We don’t get to select our children, although, sometimes we wish we could. The goodness of fit impacts our ability to feel connected, generous, and present with our children. You may be a parent who is affectionate and nurturing, while your child is reserved and wards off physical affection that wasn’t initiated directly by them. You may also be a parent who is uncomfortable with an intensity of emotion, and prefers to avoid conflict, while your child may be the quintessential drama queen or king, and is experienced as willful and argumentative. These disparities can be unnerving, even to the most open and caring parent.
There’s always a yearning for closeness and connection between parent and child but these significant differences can lend to conscious or unconscious anger, frustration, disappointment, and acting out behavior toward one another. It becomes quite challenging when a parent feels the need to nurture their child but would rather not and/or doesn’t know how to.
When speaking about the element of fit, I’m referring to appearance, personality, temperament, emotionality/level of emotional intelligence, and general impulsivity and reactivity of behavior. There’s a necessity to assess and distinguish whether it’s a matter of fit, or whether your child is neglectful of themselves in some significant way, or is participating in destructive behavior that may be putting him or her at a disadvantage.
For example, if your child is neglecting their self-care, namely, showering or brushing their teeth, it may result in them being socially isolated or in compromised health. In these instances, it’s not a matter of “fit” and them just being who they are, but direct actions that he or she is taking that is compromising and self-destructive. These issues obviously need to be addressed, but in a highly sensitive, caring, and mindful way, to avoid coming across as judgmental, harsh, and unsympathetic.
Regarding the fit, take a moment to ask yourself, if this were someone else’s child, would you “like”, feel connected, feel compassion toward, or desire to have him or her in your life? Further, you may observe that you feel more connected and have preference for one of your children over the others because of the goodness of it. The child that is less-preferred, you may feel intense negative feelings about, you may act differently or negatively toward, and/or you may judge him or her more harshly than the rest of your children.
You may arrive at the fundamental reality that you “dislike” your child. Could you tolerate that thought and the feelings that get evoked because of it? You may think, why even broach this, there’s nothing I can do about it, and it would just induce feelings of shame and guilt on your part. Possibly, but those feelings may also lead to inquiry, curiosity, and openness for exploration to work toward healing and change. If that were the case it may well be worth it.
Carrying these unprocessed thoughts could lead to the vicious cycle of shame regarding your thoughts, and guilt over your behavior. In a desire to get rid of the negative thinking, you may be prompted to avoid and distract from the negative thoughts and feelings. This may provide temporary relief, but eventually the thoughts and feelings will resurface, especially following a difficult interaction with your child.
It will undoubtedly reemerge with greater intensity and with “evidence” to back up the thoughts and feelings because of the negative behavior that gets perpetuated. We can’t rid ourselves of thoughts and feelings, no matter how hard we try.
The primary thoughts themselves aren’t problematic. It’s the layers of thoughts about the thoughts and feelings about the feelings, as well as the counterproductive behavior that creates a wedge between you and your child. You may find yourself, yelling, exhibiting aggressive and exasperated body language, saying things you didn’t mean to say, withholding affection, attention or compassion, and/or being especially harsh.
Your child justifiably gives you good reason for thinking and feeling the way in which you do. You could most certainly validate and rationalize your thoughts, feelings, and behavior toward him or her. However, the cycle isn’t helpful or constructive for your relationship. It’s neither you or your child’s fault for being so different, and wanting and needing different things. The fit is the way it is. You and your child are perfectly okay, just as you are.
Now what do we do about this, if it isn’t the ideal fit?
- Reframe the way you think about it. Rather than not “liking” or “approving of” your child, think of it as not being an ideal fit between the two of you. It’s not something that either one of you did or created, it just is.
- Because of thinking and feeling negatively about your child, their inadequacies will be at the forefront. It inhibits you from seeing the rest of him or her, including what’s “right”, his or her strengths, and your points of similarities and mutuality. Purposefully notice and mindfully pay attention to these too, and interact with your child with these characteristics in mind.
- Notice if there’s a prompt to change or “fix” your child. Recognize the multitude of methods that you may have used to unsuccessfully carry out this task. Try on the idea of accepting your child just as he or she is. Make concerted efforts to avoid imposing the way you in which you think he or she “should” be or how you would “prefer” for him or her to be.
- Seek to understand your child better, on all the elements of fit (appearance, personality, temperament, emotionality/level of emotional intelligence, and general impulsivity and reactivity of behavior). Be curious and open to the way he or she thinks, feels, and functions. Identify and talk to your child about the similarities and differences and how it impacts each of you and your relationship with each other.
- Find points of commonality and look to foster these to fortify a more nurturing and connected relationship.
- Commit to altering the way in which you refer to your child. For example, instead of referring to your child as stubborn, try to also consider his or her determination, passion, and spiritedness. Directly refer to him or her using more positive and encouraging language. Modifying language is known to generate openness and flexibility which increases the chances of us challenging our preconceived notions and habitual or automatic responses and behaviors.
Just because you may have disparaging thoughts and feelings about your child doesn’t make you an unloving, uncaring, or a “bad” parent. Thoughts and feelings come and go. It’s more about the actions you take on behalf of them.
Look deep within yourself to discover how you genuinely think and feel about the fit between you and your child. How willing are you to openly accept and work with it? Working collaboratively and compassionately with your child is needed in order to foster the loving and nurturing relationship you both undeniably want and deserve.