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"Sometimes I Don't Like My Child."

by Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC
Sometimes I Don't Like My Child.

It’s a truth we don’t often admit, even to ourselves: we don’t always like our kids. I can hear the guilt in parents’ voices when they say, “Sometimes I really don’t like my child. He’s a pain, he argues with me all the time and he’s just not fun to be around.” Or maybe your child just isn’t the person you thought he would be: perhaps he’s not academic or outgoing enough, or maybe he likes to complain and is very negative. It’s important to accept the fact that you won’t always like your kids—and they won’t always like you. This is especially hard for parents of difficult, acting out kids to grapple with. But the fact is, you’re on your way to less guilt and a better relationship with your child when you can acknowledge your feelings.

You canít change a tiger into a leopard; these are your childís stripes.

I’m very empathetic to parents in this situation because I recognize how painful it is. It’s important not to feel guilty about it because we all have expectations of what our children will be like, and it can be very painful when they’re not what we expected. You feel let down, and then you feel guilty for feeling that way. But remember, as James Lehman says, you have to learn to “Parent the child you have, not the child you wish you had.” Facing the truth is always an important first step.

Related: Are you the parent of a difficult, acting out child?

The first thing to do is ask yourself, “What am I feeling and why?” Take a minute to pause, step back and think about it for a moment. Maybe you don’t like her because she’s so different from you. Maybe you don’t always like your child because she acts out, is defiant and oppositional and causes havoc in your home. Maybe her behavior is stressing you out and wearing you down and causing friction between you and your spouse. All understandable reasons to feel dislike towards your child. Why would you like someone who treats you poorly, is contrary or behaves in obnoxious ways?

But if you look closely, disliking your child is more about you than about her because these are your feelings—your reactions—to her. And in turn, those reactions may even contribute to your child’s unlikeable behaviors. That’s the good news, since the only person you can change is yourself anyway. Here are a few things that you can do to build the relationship and like your child at least most of the time.

Face your feelings: Acknowledge and accept your feelings. Don’t push them away because you think it’s bad or wrong to dislike your child. You don’t have to like your truth; you just have to own it.

Find the cause: Recognize what’s causing you to dislike your child. If it’s because he’s different from you or because he’s not how you want him to be, then manage your own expectations. Accept your child for who he is and pay attention to his strengths, rather than focusing on what you think are his weaknesses. Remember, it's very easy to forget that it's the behavior you don't like, not the whole person.

Get to know your child better: Get to know who your child is and what he needs; find out what really makes him tick, rather than who you want him to be. Your child can read it if you are disappointed in him; his acting out and negative feelings towards you may even increase because of it.

Are there contributing factors? If you’re feeling dislike because of your child’s defiant behavior, is there any way you or others in your family are contributing to his behavior. Is he acting out other unresolved issues?

Ask yourself the following questions, and answer them honestly:

  • Could your child be behaving poorly as a way to keep you and your spouse engaged with each other by focusing on a “problem child”?
  • Is his behavior poor because no one is holding him accountable?
  • Is he overly or underly focused upon in the family?
  • Does he have too much power because you allow yourself to be intimidated by him? Do you always give in or never give in?
  • Is your relationship with him defined around problems instead of just enjoying each other?
  • Are your frustrations and unresolved issues with your own parents intensifying your reactions and actions with your child?
  • Is your child somehow getting caught between your difficulties with your mate?

The importance of playfulness: Bring more playfulness and less seriousness to your interactions. Recognize that your child may be a problem, but he is not the problem: your interactions have been the problem. You’re a part of that, too, so stay focused on changing your role in the dance. Make special dates and times together. Listen to him—really listen. Accept him for who he is. Be yourself with him. Let him know your preferences, beliefs and values. Love him and stop worrying about him so much. And remember, loving him also means holding him accountable.

Related: Hold your child accountable by following through on consequences.

Anger creates reactivity: Remember that your anger and resentment about feeling disappointed in your child creates more judgments and reactivity. Stop reacting and start responding more thoughtfully and positively. Power struggles often happen when you try to change someone else into who you think they should be. Just let go of the rope in that tug-of-war you're in with your child. Don’t always try to get the last word or prove you’re right. Admit to your mistakes and struggles.

Maximize the positives and minimize the negatives: You can start focusing on what’s right––not wrong––with your child today and begin building on what is good. Having a positive mindset leads to more positives. Build your relationship by letting your child know what you appreciate about him daily. Ask him to help you in things he’s strong in, so you build on his strengths. Spend time together without discussing the problem.

Commit to not criticizing him or trying to change him. One of the things I do is I actually get up in the morning and I really say, “Okay, not one criticism can come out of my mouth today.” I actually have to make that a very conscious thought and activity. It’s so automatic for some of us. And so half the time I really don’t even know when I’m saying something negative. So make a conscious effort.

I think about the concept of appreciation or gratefulness as well, because sometimes I just take so much for granted. After all, in the heat of the moment, it's easy to only see the negatives. But try to find the positives; notice when your child does something well. The more you look through positive lenses, the more you'll appreciate what's in front of you. Point out your child's strengths and describe what you see. For example, you can say, “You looked like you were about to scream at your brother, but I noticed how you pulled yourself together and walked away. How did you do that? That was impressive.” So point out a very specific behavior and move it to positive instead of somehow making it into a negative.

Related: Don't let your child push your buttons. Learn how to stay calm in any situation.

Focus on your reactions: Get more focused on yourself than on your child in order to build and improve your relationship with him. Decide how you want to behave with him, no matter how he behaves with you.

When There’s a Personality Clash with Your Child

What if your personalities simply clash? Maybe your child is not a friend you would have chosen. Perhaps you're too different or too similar. But look at it this way: You might not like your boss, but you still have to find a way to get along with her. Problems start when you carry around a lot of disappointment about somebody and try to change them in some way or another. That's when that negative cycle—that push–pull—begins.

If you decide you want to change how you’ve been reacting, stating it can sometimes be good. You can take responsibility for how you’ve been feeling and dealing with your child up until now and even apologize for some of the ways that you’ve responded to things. Show that you really see and understand it and that you’re working on doing a better job. Kids really appreciate that. I think it’s worthwhile to talk to your teen or child and say something like, “It’s really important to me for us to get along. And I recognize that I haven’t been so easy on you. I recognize that I can be too hard on you sometimes (or whatever the case may be) and I just want you to know that I apologize for my part in it. I’m really working on it.” Leave it at that, and don’t add, “And I hope you do too.”

Just own your part in it. I know it’s very hard for parents to apologize for their part when they really see it as their kids being bratty and obnoxious. And maybe your child is being obnoxious, but don't wait for him to change. Instead, take responsibility to make those interactions different.

You can’t change a tiger into a leopard; these are your child’s stripes. Now get to know him, appreciate him and enjoy his good qualities. Deal with your own issues and anxiety around it. If you absolutely can’t get over it, seek out therapy. Get to the bottom of what’s really bothering you and try to understand and manage your emotions. If you can calm down and come to terms with who your child is–and accept him and not try to change or fix him–then you'll be able to relax. Here's the paradox: if your child can feel deeply accepted for who he is, warts and all, he'll be able to look at himself and change what he isn't satisfied with. That’s when your child can feel good inside of himself–and blossom into the person he’s meant to be.

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For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.


Wow this article sounds like a letter written directly to me and is just what I needed. I have a one child that I feel this way about more than I want to admit and this hit the nail on the head when it said that we can be fruststrated b/c our children are not what we want or expect them to be and not like us. AWESOME!!! Thank you so much for this!

Comment By : noahmame

This all sounds so great unless you have a child who also hates you. I love this comment: "You might not like your boss, but you still have to find a way to get along with her." Yeah, but I don't have to LIVE with my boss either. I can go home and relax, vent, go on vacation, etc. With my child, I'm STUCK looking at him all day long. No breaks, no vacations. I'm sick of him.

Comment By : sickofhim

"Parent the child you have, not the child you wish you had." This is very true for me. All the people in my family have been successful, then there's me. I'm a single father with a daughter with ADD. I have friends telling me to not save for college for her because it will never happen. I always look forward to your mailings. Keep up the good work.

Comment By : Frustrateddad

I love my child deeply, but the sad fact is I don't always like him. I get so frustrated most days. I know when I get off work and walk through the door it going to be a constant battle. This article definately him home. There is never peice in my house. If we are actually getting along I dread asking him to do anything because I know he will blow up. I just wish I could have one day where he did not fight me on everything I say or ask.

Comment By : justventing

Dear Debbie: I've felt this way about my 19 year old son for the last 4 years; sadly I can't hardly stand to be around him anymore. It only takes about 3 minutes when I see him for me to become annoyed, disappointed, angry, sad and resentful of my own son! His defiant, disrespectful, dishonest and rude behavior towards me, as well as any authority figure, infuriates me and makes me feel so hopeless. He makes me want to scream and shake some sense back into him! He takes no responsibility for his behavior/choices; he has no motivation to get a job or do anything productive as a member of society, he'd rather smoke weed and party with his loser friends. His path is leading him in and out of the courts/jail, but with no effect on his behavior. I've been to counseling intermittently over the years to seek some form of help for my stress and anxiety levels, but I still struggle so much emotionally and mentally from my worries and heartbreak. I don't know how to deal with this anymore. JA

Comment By : Joann

Great article. Sometimes, when I take a step back and wonder what it is about my son that is creating negative feelings in me, I come to realize that what I don't like in him is something I don't like in myself. After all, whether he likes me or not, he is still learning from me. So as unpleasant as this reflection may be, it's a good incentive for me to take a good look at my own behavior and change it.

Comment By : inowundertstand

This article has helped me a lot in realizing that i can make differences in the way i parent my child. I am a single mother and i was somehow bringing my 13 year old son into difficulties i have with my husband. We are not yet divorced, at least i am not thinking about it because i feel my son would not like it. He still hopes and so do i that some day the problems will be solved and we all will live together as a family again. Thank you for guiding me towards being a better parent to my child.

Comment By : Suparna M.

Loved the article. the hard part now is to follow through. I love my kids, but it is hard sometimes to like them all the time.

Comment By : loveallthetime

Thank you thank you thank you.... I was feeling so alone in my guilt and frustration and being disappointed that my child is not who I wanted him to be....I love him with all my heart but part of me cannot wait for him to turn 18 and possibly move out of our home. It has been a constant battle these last few years.. He has been in and out of court and kicked off the sports team all due to his choices to smoke weed. when we are getting along I hate to ask him to do anything because I am so tired of fighting. he chooses the worst people to hang out with and when I address this he calls me judge mental and snobby. I know that our life has revolved around the negative and I have lost sight of the positive...I am so weary and sad. This article helped so much

Comment By : readyforchange

A lot of this is vailid and good advice/reminders about focusing on the place you have most control, yourself. But, that doesn't mean you should not hold your child to standards and absorb all the behavior problems as your own. I guarantee when they get in the real world, their boss is not going to question whether the problem is with him or herself or the employee. The employee, your child, is going to have to take ownership and change.

Comment By : eugene

This article helped reinforce what I have been feeling and how I have been trying to cope with one of my daughters. I have acknowledged to my husband (he feels the same way), therapist, and friends that I do not like her behaviors and her personality most of the time, but I do truly love her and I am hopeful that she will develop into a positive person in my life. She is in therapy and we all go to family therapy as well (I have four children --- three of whom are positive, caring, respectful members of our family, and then there is my other daughter). She has so many issues (she is adopted --- surprise--- but so is one of her brothers)and I am truly uncomfortable in my own home with her around, since I do not trust her for one single second. It is a constant struggle, but we are working on it as a family and we have a lot of support (just started hypnotherapy with her this summer and she is making some remarkable progress). I am just happy that this article let it be known that it is okay to dislike your child. It really feels good to read others' comments since there are so many of us parents out there who try so hard. It is important to note that, as the article suggested, the parent should try to focus on the positives --- that has helped me tremendously.

Comment By : Kat

Thank you so much. The last paragraph especially was very helpful for me. Also the commitment to not criticizing and the focusing on my reactions and apologizing for them. I think that these actions will help build better relationships in ALL relationships.

Comment By : mrs isaac

This is a great article! My son is highly gifted and has so much potential in so many areas. When he rebels, is defiant, lies and talks down to me with dis respect I get frustrated and feel guilty because I not only don't like the way he behaves I don't like HIM sometimes. Others say what a great kid he is and how wonderful it would be to have such a smart and talented kid... it does not make all things easier!

Comment By : needinggrace

* Joann: All of the emotions youíve described come through so clearly in your words. Many parents have an image of how they would like their child to be, and it can be so incredibly hard to cope when your child does not behave in a way that comes close to that image. One thing that Debbie stresses to parents is the importance of seeing your son as an individual separate from yourself. You have done your best as a mother throughout your sonís life. Remind yourself that your son is not a reflection on youóhe is his own person who makes his own choices, none of which are controlled by anyone but himself. Debbie recommends that parents who are feeling as you do turn their focus from their children to themselves. You can only really control yourself and how you decide to hold your son accountable for his behavior; you canít make your son be how you want him to be no matter how hard you try. We recommend that you walk away from your son and take some time to yourself when you are feeling emotionalódo something you enjoy or start a new hobby. You could read, journal, go for a walk, or start a scrapbook for example. Debbieís program, The Calm Parent, offers information and tools that I think you will find very helpful. In addition, I would like to share some of Debbieís other articles with you-- they will give you a good sense of what The Calm Parent program is all about and offer you more ideas to try. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Itís certainly not easy. Take care.
Adult Children Living at Home? How to Manage without Going Crazy
Adult Children Living at Home? Part II: 9 Rules to Help You Maintain Sanity
Calm Parenting: How to Get Control When Your Child is Making You Angry

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

This is a great article with good tips. Sometimes I wonder "who raised these kidz?" and then I remember they are my kidz and somehow they were raised by me! My son has gone thru the middle school phase and is maturing, but now I'm dealing with my daughter's middle school drama. It's a lot easier and EP's advice is always a huge help! Keep it coming!

Comment By : luvmykidz

I'm having a difficult time finding a single nice thing to say about my daughter. I realize that she could be worse, but she disgusts me. I have zero respect or faith in her. I'm angry, I'm sad, I'm disappointed. We used to get along really well. I have rules and I try to hold her accountable, therefore she chooses to spend all of her free time with friends away from our home. It's hurtful that she would rather spend time at someone else's home watching television and hanging around with someone else's mom. She treats me like the hired help and that pain is difficult to carry.

Comment By : onstaff

* To Ďonstaffí: It sounds like you are feeling incredibly hurt and betrayed by your daughter. Many parents feel this way when their children hit adolescence and start to spend more and more time with peers. Teens are going through a process called individuation. What this means is that itís a teenís developmental task to pull away from the family and figure out who they are in the context of the outside world. That means spending time away from home, with peers, and maybe trying out some new fads and interests. So that said, my guess is that even though it feels like her behavior is about you, itís probably not about you at all. When you personalize your childís behavior, it leads to feelings of resentment and anger, as you are experiencing now. Itís best in these times to focus on taking care of yourself emotionally, finding some new ways to cope and manage the stress you are under. James Lehman reminds parents: donít hold your breath. Donít hold your breath for appreciation and acknowledgment by your child of what a great parent you have been. That will come much, much later. For now, take care of yourself! Hereís another with some more helpful pointers: 5 Secrets for Communicating with Teenagers. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this. It isnít easy. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I feel exactly as onstaff mum. I am a single mum with a 16yr old Theres so much negativety in our home, I dread coming home never know how her mood is and whats next. I dont hate her, but she has killed so mOoouch with her lies, manipulation, and selfish attitude. Maybe she will realise there are others in the world... Actually, she is good, helpful, polite, when around others. I am her lashing bag, and see and experience her evil ways, which she is do good at concealing. My closest friends have seen it, she wont even allow me to work in peace or enjoy a meal with a friend. Thats when she harrasses and demands, when its difficult to argue. I am thinking to let go, give her to the care of someone in the family, or get authorities involved to put her by force in someone elses custody. Maybe then she will realise how good things were for her Is it selfish to say, I want my life back, I want peace and deserve to be able to rest after a long hard day. I am fedup of being the live in maid, money on demand machine, I want my life back. And just want to walk away from all her drama Shanel

Comment By : Shanel

The words you wrote hold so much truth! They're an eye opener! A friend of mine once said to me, "you're fighting too much with your daughter because she looks like you more and more with every day." I did not understand back then, but now is clear to me. I have a question if you can find the time to ask me, please: 95% of the time I get mad, angry, screaming at my daughter because of the principle of that she did, not because of the actual thing; i.e. she broke a glass. I don't get mad because of the loss of the glass or the mess created, I get mad because of the principle of the matter: I TOLD YOU A ZILLION TIMES NOT TO.......and you ignore me, you continue to repeat the same mistake. WHY?? Then my anger escalates. I calmed down when I clean up or fix the wrongdoing. What should I tell myself to save myself from falling into that well of anger every single time?? Needless to say, I love her to death. Thank you.

Comment By : Angry Single Mom

* To ďAngry Single MomĒ: Thank you for sharing your story with us. It can be frustrating when you find yourself telling your child over and over again not to do something and they go ahead and do it anyway. I can hear how much you want to change how you are responding to your daughter. Itís great you recognize responding in anger by yelling probably isnít the most effective response. Itís understandable you would be upset; most parents would be in similar situations. Whatís probably going to be most effective is to disengage and walk away from the situation when you find yourself getting upset. You can use an affirmation, such as ďThis too shall passĒ, ďI can remain calm in the face of this challengeĒ or some other phrase that you can repeat to yourself to help you calm down. After you have taken some space, taken care of yourself and calmed down, then you can go back and address what was going on with your daughter. Learning how to parent from a place of calm can be a challenge, especially when dealing with difficult or defiant behavior. It can go a long way, however, towards helping you parent more effectively. Here are a couple other articles by Debbie Pincus you may find useful: Calm Parenting: Stop Letting Your Child's Behavior Make You Crazy & Calm Parenting: How to Get Control When Your Child is Making You Angry. We wish you and your family luck as you work through this challenge. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

I truly enjoyed reading this article. However, like Joann, I too am frustrated beyond belief. My son is 19 and blames every single person for his problems. The problem is that he had a paternal granmother and paternal aunts who would always find their way to rescuing him whenever he was made to take responsibility for his action, by his mom, me. He is the master of divid and conquer. He actually calls me, stirs up the climate of the conversation, and then repeats outloud in front of the people in his house (i.e.aunts, grandmom, etc)only the parts of the conversation that will make him look victimized. As sad as it may sound, at this point and time I honestly do not like the way my son at all.

Comment By : Joy

I would absolutely love to be able to go to bed ONE night without feeling like I only spent the whole day fighting with, ruling over and punishing my children. I would love to wake up at least one day and be glad to see my children, and not brace myself for the next thing I have to correct and fight about. Thank you for your article, maybe this might be a good place to start at if I ever want to feel like a mother again, instead of the prison warden/drill seargent / police woman I became.

Comment By : RealTiredMom

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