A warm, fuzzy connection with our children is very highly valued in today’s parenting culture. Popular wisdom tells us that parents – especially mothers – have an inherent bond with their kids, a bond that makes the challenges of parenting pale in comparison. And some professionals go so far as to say that kids’ difficult behavior will disappear if parents just connect enough.
But what if you just don’t feel all that warm and fuzzy?? In talking with some of my new clients, when I ask them to tell me about their children, some lower their voices and say things like, “I’m so ashamed to say it, but there’s a lot of times when I really don’t like him.” And others focus on the fact that they don’t love physical contact with their child – and they blame this on a lack of connection with him or her. “I see other parents hugging their kids and letting them sit on their laps,” they say. “But most of the time I don’t want her touching me or sitting on me. Why don’t I love her as much as other parents love their kids?”
Sometimes, parents feel this way about an only child. And sometimes, parents with more than one child feel this way about only one of the kids. And if you’ve ever felt this way, I want you to know that it’s OK! It’s perfectly normal and natural. Your feelings are based on your personality and your preferences, and those are just who you are. Here are some of the main reasons you may feel a lack of connection with your child:
1. Temperament/personality differences: Kids are born with their own unique personalities and their own way of experiencing, interpreting, and interacting with the world around them. They’re not the blank slates we often think they are! And their personalities may not be a natural fit with yours. As I often tell my clients, there’s no eHarmony for parents! Having or adopting a child can be compared with going to the store and inviting the first person you see to come and live with you. If you were to do that, how likely is it that you’d experience an immediate, passionate bond with this stranger? The act of birthing may generate a warm bond for some parents, but for many it does not. Most often, feelings of warmth and connection arise out of a sense of compatibility and reciprocity. If your personality or temperament does not fit especially well with your child’s personality, you may experience a disconnect with this young person.
2. Developmental factors: Let’s face it: Some stages of human development are more annoying than others! A significant portion of the population will sympathize, for example, if you tell them your child is 2 or 13. A lot of us find it difficult to connect with strong-willed toddlers and less-than-cooperative teens, and not only are some ages naturally more challenging, but many people have their own particular preference for the kind of human interactions that come with particular developmental stages.
My friend Dave, for example, can’t relate to young children and didn’t feel a strong connection with his kids until they turned 8 or so. And my friend Emma is very much “in her head” and felt more connected with her son when he reached his teens and his abstract, intellectual thinking really took off. If you’re not feeling a strong connection with your child now, there may well come a time when you will feel that connection. And if you stay open to this possibility, your current feelings may change sooner than later.
3. Sensory sensitivity: As I mentioned earlier, some parents assume they lack connection with their child because they have a certain distaste for physical contact with him or her. It’s normal, though, to be sensitive to both touch and sound. And it may be especially normal for Americans: Sociologists do say, after all, that we require more personal space! But sensitivity to certain types of sensory experiences is not a lack of love. And you can teach even very young kids to touch and make sound in ways that work for you.
4. Depression, anxiety, or anger: I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to experience a warm connection with someone when we’re depressed or stressed. So if you’re feeling a lack of connection with your child or someone else important to you, please check in with yourself. Are you under too much stress? Do you have a significant need that’s not being met? If so, this may be the root of the problem. Get clear about what you need to do to take care of yourself, and then take action, one step at a time. You’ll be much happier for it, and your relationships will improve, too.
Going forward: If you’re one of those parents who finds warm fuzzies hard to come by, don’t beat yourself up. Your feelings are normal, and there are good reasons for them. And your feelings may well change. Remember, kindness is a choice, and real love is action and not just a feeling. And experiencing a lack of warmth, appreciation, or enjoyment – and even feeling irritated – this is not the same as shaming, being judgmental, or intending harm. The most important thing is that you care for your child – and yourself – with compassion and consistency. The most important thing is to make choices that help both you and your child grow and be your best.