Help! I Don’t Like My Child

7 min read

I received the following message from a father seeking advice.

Dear Dr. G.,

It is with a great deal of embarrassment that I am writing to you. I am the father of three children. I have a 17-year-old son and a 19-year-old daughter from my first marriage. I got divorced from their mother three years ago. I am now remarried and have a 1-year-old daughter with my current and hopefully last wife.

My son and I have always gotten along famously. We both love sports, and I coached his baseball teams for years. I am lucky enough to have a flexible job that allowed me to be available to coach. I am a middle school teacher. My son is easy-going and a lot of fun to be around.

My relationship with my 19-year-old daughter is an entirely different story. She is a smart girl and a talented artist. I respect that about her. The problem is that we just don’t seem to get along. She is very disagreeable with me and seems to want to argue with me. My ex and current wives both suggest that maybe she is just trying to get my attention since I have always spent more time with my son. To me, this seems like a strange way to get attention. My daughter was an easy child but became harder for me to like as she entered her teen and young adult years.

The truth is that I don’t really like her at this point. I am a teacher, and I like kids, so it is especially painful that I don’t like my own kid. Also, isn’t it something that my ex and current wives get along well, and I can’t even get along with my own daughter? I am fraught with shame, guilt, and feelings of inadequacy. Even my son is unhappy with me for upsetting his older sister since I have been reaching out to her less frequently. All of my kids get along with each other. My daughter even likes my new wife and my baby daughter. What is wrong with my daughter, or maybe the real question is what is wrong with me?

I think that it is important to give you a little bit of history. My ex wife and I were (in my mind) happily married for several years. About five years ago, she told me that the marriage was no longer working for her and that all of my attention was devoted to sports and working out at the gym. I never knew that my ex had an issue with this. We tried marital therapy, but unfortunately, it wasn’t helpful.

After the divorce, my kids lived with my wife, and I saw them every other weekend. My daughter didn’t always want to spend weekends with me because she preferred to spend time with her friends. This made me feel hurt and angry. Finally, and I don’t know if this is important, but my new wife suggested that I share this. My ex and my daughter are both beautiful women, and they look so much alike. Maybe this is part of the problem. Please advise.

Here is my advice for the father:

I am delighted that you reached out to me and are seeking a solution. I am so sorry that you are having difficulty with your daughter. I understand your feelings of shame and embarrassment, but you are not alone here. There are plenty of parents and guardians who admit to disliking their children. The goals are for you to get some understanding of why this is the case and then some ideas that will help you and your daughter get along better.

You mention that your problems with your daughter escalated during her teen years. There are several factors that may have created the perfect storm for you to dislike your daughter. First, it is often challenging to get along with teens. During these years, they have lots of difficulty regulating their emotions because their brains are not yet fully developed.

Second, it sounds like you spent and perhaps continue to spend more time with your son because you share an interest in sports. My guess is that this is not lost on your daughter, and she probably resents this and feels that you favor your son.

Third, it is not uncommon for relationships to become more stressful following a divorce. The challenge of visiting you may have been hard for your daughter. It is understandable that she wanted to see her friends during the weekends. It doesn’t sound like you had tolerance for this.

Fourth, both your ex-wife and current wife suggest that your daughter is being disagreeable in an effort to get your attention. This opinion is coming from women who know both you and your daughter. They are probably correct and, yes, kids do act out in order for us to notice them. Finally, your daughter looks like her mother, and you may unconsciously or unconsciously dislike her for this resemblance. After all, you are unlikely to be fond of her mother who left you.

So now that I have suggested reasons why you and your daughter do not get along, I also have some good news. Your daughter gets along with many family members, so it sounds like she knows how to get along with others and has good social skills. If her being disagreeable is an attempt to get your attention, then you are a lucky father. I have several suggestions for you, which include:

1. Reach out to your daughter despite your feelings toward her. The goal is for you to start liking her again by getting to know her better. Learn what her interests are and express curiosity about them. Perhaps you can identify some activities that you would like to do together. Don’t push too hard. It took time for the fracture in the relationship to develop, and it will take time to fix.

2. Think hard about whether or not your daughter’s resemblance to your former wife is a trigger for you. Is your daughter’s appearance too much of a reminder of your feelings of disappointment about the dissolution of the marriage? If so, remind yourself that your daughter and your ex are not the same person.

3. You mentioned that your ex-wife felt that you devoted too much of your time to sports and going to the gym. It is wonderful that you have interests, but perhaps your ex is correct. Maybe you want to allot more time to your relationship to your daughter and be available to her. Think about this idea.

4. If you do begin to have more contact with your daughter and find yourself in arguments with her, please try to move away from topics that lead to conflict. The relationship quality is more important than winning an argument, right? And as you spend more time with your daughter, you may both begin to have fonder feelings toward each other. As a result, the arguments may become less frequent. That is my hope, and I am sure that it is yours as well.

5. Try to let the past go. Your daughter is growing up, and over time, she is likely to become more emotionally regulated and less inclined to be disagreeable. Move forward with your relationship. Forgive and forget. Move on with grace and love. That will be good for both of you.

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