Don’t Love Your Son? (Think Again)

Probably the hardest life lesson for parents is the realization that parenthood isn’t exactly what you thought it would be. Your kids aren’t perfect after all, and neither are you. So what should you do if you regret parenthood, or start to think you don’t love your son or daughter?

If you think you don’t love your son or daughter, think again. Double meanings intended! Most parents naturally love their kids as extensions of themselves, but if not, reflection (and counseling) can usually help parents understand how to love their kids and deal with obstacles in the way.

As a mom to four kids (three of whom are sons) I’ve experienced a range of emotions when it comes to parenting. Though I admit ‘not loving them’ wasn’t an issue affecting me personally, I can certainly see that it could be for some, especially under different conditions.

I’ll share what I’ve learned researching this problem affecting many families, and how it relates particularly to parents with sons.

Is It Possible To Not Love Your Son?

Having a baby is commonly considered desirable for married couples around the world and if you experience any kind of infertility or challenge with conceiving, it can be heartbreaking. So some wonder if it’s even possible to not love your son when you’ve been given such a blessing?

It’s possible to not love your son, but more likely you dislike his personality or behavior. Keep in mind, while it’s possible, it’s also not natural. As humans, we are conditioned to love our kids as extensions of ourselves and our family’s future. Not loving them is not loving yourself, then.

But there are definitely cases where parents say they don’t love their sons or daughters so how can we explain that? And then, what should parents or children do if they are in it?

Let’s look at the first problem related to this, when parents don’t understand the meaning of love and confuse it with ‘like’. Then, we’ll consider some reasons parents may actually think they don’t love (i.e. ‘hate) their child, as well as some suggestions to correct this malformed behavior.

Confusing the Meaning of Love And Like

Parents, and people in general, very commonly confuse love and like. Even standard dictionary definitions can be confusing. In most cases, we use these words interchangeably, incorrectly, and in the wrong situations.

Think about this joke from childhood. It shows that even kids realize love and like are not the same!

Do you really love pizza?

Well, marry it then!

Love is very different from like. Like is a preference about things we enjoy doing. You may like skiing, eating bar-be-que, and wearing your hair short. You don’t really love those things.

Love is an action, not a feeling. Love is ‘the doing’ to a point that you put someone ahead of yourself. Love is giving of yourself so that someone else benefits. You don’t truly ‘love’ haphazardly. It doesn’t make sense for ourselves to do that. So we really, even if not consciously, choose to love quite discriminately.

Love never fails.

1st Corinthians 13: 8

The Bible describes love as ‘patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud’ in 1st Corinthians. In the same context, it goes on to elaborate that love doesn’t dishonor or promote oneself, and it’s not easily angered. It “protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.’

And by the way, all of these descriptions are actually verbs!

Many parents confuse not liking what their son or daughter does or thinks with not loving them. It’s actually quite common for parents to struggle now and then with liking their child because of his or her bad behavior or choices.

As parents, it’s ok to disagree with your child or disapprove of what he says or does, but it’s not okay to not love him.

It’s not, however, okay to not love your child. Parents are obliged to love their child, morally and ethically.

I recently watched a documentary on mammals and it just reminded me how even in nature, animals care for their young. The female wolves self-sacrifice to care for their pups.

How can we as humans be less than wild animals, then?

Reasons Parents Don’t Love Their Kids

The Supernanny TV show demonstrates many reasons parents may not ‘love’ their kids.

But there are many reasons parents don’t love their children, or think they don’t love them, unfortunately. Let’s consider some of the more common ones we see and hear.

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Cultural Differences

Culture plays a big role in how we parent our kids. So differences in displaying affection to disciplining kids can make it look like we don’t love them, when really, we have cultural norms for love.

For instance, some may think Asian parents are cold and unloving. Yet, that’s not true. In fact, Asian parents have been shown through studies to love their kids through sacrifices. The more sacrifices Asian parents make the more love they show their sons and/or daughters. This is actually the very definition of love itself, according to Corinthians!

Parents in North American countries typically show love in an Authoritative, parenting style, heaping outward displays of affection. Parents, then, who don’t conform to this may be considered unloving. It could be that you yourself as the parent is the one who actually believes this, thinking ‘maybe I don’t love my kids since I don’t do this?’

Outward displays of affection don’t have to be indicative of ‘love’ or ‘hate’ for that matter. Love is more than that. It’s sacrifice, as shown by the Asian parenting example, but even that’s not enough because love is not just sacrifice.

Love encompasses putting others first, in this case, your child- in all ways, not just sacrifice-for the betterment of others.

Mental or Emotional Illness

There are parents who struggle with loving their sons and daughters due to their illness or their child’s.

In Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression by Brooke Shields (free with an Audible membership), Shields details her struggles with loving her newborn. It was not a choice, but due to postpartum depression. And she is not alone!

While up to 75 percent of new mothers experience some depression after childbirth, 15 percent of those go on to develop longer-lasting postpartum depression.

In cases of parental illness that keeps a parent from loving his or her child, expert help is usually necessary to overcome this.

But there are also cases where parents don’t love a child who’s suffering, that too needs expert help but for other reasons. The child needs support for his health condition, perhaps he suffers from autism and isn’t capable of returning love to the parent or some other impediment like schizophrenia.

It may not be possible in some situations for love to be returned, but that doesn’t matter. Parents should not withhold love back. This leads to the next reason actually.

Unrealistic Expectations

Some parents don’t love their child because they had unrealistic expectations of parenthood. It’s harder than they thought. More time-consuming. Uglier (not much is uglier than changing poo diapers! In other words, their son or daughter didn’t meet their ideal.

And research confirms that for many mothers especially, unrealistic expectations after childbirth can negatively impact her feelings for her children, sons and daughters alike.

These faults can blind parents and cause them to begrudge their child. The plain truth here is that it’s wrong, and unfortunately, it’s one of the most difficult reasons to overcome because it means the parents must admit it and take responsibility.

Once they do, however, it’s a simple one to correct for the most part.

Once we accept that our ‘ideal’ is not reality, we can start to live the life we have and within reason, even set goals to better it for ourselves and our children.

Toxic Parents

There are also toxic parents, who are just bad parents. Unlike the previous reasons, this isn’t something easy to fix.

For one, if you are a toxic parent, you aren’t looking to fix it either.

Toxic parents are usually categorized as narcissistic. They don’t think anything they do or desire is wrong, and it’s difficult to correct this. They can’t imagine putting children’s needs ahead of their own, so in this way, they can’t love them.

Basically, narcissistic parents don’t love anyone but themselves. It’s unfortunate when they have kids, and the only good news is that they typically don’t.

TV and movies rarely ‘get it right’ but they’ve created some iconic examples of toxic mom that come close, such as Norman Bates’ mom (Psycho); Selina Meyer (Veep); and Mama Soprano (The Sopranos).

Bad Kids

Most commonly, parents who think they don’t love their sons actually don’t like their ‘bad sons’. These parents have kids who are disagreeable, ill-behaved, disrespectful, and generally terrible to be around. As kids grow older, their behavior just gets worse and worse. So overtime, the parents just don’t like them or want to be around them.

However, in most cases, it’s a situation of bad parenting that led to this. So the best prevention is good parenting early on.

The sooner parents get control over the situation, the easier it is to right the course. If you wait to discipline your child until he’s a teenager, it’s nearly impossible (but still possible).

Then there are those outlier situations that begat terrible humans, kids who grow up to do monstrous things even though they had seemingly good parents and home lives. It’s not the norm, hence the meaning of ‘outliers’, but it does happen now and then. These kids typically don’t live long lives or end up in jail.

And yet, parents are still obliged to love them. Keep in mind that loving them doesn’t mean liking or approving of their bad behavior and it may mean you love them from afar. But you should still love them all the same.

When You Love Your Daughter But Not Your Son

Comedian Kevin James has a bit about loving his kids differently.

Surprisingly to many, parents often play favorites. This doesn’t always mean you love one and not the other, but sometimes it seems that way or you ‘love one more’ than the other. It also may be that you just give more to one over the other. What does this mean or why does this happen?

Some parents play favorites. It may seem parents love their daughter and not their son, or vice versa. Usually this has actually nothing to do with the children, and more to do with the parents. Parents who act this way generally favor the child more like them or the child more easily controlled.

Sometimes the parents will confess to loving both, but their actions (remember, love is an action) demonstrates that they clearly favor or prefer one child over the other/others.

Parents may provide more things to the preferred child, but also give more affection, less rules, and overall just make one child’s life much better than any other in the family.

In some ways, loving one child more doesn’t mean you don’t love the other one, too.

If it seems confusing, well that’s because it’s still disordered and disorder can be confusing.

As parents you may like one child more and that’s okay because ‘like’ has to do with preference and interests. You just may simply have more in common with one child than another.

But you should love them equitably.

If You Don’t Feel Connected To Your Son (or Daughter)

Some parents struggle with loving their son or daughter, because they don’t feel connected or have emotional ties to him or her. Usually parents like this had a certain emotional expectation once the child was born that didn’t come to pass, so they feel like they don’t love him or her.

Parents who don’t feel connected to sons or daughters generally feel let down emotionally. They struggle with physically showing affection to their child and often feel resentful. They may even feel they don’t love their child but are afraid to seek help because it feels unnatural to profess it.

Often it becomes obvious to those around them though, because the parent acts distant towards the child and might even say things that allude to disappointment in him or her.

While it’s common for them not to show affection, some may overcompensate and be overly affectionate or generous in order to cover up their hidden feelings or concerns and give credence to deny any accusations.

Parents in this case need to understand once again the real meaning of ‘love’.

Love is caring for your child; putting his or her well-being first. So even if the emotional connection is lacking in the parent’s mind, he or she should love their child anyway.

We need to understand that those love ’emotions’ ebb and flow, because that’s how emotions are. We have ups and downs, depending on our day, as human beings. Parents shouldn’t love their children based on their ‘feelings’ because our feelings are constant.

As parents, our responsibility to love our child is what’s constant.

Don’t Love Your Son Takeaway

The main takeaway about parents not loving their sons or daughters is that it’s really not an option!

Here are some other major takeaways:

  • Parents are obliged to love their kids, through good and bad.
  • Love is an action and withholding care and affection is wrong, no matter how your kids act or behave.
  • It’s the parents’ responsibility to love their child from infancy through adulthood.
  • Sometimes illness can affect love. For instance, up to 15 percent of mothers suffer postpartum depression after childbirth and need medical care to overcome it in order to love their baby properly.

There are many reasons parents don’t love their kids, some are quite complicated while others may just be superficial. Regardless, love isn’t something that’s flexible or negotiable when it comes to your kids. It’s their right to have parents love them!

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