Young People Up Close

Working with adolescents

Of Course We Hate Our Children

Hatred is merely the flipside of love

We love our children and we hate them. Not because we’re bad people or bad parents but because we’re normal. And not because our children are bad or unlovable but because all parent – child relationships are a mixture of love and hate.

I know it’s a strong word. It’s not a word we like to be associated with. We blame hatred for causing wars and killings and cruelty. But the really scary word isn’t hatred. It’s ‘indifference’. When we’re indifferent to other people, when we really don’t care one way or the other, that’s when the trouble starts, whereas hatred is merely the flipside of love. We wouldn’t bother hating people if they didn’t mean such a lot to us, if they didn’t matter, if we didn’t somehow recognize something of ourselves in them. We only feel so strongly because – somewhere inside us - we also love them powerfully but they’ve gone and hurt us or betrayed us. And that’s where the feeling of hatred kicks in - that deep-down, primitive feeling, helping us to feel powerful again, in control again.

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I’m not suggesting that parents don’t love their children. They do. It’s just that love isn’t all that we feel about our children and love isn’t all that they feel about us.

The problem comes when we’re trying so hard to love them but they’re behaving so badly and we find ourselves retaliating. Sometimes we find ourselves being deliberately cruel; sometimes we find ourselves misusing our power and then wondering why. The guilt kicks in. “It must be because I’m a bad parent! Or because I don’t love him enough! Or because he doesn’t love me!”

I’m not for one minute condoning cruelty of any kind towards children. My point is that cruelty often occurs when we fail to live up to our expectations of ourselves as parents and when our children fail to live up to our expectations of them. The disillusionment is terrible. “Why is my child making me feel this way? I hate this feeling! And I hate my child for making me feel this way!” It’s at moments like these that we’re likely to take it out on our children to make the feeling go away. And that’s when we need to wonder whether we were ever so wonderful in the first place or whether, like everyone else in the world, we’re flawed human beings, full of selfish as well as selfless motives, capable of cruelty as well as kindness, hatred as well as love. And our children - our lovely, beautiful, talented children - are the same.

Nick Luxmoore is a counselor at King Alfred's College, in the UK.

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