Sometimes I hate my kids. Is that ok?
Mother of three, psychotherapist and author Dr Margo Lowy tells Body+Soul it’s natural to experience fleeting feelings of extreme disdain towards your children.
Being a mum is hard. Our kids push us to the edge, then reel us back in.
We are always expected to be loving, patient and selfless – even at times when it all seems like too much to bear. But how do we talk about maternal ambivalence, a forbidden and silenced – but daily – part of mothering?
I’ve studied this area for more than 10 years, and describe it as a mother’s loving and fleeting feelings of hate for her child which, in turn, actually strengthens her love.
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Yes, hate is a very strong word. Many of my friends were horrified when I first raised this topic with them, because after all, who would admit to hating their child? But hate is a much more powerful word than despair, anger or boredom, which we all experience when mothering.
No-one wants to admit to these momentary feelings, but they are very real and they do exist.
When one of my friend’s sons was in Year 7 she found him doubled up in pain one Sunday night. She rushed him to hospital. The doctors ran seemingly endless tests but found nothing wrong. He was sent home and the pain eventually settled down.
My friend was so relieved. But later, in a startling moment of honesty, her son admitted that his stomach pain was just a ruse so he could miss a test at school. Naturally, she was furious! He hadn’t prepared for a test, tricked her, and left her distressed about his health.
Over lunch one day she admitted to feeling a flash of hate, which quickly turned to relief that he wasn’t sick, then to love that he could be so honest with her.
When she reached this point, she started thinking about why he had gone to so much trouble to miss the test. What was he struggling with?
So instead of being angry, my friend realised she needed to be compassionate and listen to his problems, which led her to experience renewed and overwhelming feelings of love for her son. This incident has always stood out to me.
I have three children and, while I love them all to bits, there is a gritty underside to mothering. It’s a beautiful, but messy, experience. We need to make time to reflect, pause, laugh, cry and allow our feelings to flow naturally as we strive to be the best we can, knowing that we don’t always get it right. It’s not a series of beautiful family moments you see all over social media.
It’s full of contradictions with many difficult and diverse feelings. As a society, we need to talk about this more.
If mothers aren’t tied down by their own fears and self-judgement, they can be more flexible and, sometimes, a lot calmer in difficult situations.
My friends, who at first had difficulty in admitting their feelings, are now my biggest support group.
We as mums need to be brave and tackle what is going on inside us. If we push away our feelings, they can build up and we may cut ourselves off from our children by being angry and unresponsive to their needs.
We need to stay fluid and keep the connection going – no matter how hard it is. This means listening to all our feelings without censoring them. I’d love it if people were more honest about being a parent.
Too often we see littered all over social media photographs of perfectly dressed mums dropping off smiling kids at the school gates. My memories of those days are a frantic rush to get my boys to school on time.
Most mornings I wore no make-up, my hair was messy and I was dressed in plain jeans and a T-shirt.
One of my boys had usually managed to untuck his shirt or lose a lunch box somewhere on the way. And let’s not start about the constant moaning about lessons and homework in the car on the way to school.
But at the end of the day, this is real mothering.
Dr Margo Lowy is the author of The Maternal Experience: Encounters With Ambivalence And Love (Routledge, $73.99), out now.