Everyone knows what it’s like to feel resentful. Some people start to resent their partners due to an unequal division of work at home, while others build resentment at work when their hard work goes unrecognized. With children, it’s not uncommon for resentment to build towards their parents. Psychiatry professor Dr. Gene Beresin says that resentment is a state of unhappiness and anger due to feelings of being mistreated.
Dr. Beresin said it tends to grow over time, and the longer it lasts, the harder it is to fix, and it may have a significantly negative impact on one’s relationship with parents, including feelings of neglect, loss of trust, and feeling abandoned or rejected. He also noted that these insecure connections and negative feelings with parents typically become the model for children’s expectations of relationships with other peers and adults. They might see others as potential victimizers and isolate themselves out of fear of unfair treatment and pain.
They may also be prone to misbehavior and angry outbursts or even turn the anger and blame on themselves, leading to low self-esteem and chronic guilt. Fortunately, these outcomes aren’t certainties. Resentment is an emotion that cultivates in the dark. When you shine love and light on the situation, it starts to evaporate. As long as the parent is keeping that relationship with their child in mind, it’s less likely for resentment to grow. Still, everyone makes mistakes, and every child is different. Here are some parenting behaviors that may contribute to resentment and some healthy approaches to consider.
Some parents are inconsistent. At times, they’re overindulgent, giving or allowing treats, bending the rules, and letting bad behavior slide without punishment while being strict at other times. Children need consistency and structure, as they have in school. When they’re treated haphazardly, they eventually learn that human behavior and the world are untrustworthy and that they can never know what to expect. The result is insecurity and blaming the parents, especially as they get older.
To avoid inconsistent parenting, try to apply family rules and punishments over time and with each child. If a situation like economic hardship, loss, or divorce leads to less consistency and structure in the home, discuss this with your child in an age-appropriate way. The same goes for positive disruptions to consistency. There are times when parents are inconsistent and allow an extra dessert, late night, or a late movie, but this should be earmarked as something special. When it happens regularly, it may lead to resentment and confusion.
Promising something and then neglecting it because you’re too busy or stressed can create resentment. This is a challenging topic because, as an adult, you feel like you have a good reason for dropping the ball, but the child doesn’t see it that way. They had an expectation, got excited, and now it’s unfulfilled. If this situation sounds familiar, you should acknowledge to your children what happened, validate their hurt feelings, and explain how you plan to make it up to them.
For example, you could acknowledge that you would take them to the park after school, but you got stuck in a meeting and forgot, and now, it’s too late. You can apologize and acknowledge that they may feel angry or disappointed. However, end it by saying you still want to take them to the park and offer a new date.
Not explaining reasons for things.
Sometimes, children can think something is unfair and get resentful because they don’t like it. For example, it’s appropriate that a 6-year-old’s bedtime is earlier than a preteen’s, but the 6-year-old will think it’s wrong. That’s when it’s essential to explain that giving everyone what they need doesn’t always mean everyone gets the same thing. Perhaps tell your 6-year-old that you understand they may be upset they can’t stay up as late as their sibling, but explain that their body needs more rest and that they get to do things their sibling can’t do anymore, like having a more extended recess at school and getting less homework.
Communicating the difference between some decisions can show mutual respect and decrease resentment. Many parents think they don’t have to communicate with their children because they won’t understand. They believe it’s better to protect them than tell them the truth. Sometimes, that’s necessary because of emotional development or developmental age, but more times than not, when you’re helping your child understand something, you’re also helping them understand the real world and how it doesn’t appease your child’s every need and whim.
Using rigid language.
One role parents play in building resentment in their kids is through the type of language and words they use. Words like ‘must,’ ‘should,’ ‘never,’ and ‘always’ are too absolute and leave no wiggle room for flexibility. For example, some parents may say things like, “You should be nice to me. I do a lot for you. You should be thankful,” or “You never go to bed on time. Do you realize the kind of day I’ve had?” Instead, try to use language that fosters connection instead of disconnection and resentment. Ask children questions about why they think they’re acting a certain way or how they’re feeling to encourage growth and problem-solving.
Imposing your expectations.
All kids need expectations for respectful, kind, dutiful and trustworthy behavior, but some parents impose their aspirations, ideals, and missions on and for their kids. This may mean overtly or covertly demanding excellence in sports, academics, or community service, even giving them the message about what they should do in life and what their goals and interests should be. However, parents should aspire to value and see their children for who they are and support them as individuals with their dreams, wishes, and interests.
No one likes being monitored. For some parents, overseeing everything in their child’s life only undermines personal responsibility, trust, learning self-reliance, and when to ask for help. Resist the urge to monitor all aspects of your child’s life and focus on offering a healthy level of structure and the chance to fail. We learn the most when we fail, and it’s no doubt challenging for parents to give their children enough room to fail. However, your role as a caring, supportive figure comes in.
Parenting is a hard job and can become even more complicated if your child starts building resentment towards you. As long as you keep your relationship with your child in mind, love and light will continue to foster.