Dear Barbara: I’m almost scared to say it out loud, but lately there are days when I don’t even like my kids. Am I a total mom failure? What do you do when you don’t like your kids?
You too, huh? There were many days in motherhood where I was scared to say that out loud. But I couldn’t deny the feeling: I didn’t like my kids.
My love never stopped. But like and love are two very different things. So let’s start there. Just because you don’t like them right now doesn’t mean you have stopped loving them.
I want to reassure you, you don’t have to like your children all the time to be a good mother. Any honeymoon you enjoyed with your child as an infant or a toddler will end when the reality of their uniquenesses and their own strong will clashes with yours.
The truth is: you aren’t going to enjoy every moment, or even every stage, of your child’s growing up.
All children go through awkward stages, like when it’s time to take your daughter training bra shopping. Some stages are annoying too. Like when a child thinks his junior high humor is hilarious and well it’s just not. Or when a blooming three-year-old loudly declares her curiosity about a different looking person in line behind you at the grocery store.
It’s your response to the feeling of dislike and annoyance that is important. Remember you, too, aren’t always so likable to your spouse or friends. We all have weaknesses and rough edges—our kids do too. The truth is you cannot generate warm fuzzy feelings toward your children on your own. So relax. Give them grace to be awkward and unlikable.
One of my grandsons is in that awkward thirteen-year-old stage. He will grow out of it, but how his parents and others respond to his attempts to be cool, funny, smart, and liked by many will shape his identity. If his parents and others think his jokes and the way he jerks his head to shake his hair out of his eyes are not funny, the temptation is to communicate rejection, disapproval, and disdain. Love is still the goal even when kids are acting in unlikable ways.
So as a parent what you can and must do is ask the Holy Spirit for His help. He can help you love even when you don’t like your child. The Holy Spirit can show you the truth about your heart and your attitude. Don’t let your present dislike keep you from demonstrating unconditional love. Recognizing your inability to love well and then admitting that it is not pleasing to God is the starting place.
The Spirit is our purifier and oh, do we parents need His help with our children!
Ask God to help you see a difficult or unbecoming child the way that He does. Jesus loved this child and died for this child as much as He did for you. Parents can have proud, better-than hearts just like their children. These hearts can only be changed by Jesus.
When we surrender to the whisper of the Spirit, we can ask God to give us His love because ours is insufficient. I have done this numerous times. Too many to admit since my grown children might read this blog. But every time I asked, the Holy Spirit removed the coldness in my heart and replaced it with His love that was pure, kind, patient, compassionate, did not act unbecomingly, or take into account a wrong suffered. When I didn’t ask, and there were too many of those, I was unloving, impatient and showed way too much anger with my kids.
I learned over time that the qualities of love in First Corinthians 13 and the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 were not possible for me to produce on my own. Only the Spirit of Christ could produce these holy, God-like qualities in me.
When I asked Him to give me His love for my unlikable child, I experienced the work of the Holy Spirit, my Purifier, Who loved me enough to show me the truth about my heart and possessed the power to change me. I experienced the truth of this verse: “For God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). I pray that you’ll experience it too.
Some of you are already counting the days till school starts. And some of you, like my daughter in Indiana, will actually be sending your kids back to school in just a week! After being off for 2 months, summer days start to feel long.
So, instead of dragging on in distaste for your people, come up with some ideas on finishing the summer well. Commit to being intentional with this precious time you have, even if it doesn’t feel like a gift in the moment.
Here are a few activities to try to fill up your days with meaningful fun for you and your children before the summer sunsets wane to back to school sales.
- Have a marathon story time. Pile together on the couch or on the bed and snuggle into an adventure — or a lot of little adventures. For ideas on what to read, see my recommendations here.
- Let ‘em camp in the backyard or on the porch. Make s’mores over the grill for an authentic-feeling (and tasting!) snack. Teach your kids old camp songs or VBS songs from your childhood, with the hand motions!
- Help them choose one thing they’d love to do this week (like sleep in, or have a friend over) and one project to tackle that they’ve been putting off (like cleaning the closet). Then develop a plan for both. Or choose a before-school-starts project like creating a new study space, or designing a cork board for their room.
- Have a game night, but make it a tournament with a prize everyone wants: a day with no chores, a gift certificate to the movies, or a “date” with a family member of his or her choice.
- Get your heads together to plan one act of service this week — maybe as a surprise.
- Have an ice cream sundae night.
- Fly kites together.
Some days our kids will be unlikable and just plain difficult. It’s life in a broken, sinful world. But we have the gift of the Holy Spirit Who is present with us every moment, waiting to help us live well.
Take the time to ask the Holy Spirit to help you choose to honor God in your motherhood. Like me, you’ll be surprised with the change He provides in your heart and in your house.
Stay tuned next week for ways to encourage creativity in your kids and why it’s worth the mess.