‘I love my child, of course I do, but a part of me can’t help wanting my old life back.’
‘I wish I had known what I was getting myself in for. I had no idea that being a parent would be so difficult.’
‘Every day is like Groundhog Day. I rarely see my friends, or do anything for myself. I feel like I’ve lost myself completely in motherhood.’
‘Since becoming parents, my partner and I get so little time together. It’s just all about the kids.’
‘I thought I wanted a large family but I can barely cope with one. Parenting takes everything out of me.’
Occasionally in the Inner West Mums group, a mother will open up about her disappointment, regret or resentment towards parenting and family life, usually with enormous guilt at having these feelings. It’s not a topic that is often discussed in public, even among close friends. However, according to Liz Neal of Elizabeth Neal Psychology in Gladesville, these negative feelings towards parenting and family life are quite normal. ‘When a parent or couple can acknowledge their negative feelings openly and honestly, we can work constructively with them,’ she says. We asked Liz more about this taboo topic and how she helps clients to reconcile those feelings.
In your practice do you see parents who are struggling with feelings of disappointment or resentment?
Absolutely! Behind closed therapy doors, many of my clients are open and honest about their feelings of disappointment and resentment at having children, and this includes both women and men, as well as individuals and couples. Some people feel that having children has impacted their personal life and/or their relationship negatively and can be quite resentful and regretful at times. These feelings can begin in pregnancy or any point in the early years of childhood. For all of those who feel disappointment or resentment, there’s never a question of not loving their child or children, and these very mixed and contrasting feelings can result in great confusion, hopelessness and guilt.
What are some of the factors that can contribute to these feelings?
In most cases, the disappointment or resentment comes from the limitations children may place on parents’ lives, including lack of career progression, financial constraint, lack of personal freedom, a reduced social life and changes in intimacy. This is worsened for parents who find the daily grind to be predominantly routine-based and procedural rather than viewed as opportunities to enjoy guiding their children through their development in everyday tasks. Children are naturally intense and evocative, and some parents really struggle with this. They may feel they are incapable of appropriately parenting them, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy or failure and therefore disappointment and resentment.
How do you help clients to reconcile feelings of disappointment or resentment?
I work with clients to find ways to make parenting and family life more enjoyable and less like hard work. When I hear parents tell me about daily routines with their children that are void of pleasure, I try to help them to find ways to enjoy small aspects of them – those simple micro moments that take place hundreds of times a day. This may require breaking down some rigid ideas about the ways things should be or should run, and parents’ expectations about their children.
We also identify beliefs about the child and what they represent in relation to the disappointment. I help parents separate out their own (sometimes hostile) feelings projected onto the child, from who their child really is. Once parents start to see their child with meaning, and their own life as actually separate from their child, things tend to start to shift. This does involve acknowledging the reality of loss and limitation, and the frustrations that come with parenting. It involves owning them in order to constructively approach daily routines and adopt an outlook that can foster both parents’ needs as well as those of their children. For couples, we look at how the relationship has changed for the worse after having a family and find ways to get it back on track.
More articles with Liz Neal:
What is Postnatal Depression? A Psychologist Explains
What Makes a Happy Blended Family?
When Two Becomes Three (or More)