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'I Don't Like My 5 Year Old'

People don't like to even admit to themselves that they aren't filled with love and unicorns when gazing upon the wondrous visage of their little angels. But they aren't, not all the time anyway.
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Frustrated mother rubbing her temples
Frustrated mother rubbing her temples

Reader Don't Like Daughter writes:

I can't tell you how much I appreciate your posts. I have a question I can't ask anyone for fear of harsh judgement and questioning the state of my soul. Yikes! Here it goes: I don't know if I like my 5 year old daughter. Do I love her? Yes. But it's never been the type of love everyone talks about. I had an awful pregnancy that led to a three night hospitalization from kidney stones and a kidney infection. I was miserable.

Then my sweet daughter is born and I don't quite feel connected. Maybe it's because she was screaming as soon as her head poked (blasted) out of me even with the rest of her body still inside me. AND SHE NEVER STOPPED. She would scream so loud she'd be purple. This lasted for months but has never really gone away. She outgrew the word "colicky", but didn't outgrow the temperament or behavior. She was an awful sleeper, spit up non stop, and pooped about ten times a day. She was never happy unless she was on my boob.

I spent months on the couch with her while my husband was flying the friendly skies as a pilot. Oh and I was working on my masters. I felt jaded. Everyone would say how cute she was and I would agree but I just never felt like I could trust her cuteness knowing that soon she was going to turn into a machine gun screaming child at any moment. Don't get me wrong, I loved her and still do. I missed her when I was away from her but also felt like I was in an abusive relationship. With her being the abuser which I realize is so inappropriate for me to say.

At the age of three she slapped me one day on the couch. She screamed and cried at the age of two if I had my hair up in a pony tail (I still don't understand this) or if I entered the room in a way she deemed wrong. She would slap her head if a stranger approached her to say hi or tell her she's cute. She screamed for most of her third year and I swear I almost jumped off the balcony of our home each weekend that I was with her all by myself. It was torture. She was never happy and if she was, I was preparing for it to end and never trusted it.

4 was a better year and 5 has been also. But we struggle with her disrespectfulness, her bossiness with peers (there's NEVER a play date where she doesn't make the other child cry or she leaves the friend pouting and refuses to be friends with someone when she doesn't get her way).

I've had her evaluated for EVERYTHING multiple times. It's like no one believes me. They tell me just to keep an eye on it. We've seen psychologists, psychiatrists, OT, play therapists, etc. I feel like everyone just brushes it off. My background is in developmental psychopathology but I just feel like I can't be objective with my own child. She's very social and very polite to adults, teachers etc. Teachers mostly say that she can kind of be in her own world during circle time. Like she's not paying attention. We do have a family history of ADHD. Otherwise teachers say she is "sweet".

My husband feels the same I do when it comes to her behavior, but he connects more with her more (though she prefers me) as they are a lot alike. Primarily in terms of their perfectionism tendencies -- both are huge perfectionists and perhaps a bit pessimistic. Grandparents all are very close to her but say she's unlike any child they've seen. She will yell at them and unfortunately they let her. My 3 year old is starting to be apprehensive to be around her anymore and kind of is starting to be mean back to her. My 5 year old is so bossy with her sister that they can hardly play together though the little one looks up to her a lot. But now she's starting to say she's mean and snotty.

All of this has led me to feel like I just don't like my daughter. I'm in tears typing this as its so disgusting to say out loud. I'm ashamed and hopeless. I have a 3 year old daughter too who is the complete opposite of my 5 year old. She is sweet and easy going. She demands things only like a normal child. I feel so strongly connected and bonded to her. I know this isn't normal, but what I don't know is how to deal with it or who to go to for help. I don't want my 5 year old to grow up hating me and getting into drugs, sex, and alcohol which is the way I see her going now. It doesn't make sense that I would think that but it's what I foreshadow and I'm terrified.

Thanks for any time you take reading this shameful message. I do love my children. I'm just not sure I "like" my oldest.

Dear DLD,

Thanks so much for writing in. So many moms struggle with feeling they don't love or connect with their kids, and it is the most shameful feeling possible in our current child-centered culture. That's why I got so many awful comments when I wrote my Washington Post article on not liking toddlers. People don't like to even admit to themselves that they aren't filled with love and unicorns when gazing upon the wondrous visage of their little angels. But they aren't, not all the time anyway.

There are likely two issues going on here. The first is that your daughter's temperament is difficult. Some people call this pessimism, personality researchers call it neuroticism, whatever it is, we know it when we see it. Colicky babies are likelier to experience emotional outbursts later in life, and temperament is fairly stable over the lifespan, so it's likely that a negative difficult kid will be a negative difficult adult. Yet, never fear, someone will be drawn to her and marry her, like you married your similar husband.

This brings us to the next major point, which is that according to imago theory, I would imagine one of your parents was perfectionistic, negative, or difficult, and therefore you married your husband, who is the same, and all your unresolved issues about these people are poisoning your relationship with Little Miss Sunshine. Here, I discuss all the reasons that a parent could prefer one kid to the other (and it's normal to prefer one; we are only human), and a major one is that you may have unresolved issues with someone that the kid reminds you of. Like Satan. Just kidding, like a parent or definitely your husband. It may also be a sibling that you have unresolved issues with. If there was nobody in your life who was difficult, it's unlikely you would have been drawn to your husband, so think hard about this connection.

If this is making you feel ashamed and depressed, definitely find a therapist. But I will tell you, it sounds like your kid would give anyone a run for their money. Kids act way better with outsiders than at home, so the fact that the teachers call her sweet doesn't mean to me that you're out of your mind. I am routinely surprised by positive feedback I get about my kids from people who don't share a home with them. I also think there may be some sensory or autism-spectrum issues, which would explain the weird ponytail thing, or ADHD, which would explain the "in her own world" thing (and you have a family history), but if these are mild, psychologists will be hesitant to diagnose a child before she's older.

Now it is your job to make sure to take some practical steps to ensure your relationship with your older daughter can be as good as possible, even given her and your limitations. Here's some ideas:
  1. Don't try to spend time with her past your breaking point. Enroll her in activities or get a sitter or enlist Dad's help. It is better to spend less time with her and have everything be nice and fun than to spend more time with her and have the situation devolve into a screaming match.

  • When you spend time with her, do things that set her up to succeed. Does she like art? Then do some coloring. Does she like TV? Watch some damn TV. Who cares if it's screen time. You're trying to bond with her here.
  • Stop feeling ashamed of yourself. So many moms wouldn't even admit to themselves that they felt the way you do. This is why I wrote that Washington Post article that led to near death-threats, because it's really important to admit how you feel so that you can work on it. Every day, work a little bit on being close to your daughter. She won't know you don't like her. You can take it to the grave (although you can tell a therapist, me, your husband, your mom, or a best friend). She will not be the worse for wear. You will probably end up being a better mom than most moms who DO like their kids, if you are intentional about spending time with her and being kind to her.
  • Conceptualize this like your daughter has an "issue." Like depression, ADHD, or an eating disorder. Except her issue is "difficult." Try to work with her, and cut yourself some slack for feeling stressed out, like you would advise a mom of any other kid with some "issue."
  • Read the book "The Nurture Assumption" by Judith Harris. She was a psychology researcher who, halfway through her career, realized that parenting research was totally inconsistent and she concluded that parenting's effect on kids' behavior is pretty low. The only thing she concluded that you can influence is whether you and your kid have a good relationship. I don't know if I fully agree with this, but I definitely think, the older I get and the more kids I have, and the older my kids get, that it's likely we have far, far less of an impact on most of our kids' behavior than we imagine we do. But, we definitely can change how we get along with our kids, and in my mind, if we are loving, then they will look for loving partners later on, because this will feel familiar to them.

    So if you engage in any Teaching or Enriching activities with Little Miss Sunshine, stop now, because this is going to stress the two of you out, and basically stop asking her to do anything except be kind to others, and focus on her positive qualities, and if you try this for a week and it doesn't help, I will be shocked.

    By the way, you can train kids to be nice. My daughter had a sticker chart for saying "I'm sorry" when she did something wrong instead of blaming someone else. When she got 20 I'm Sorry's, she got a prize. The prize was not me saying, "Wow, now you're acting like a human being and not a mean devil that sucks out my soul and evades taking responsibility for pushing your sister." It was a stuffed animal. Although I was tempted to do the former, the latter actually led to a measurable change in her I'm Sorry's. They increased a lot, even though the sticker chart was only done once, months ago. So, if your kid isn't naturally nice, do her a solid and help behaviorally train her to be nice, so that she is easier to get along with, and then has better experiences with other people, which will make her nicer, in a nice positive upward feedback loop.

    Thank you for writing in. Your story will help other moms, who will not comment on Facebook probably because they are embarrassed, and because they are not anonymous, but I bet you they will write in to me and thank you for writing and expressing their intimate "shameful" secret thoughts. I hope I made you feel a little more normal and a little more empowered. Good luck, and you're a good mom. Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, We Also Give Prizes For Being Silent. It Is A Medal For The Quiet Olympics. Steal This Idea.

    This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.