foods and improves when she eats alot of fruits and veggies. It is hard especially because it is much easier to parent my other two children but I honestly think it’s also because I had a much stronger connection with the other two since birth. I have always been very cuddly with them and enjoyed parenting them and didn’t have that experience with my oldest. Since birth it has been a struggle to parent her so the connection was not formed which makes it much harder to form now, especially since we butt heads. It’s hard and I’m sorry you are experiencing some of the same things I think it’s important for women to stick together in this because it is more common than we think


  9. help

    I am a mother of 3 going on 4 and my 11 yr old daughter and I have no connection I know she wants my love and attention but I find it hard to do and I have no idea why she has attitude and is very needy I feel terrible every night I cry thinking g how can I be such a horrible mother and have in tensions of trying to making this gs better with effort but everyday ends the same me mad and irritated so bad I cry myself to sleep hopi g things will get better I’m all she has her dad gave came into her life when she was 7 and chose to give up when she was 9 because of a jealous wife I want to be able to love on her and hug her with put cringing will this get better


    • Anom

      I’m the same I don’t know what too do I know it’s all my fault my 11 year old boy is consantly in them rouble stealing lieing consantly I cringe giving him a hug and I don’t know why I love him to bits but showing him affection I can’t do when he was little wasint a problem and I have a 3 year old who I’m fine with doting over I know he feels left out but I struggle so bad the things he’s done over the years has made me so distant I’ve kinda given up but not Please help


  10. dd

    I LOVE my son, ask me to run into a burning house to save him, and i’d already be in the house before you’d ask. Trouble is I don’t like interacting with him at all. I wager If there is a hell, It wouldn’t brimstone and fire, It would be a daycare with no tissue boxes or diapers. He’s 6 now. We’ve moved into a roughly comfortable habit of being in separate rooms most the day. He gets to do whatever he want’s and I get to avoid arguments with him. Trust me it’s better this way. Since most of our conversations end in “no”, “I’m busy” and “get out”. Thankfully we don’t argue as much as we used to. pretty much from day one i realized I was not good as a parent. I had a child mostly through peer-pressure and a bit of bad luck. I was overwhelmed from constant badgering, “when am i going to have grandchildren”, “You don’t know what your missing”, “Pretty soon you won’t be able to have children, then you’ll regret you didn’t”, etc. Several times I talked to my own parents about letting them adopt him. But of course I was all but told I was crazy, because I dare to say it. I just thought it would be better for him to be with grandma. I was afraid he would hate me if I wasn’t careful enough to hide my feelings about parenting. Again I love my son, It’s the parenting I absolutely abhor. It’s absurd to think every person wants to be a mother or father. Or that the transition from biological parent to mom and dad is flawless and sublime.

    Please, all the parents and grandparents out there, please don’t peer pressure or shame the younger generation into thinking they are somehow ‘incomplete’ without offspring. You may end up with a child who resents you for abusing your parental influence to garnish grandies, a true act of solipsism. A parents who is waiting patiently for college, if you know what I mean. Personally I can’t wait to see what world he conquers. 🙂 Any world but my CD collection!

    As for me, I cringe when someone says to me “Enjoy them while they’re that small, they grow up so fast!” I know the response they expect, but all I can say is … GOOD!

    Now I’m off to take him to the park, so I can’t read in relative peace while he terrorizes the geese by the river. … At least he’s a hellion after my own heart. 😉 I do love him for that!

    For all those who say I’m terrible, how dare I, I shouldn’t even be a parent! I couldn’t agree more. I had sterilization. Still don’t regret it.


    • Abbie

      Dear DD,
      You mention not liking parenting. You are describing a situation in which you are completely disconnected from your child. And it sounds as if you are very much alone in raising your boy. You are not alone and would benefit from seeking some support because without it, your troubles will get worse, not better. We suggest you talk to an understanding therapist. While you may not want to parent, you have to for the sake of your well-being and for your child’s. Your little guy needs to feel some love. And it sounds like you could use that too. We hope you look into it….as soon as possible.


    • Confused

      I know exactly how u feel. I was not meant to be a mom, but he weird thing is, I have 3 girls, but the only one I love being around is my middle child, she is now 8. From the day she was born it was just different then the other 2 and I don’t know why. Nothing she does bothers me, and I love spending time with her. My oldest, 11, stays with my mom, who we live really close to. But my youngest is here 24/7 and I feel like this is real hell. I have seriously thought of taking my middle child and husband and running away. I am so sick of cleaning up messes a thousand times a day all day. This is not the life I was meant to have. I have even looked at adoption agency’s online, and told my mom about it and she told me I wasn’t right in the head. Ironically I am extremely smart. I left college bc of kids, and shouldn’t have. I almost have my Ba in biology and psychology. A lot of good it does me though when I spend my days sitting at home in hell.


  11. Regina

    I am a mother of 6 children. 5 are grown now with children of their own, but my 6th child which is a teenager 16 is my worst nightmare come true all of the children have the same father all have been taught to respect their elders and themselves. My youngest child seems to feel she is above this and does what she wants when she wants to she has no respect for others even when she is disciplined she acts as if it is no big deal. she is constantly lying and stealing she has been suspened from school so many times for her violent and disrespectful behavior that she is now being placed on the AT list which means she will not be allowed to attend any public schools she is very mean and very very disrespectful amongst other things like being violent and bullying the younger children she has even started trying to fight with adults I have gotten her counseling and I have had her committed to a mental health facility for her behavior nothing seems to help. It has gotten to the point where I really don’t like my child and I often wonder what will become of her when she grows up she is 16 years old and as she gets older her behavior gets worse. I have sat down with her and tried talking to her I have tried showing her how her behavior is effecting others around her she just laughs it off and says how she doesnt care. No my child is not spoiled she recieves discipline by myself and her father nothing has worked in our favor it has gotten to the point where I have contacted the courts to try and give up our parental rights to her. I find myself becoming distant from her where i really want to have nothing to do with her. I called the pastor of our church out to our house to have her prayed over because I thought maybe she was ust born evil and we could release the demon inside of her but this is real life and the only demon inside my daughter is my daughter. I really want her out of my home and away from me I don’t like my child and it’s very hurtful to not want to be around her to not want to spend time with her. i don’t hate my child but I do feel a dislike for her that is very strong where I have thoughts of killing her even though I will never act on them it just bothers me that I have those thoughts about her I have even called the child protective services for help explaining this to them and they all keep telling me the same thing there is nothing they can do even with me telling them that my daughter is a danger to us and herself that at this rate I may be a danger to my daughter . She is the only child that has acted like this and we are at our end with her. I really dislike my daughter and these feelings are not going to go away as she gets older they are going to get worse because her behavior only gets worse. Somebody help me with this issue i don’t see a solution to this problem.


    • Jo

      I understand totally.


  12. Moving Through Frustration

    […] helpful articles:  Tantrums, Testing, & Talking Back, Happiness Is An Inside Job, When You Don’t Like Your Child, Nightmares, and In Search of the Holiday […]


  13. Msjujubean

    I am the product of a mother who couldn’t find anything about me she could like. She did have 8 other kids to focus on so it really didn’t cause her any concern. When she was upset, she beat me, when she was overwhelmed she forgot to make sure I was in the car before she left the store, when I was be abused she made me feel I brought it on myself. So my suggestion is if you don’t like your child, grow up and be an adult or keep your legs crossed. The number of damaged children in the world is staggering, the struggle to understand what you as a child could have possibly done to have your mother treat you and you alone so poorly is a life of living hell. I believe she was/is a selfish, self serving individual who could only accept what she perceived as perfection, anything less she acted was like an animal leaving a less than perfect offspring alone in the world to be eaten up by the circle of life. I have struggled my entire life with the effects of her childish behavior.


    • Angela

      Sounds like you need quit feeling sorry for yourself and realize it’s not all about you.


    • soph

      Thank you you’ve really reminded me to stop moaning and just keep trying to get along with my son


  14. Christina Simon

    What a fabulous piece! I think every mom has times when her child’s behavior is extremely challenging. And, the picture at the top of this piece says it all. I have noticed lately some moms at my kids’ school talking about their child in front of other parents in ways that suggest they might not have the child they want–or though they should have. It’s very odd to hear a parent talk about their child as if they still haven’t accepted him/her at age 8. Maybe they wanted a very athletic boy, but instead have a boy who loves to play with insects. It’s that sort of thing. When I’ve heard it happen, the entire room goes silent. Nobody knows what to say.


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