In the fog of new parenthood, a lot of people can find themselves asking, "Why doesn't anyone tell you how difficult being a parent really is?"
You're always on, always needed, always giving yourself — especially in the early days when your children are completely dependent on you for everything. There's a universal list of things we don't really talk about surrounding parenthood, until we're living the realities.
One of those is resentment towards your children.
Whether it's something as minor as wishing you had more time to yourself and bemoaning how much of you your children need, to more intense feelings of regretting you'd ever had children, these sorts of common feelings are often only talked about in the safety of professional counselling sessions or amongst the closest of friends.
But these moms opened up. At their request, their names have been changed to respect their privacy.
Parenting can feel more like surviving
Breanne Diaz, a mom of three young boys in Mississauga, Ont. only recently realized that resentment was something she feels towards her own children.
"When those thoughts enter my head, they are associated with feelings of sadness and disappointment," she said. "Sadness that I can't connect with them, and parent them the way that I had always hoped I would. Disappointment that my time with them isn't quality time."
She admits that when she talks about her children, it's often in terms of "surviving." And, at four, six and eight years old, they still need a lot of support.
"If a friend or colleague asks me what I am doing with my kids for March Break or something, my answer is often, 'surviving.' There is a lot of negative self-talk that appears to originate from the initial idea of resentment," she said.
Diaz says she sometimes wonders about a life in which her children were "normal" — where her oldest doesn't have autism, her middle child doesn't have hearing loss, and her youngest wasn't a surprise pregnancy.
There can be a sense of "buyer's remorse"
These sorts of differences between the expectation and reality of parenthood are a frequent source of resentment in parents, Gary Direnfeld, a social worker who provides family counselling services, tells HuffPost Canada.
"Parents can have that sense of buyer's remorse — 'Why did I get into this?' and 'My life would be so much easier without,'" he said. In these circumstances, what parents need is support in their own self-care endeavours.
"To be resentful, really it's an indication of something else that's going on. We want to help that parent understand what's going on, so that we can meet their needs and they in turn the needs of their child."
Parents need breaks, but it's not always possible
Katherine Jacobson, a mom of three young boys, says that she usually doesn't resent her children, but "it is like a monster that flies into my brain where I just want them to listen to me when I ask them to do something."
Jacobson says she soldiers on through the difficult moments, and prioritizes taking a lot of time for herself outside of her role as a parent.
"Being in it all the time breeds anger and exhaustion, so I actively work on being a real-life human adult. Having breaks and being allowed to pursue hobbies are important things for parents to be able to do in order to stay sane," she said.
Diaz believes that some of her resentment could be alleviated with additional supports. "I wonder if those individuals with access to a village harbour less resentment than those of us that do it all on our own without help," she said.
Jacobson says that a lack of outside support — the proverbial village — prevents parents from getting the breaks they need in order to recharge their parental batteries, so to speak.
Feelings of resentment are often normal, but seek support if it interferes with your parenting
Direnfeld echoes the need for supporting parents who may find themselves growing resentful towards their children, noting that often times these types of feelings are within the realm of normal.
"Don't say, 'Oh I must be an awful parent for having these resentful feelings.' Say, 'I'm likely a normal parent who's struggling currently to resolve an issue with respect to managing the needs of my child.' And take that as a signal that maybe you need some support."
Direnfeld says that there is an expectation of parents — particularly mothers — to know everything and that everything must be instinctive, and that if they don't have the instincts then there's something inherently wrong with them.
"We as humans don't do everything instinctively. We are the one species more than any other that has to learn from others. And so if we don't know something, go and learn it from another," he said.
We are allowed to be exasperated; we are allowed as parents to be frustrated ... What we're not allowed to do is to take that exasperation and frustration out on the child. That serves no one, and only escalates problems.
He says a lot of mismatch in expectations can be alleviated during routine prenatal appointments. Midwives and OB-GYNs should perform a kind of screening function, so that if they sense that an expectant parent has some unrealistic expectations or needs more support, they can be referred to appropriate services before baby arrives.
But if your resentment is such that it interferes with your care of your child(ren), seek immediate support, Direnfeld urges. If your child cries and you run the other way, hit your child, or use alcohol or drugs, then your resentment has reached a level that is problematic, he says.
"We are allowed to be exasperated; we are allowed as parents to be frustrated," Direnfeld said. "What we're not allowed to do is to take that exasperation and frustration out on the child. That serves no one, and only escalates problems."
Some parents have children to meet their own needs for love
Another reason parents may feel resentful towards their children, according to Direnfeld, is that some people have children in order to experience the love that they felt that they were entitled to growing up, but which they didn't receive. In a sense, they're looking for the child to love them and for the child to meet their own needs — which is an unrealistic expectation of a infant.
"The child isn't there for the parent's needs, the parents are there for the child's needs," he said, adding that in many cases, how a person was brought up themselves directly impacts their parenting strategies and feelings towards parenthood.
Diaz finds this rings true in her experience, saying that her own father openly resented her and her siblings when they were younger. "He made it very clear that he cared much more for my mother than us. I have to make sure that my own children never feel that way."
This leaves her husband and her to muddle through as best they can with very little support and inadequate resources. "It just doesn't ever feel like we're doing good enough. Like I'm not doing good enough," she said. "It often doesn't look pretty from the outside. Feeling resentful makes me feel terribly ashamed. Another strike against my ability to parent."
Feeling resentful doesn't make you a bad parent
Diaz added she wishes that parents could talk about these sorts of feelings openly without the fear of being branded a bad parent, or worrying that someone might call Children's Aid Society.
"I wish that other parents with similar feelings could know that they are not alone. I wish everyone — especially adults without children — could understand that parenting is almost an impossible task," she said.
"Throwing a mom or a dad a supportive smile when you can tell he or she is struggling, might just be the kindest thing you do that day."
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