I love my child but don’t like them

Help!

How is the lockdown treating you? For me it’s been a marathon of a week. I’m sitting here, having mainlined my next dose of paracetamol…

The realities and responsibilities of working from home, and life punctuated by shepherding our daughter through guided home learning have weighed heavily and hit home hard.

Due to the more flexible dynamics of being self-employed, and my better half having his busiest and most pressured period at work right now, these are the weeks when the lion’s share of running the house and childcare have always fallen to me. But never before without the support of access to school, and never before without our lovely babysitter.

Being the person with whom the buck stops most often when she is frustrated, overwhelmed, falling behind with the pace and admin of the online learning is hard. It’s horrible to see your child battling with mounting stress. And of course, you want to be a reliable source of relief – but it comes at a cost.

Living in an apartment and not having a garden means that exercise has become more important than ever – not only in terms of physical wellbeing – but for mental health. This involves going for lovely country walks which – flooding permitting – are on our doorstep. So we are lucky. But again this is at a cost of at least an hour in daylight and working hours. The benefits are enormous. I feel my forehead soften and my muscles relax into what now feels like an unfamiliar smile as we walk along the beautiful river Wye.
 

This time is hard for all of us. And when I am railing against the unfairness and unrelenting nature of life as it is right now, I try my best to come back to balance by using gratitude…

Remembering that I am still here. My family are still here, my friends too have -by and large- emerged from this first year of Covid living more or less healthy and unscathed. And remembering that in the UK there are now close to 90,000 people who did not make it.

Life is too precious to be lost in frustration and irritability.

I’m normally the beneficiary of loving and supportive relationships – but one of the perils of social separation is loss of perspective and difficulty truly holding in mind and empathizing with others – even those we are normally close to. This week saw the supreme irony of me delivering workshops for teachers on how to have difficult conversations, avoiding the toxic residue of anger in the inevitable tensions of school life…against the backdrop of a conflict with my in-laws that seemed to erupt from nowhere.


This has made me reflect on how difficult it is to extricate ourselves from situations when the negatives spiral out of control…we can feed off each other’s anger and the normal dance of give-and-take in our relationships becomes more like a wrestling match.

But what if you, like many other parents right now, have become embroiled in a downward spiral of anger, disappointment, disconnection, and hurt. What can you do to begin to turn the terrible tanker of trouble in your relationship with your child?

It’s even harder when we are having to do this alone. And as Dorothy said, there’s no place like home – and when feels like it’s a nest of vipers, there’s no place worse.

The thoughts that follow may be helpful for those of you who are living this right now with the pressures on home life – especially with teens who are really struggling, and sometimes defying the restrictions that the state has imposed, and that parents must reinforce…

As usual, feel free to pass on or recommend to a friend who is trapped in conflict with their child.

Or you may be ‘looking ahead’ to the various inter-generational power struggles that may be on the horizon with adolescence approaching and deepening…

Some principles to bear in mind when you are locked in combative and critical patterns of behaviour:

  1. Repair is harder than in earlier points of childhood where a hug and a cuddle could reset the button both for them and for us. As our kids reach the early and middle teens, they have the cognitive capacity to hold onto and retrigger grudges with a lot more sophistication. Their brains are wired to be a lot more volatile in the relational zone, and they have their online life to fuel the drama and keep them revved up…It is harder for a teen to own their mistakes, feelings of guilt and shame are hard to bear, anger and blame are preferable to take out on…you!
  2. Watch out for your own negativity bias – which is likely to be super-activated right now with all the barriers to calm and stress-busting that we normally have in our lives…(Remember date-nights?). When we are frustrated and angry, our brains are on the lookout for more things that are annoying…enter struggling and frustrated teen, stage left…
  3. Based on my experiences of coaching teenagers, they probably would love to make peace and get a ‘reset’ on their relationship with you – but they don’t know how. Even though they are shouting poison…they are often lost and desperate to find a way back. Once again, we are the grown-ups. If we want to change the dynamic, it starts with us. This has nothing to do with letting them off the hook or being lame when it comes to them being accountable for the things they’ve done wrong. It’s just a fact.
  4. Keep an eye on what your mind is marinating in with respect to your teen. The mind gets very good at what it practices…so if you practice thinking ill of someone, that is what is going to grow in your mind. Start to check in with yourself…What are the scripts and negative attributions that are present?…if you constantly catch them doing the wrong thing, you reinforce that script and miss opportunities to reconnect.
  5. There’s a reason why Crime and Punishment is a long book…Punishment may feel necessary – but it’s less effective than accountability, responsibility, repair. It disconnects you from them and puts the emphasis on the ‘what’ when you need them to engage with the ‘whys’
  6. Try and get back to balance in your thoughts. Write down and describe your child’s top strengths. Aim for 5 – 8 strengths and think of tangible examples. Peak moments where they really demonstrated something authentic and truly good within their core personality. When you’re going through troubled times, this is hard to do. Look at the VIA Character Strengths list of 24 and do a strengths audit on your child…Revisit this. How does it feel to really focus on their strengths rather than their shortcomings. Find shortcuts to accessing them more regularly. Is there an image that represents that strength. Is there a photo that can be representative of them inhabiting their key strengths that you can put on the fridge door? Marinade your mind in the positives so you can anchor yourself in more hopeful narratives about your child.
  7. Try to improve the quality of your interactions. Start with the small stuff. Good relationships are based on good interactions. If the quality of the interactions don’t change, neither will the quality of your relationship. You can only control how you show up around your child – you can’t control them or make them more likeable in your presence. Try showing appreciation wherever you can, expressing gratitude, labelling the glimpses of good behaviour that you occasionally get…Dial up the good.
  8. If something good happens in family life, savour it. Spend a breath or two, a phrase or two, an exchange or two or three to be appreciative of how tasty, funny, sweet, refreshing etc a shared experience is.
  9. Before you go to bed, try the three good things journal – where you write down three positives about your child, your relationship with your child, that happened that day. Get in practice with catching them doing something right. You write down what happened that was good, and why it was good. It works to help lift your overall mood state over time.
  10. Avoid toxic questions…with time and repetition they leave a toxic residue that confirms the pattern of the child or teen feeling that they are wrong, bad, unlovable. We were all such nice parents before we had kids… Some samples of toxic questions: • What do you think you’re doing? • What on Earth were you thinking? • How many times do I have to tell you…? • What am I going to do with you? • Why don’t you do what you’re told? • What’s your problem? If you’re going to turn around the tanker of negativity, you need to give them hope. You need to remind them of their capability, their likeability, their place in the home and in your love, and give them chances and help to make repair.


    1. Remember that anger and fear are nasty twins. An angry child is very often little and lost when it comes down to it. We need to stand strong, grounded in love and be ruthlessly compassion in order to create the space for them to be less afraid. You need to break the pattern and provide something back that is not what they are expecting in the hostile dynamic.

      1. Double down on self care. An angry child can polarise their parents, playing a wedge game where they exploit the space between the enforcer and the appeaser. They will deplete your resources to the point where they will pull you to love them and hate them.

        1. I am always reminded of the Japanese art of Kinsugi, making broken things more beautiful and strengthened in their repair by making a beautiful feature out of the fracture. And remember… this too will pass.

This article may have resonated with your own experiences of home life as a child or teen or your relationship with your own parents. It is worth doing some thinking about the legacy of your own childhood and the ‘ghosts in your nursery’.What we feel, that we have not addressed, owned and processed, we tend to push out into the world when the proverbial hits the fan…and our nearest and dearest are closest to us and know how to push the nuclear buttons that turn us into our shadow-selves.Get in touch:
• If this is something that resonates  
• If you don’t know where to begin
• If you feel you’ve tried it all and you’re still being pushed away
• Need some extra help and support so that you can keep on going
And now it’s the weekend – and I’ve got some difficult conversations and resettings of my own to do…Courage!With love and gratitude,Emma. 

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