I love my son, but I resent my daughter | Parents and parenting

The question I am a mother of a four-year-old girl and an 18-month-old boy. And I find it hard to love my daughter. From the moment she arrived, I felt like I was getting it all wrong and wasn’t good enough – I even felt she wasn’t a good enough baby. The sound of her cry did, and still does, bring up feelings of rage, anger and resentment. I do not feel like this about my son. All I feel for him is pure love, his cries make me feel sad and concerned and like I want to support him, not pull away from him. Why can’t I love my daughter like I do my son? She is a sensitive child and I’m sure she can sense my confused feelings towards her. I don’t want to damage her mental health, but I also don’t know how to love her properly and often feel myself withdrawing from her, especially when she is being difficult and defiant, which I know is probably when she needs me to understand her the most, but I just can’t seem to be fully there for her.

Philippa’s answer What you have done right is acknowledge and identify the problem. Instead of being blaming or critical of her, you are curious about yourself. This is absolutely on the right track. Well done.

I cannot know the reasons behind how you feel, but I’m going to suggest a few in case any of them resonate and help you to understand what might be happening.

When you have your first-born, you overhear so much about “good mother” and “bad mother” that when your baby cries you can hear the tears as a way of being “told off”. Almost as if it’s “proof” you’re a “bad mother”. And yet it’s normal for a newborn to cry for two to three hours a day. Good-mother, bad-mother labelling is an unhelpful cultural concept. If you’ve given yourself this label you may be resenting your daughter because of it. The labels are either used defensively or to self-flagellate, and neither of these positions helps our children one bit.

When you have your second child, you expect your baby to cry a lot and because you’ve learned that your soothing does eventually work, you don’t panic or see it as a marker for how you are doing. And so, you may resent the second child less as you haven’t used them as a way to judge yourself unfavourably.

It is the first-born child that turns your life upside down. Before she came along, you probably saw colleagues every day, were free to be spontaneous in your life, could sleep for as long as you liked and only had to be responsible for yourself. Everyone knows their life will change beyond recognition when the first baby arrives, but there is a difference between knowing it and the actual experience. It is normal to resent the baby for changing your life. This might be one factor in your case and it may be compounded by others. Again, when your son arrived, you were used to having a young child.

It is also possible that your daughter reminds you, on a somatic level, of you and how you felt when you were her age. Perhaps her cries put you in touch with your own pain of helplessness and vulnerability when you were an infant and you don’t like being reminded of that, so your instinct is to push her away. Ask yourself how you felt and what happened to you as a child when you were defiant. Over the years I have seen several clients in my psychotherapy practice who were distressed because they didn’t like their children. And four times out of five it was because the age their child was when they came to me was the same age the parent was when they were going through a difficult time. It could be that you don’t identify so much with your son, as you do with your daughter, so it is her who unwittingly triggers these unwanted feelings.

I’m also wondering whether not loving yourself enough could be behind your resentment of your daughter? Some sections of society are misogynistic; we can pick this up unknowingly and dump this internalised misogyny on to our daughters. Or you might be projecting parts of yourself that you don’t like on to her.

I suggest psychotherapy for you because a therapist could help you to separate yourself from the part of you that dislikes your little girl, help you to observe that part, but not let that part take the reins when it comes to how you behave towards her. In therapy, you would get to speak from that resentful part, to get to know that part more and give her some compassion. I think she needs looking after by the part of you who wrote to me. If the resentful part of you feels safe and seen, I think there would be less of an urge to withdraw from your daughter. This psychological work would be hard to do on your own, so the right therapist might really help. To find a therapist, try welldoing.org.

You are aware of the problem – that is halfway to solving it. Now cheer yourself up by watching Jen Brister’s Mothers and Sons v Mothers and Daughters on YouTube.

And read The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did, by me.

Philippa Perry’s The Book You Want Everyone You Love* To Read *(and maybe a few you don’t) is published by Cornerstone at £18.99. Buy it for £16.14 at guardianbookshop.com

Every week Philippa Perry addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Philippa, please send your problem to [email protected]. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions

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