The 3 Types of Parents Most Likely to Become Bitter

... especially when their communities don't recognize their challenges.

Posted Nov 06, 2015

Source: VGstockstudio/Shutterstock

A new Pew Research Center survey of parents with children under 18 shows just how stressed many feel on a daily basis. Among all working parents with children under age 18, more than half (56%) report that it's difficult for them to balance the responsibilities of their job with the responsibilities of family; 14% percent say this is very difficult, and 42% say it’s somewhat difficult.

As a therapist who works with families, I can tell you that some parents are actually more bitter than they admit to family, friends and coworkers (and pollsters). While a handful have a fairly pleasant experience parenting, others have significant resentments and bitterness as they try to meet their children's seemingly endless emotional and tangible needs.

Who are the most bitter parents? In my work, I have found that the most bitter often have little social support; received neglectful or conflict-laden parenting when they were young; or have children who are difficult or challenging (sometimes to the point of meriting a mental-disorder diagnosis).

Take a look at the sources of bitterness below and ask yourself which (if any) resonate the most with your experience:

1. Parents who received neglectful, abusive, or conflict-laden parenting when they were young.

Can you be happy meeting all the needs of your child if you feel like your own emotional needs were never met by your parents? It's a regular occurrence for me to hear frustrated parents compare their kids' experience to their own. "He has no idea how good he has it," a mother recently told me, before launching into a description of how her own parents didn't pay enough attention to her or criticized her for everything. Some parents are bitter because they are still stuck in—and resentful of—the insufficient way they were parented. Deep down, they sometimes feel envy because their child has it so much better than they did.

2. Parents who have difficult children, or children who meet the criteria for a mental disorder.

How one feels about the parenting experience has everything to do with the kind of child the parent has. A parent who feels happy and positive about being a parent probably has a kid who scores pretty high on the "easy meter"—and that’s largely a strike of good luck based on the child’s natural temperament. But having children who are defiant or angry, or who live with conditions such as severe ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, can make parenting, at least at times, a truly difficult experience. In their darkest moments, such parents may secretly dislike—but still love—their children. Additionally frustrating for these parents is the response of their communities. Society rarely acknowledges how much harder parenting is for these parents than for those whose children don't have special emotional needs. What's more, people often dismiss these parents' frustration by minimizing the children's special needs. With the diagnosis of ADHD, for example, these parents sometimes hear people telling them that ADHD is overprescribed and not even a “real thing.” This denial or minimization adds to the bitterness and resentment the parents may already feel.

3. Parents who have little help or social support.

The more social support you have, the more you enjoy parenting; the less you have, the more resentful you feel. While some parents have large families on call to babysit or handle other tasks, others are extremely isolated. Isolation makes parenting more frustrating and lonely, but many isolated parents don’t have the resources or the energy to set up more supports.

The Takeaway

The most important thing for all parents to remember is that parenting can be extremely challenging. The community at large can help overwhelmed parents by validating their frustrations and offering empathy. And parents can also help other parents: Those who are having an overall positive parenting experience could significantly help others who are struggling by offering to help with small or large tasks—from driving a carpool to taking a child to an appointment.

Parents who feel extremely frustrated on a near-daily basis could consider seeking out psychotherapy or counseling which could help make them feel less isolated and overwhelmed. But above all, parents should confide in someone about how they feel, and shouldn't feel shy or embarrassed to ask for more help when they need it most.

Feel free to explore my book on dysfunctional relationships, Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve, or follow me on Twitter!


Pew Research Center survey of parents with children under 18 Sept. 15-Oct. 13, 2015.