A new Pew Research Center survey of parents with children under 18 shows just how stressed many feel on a daily basis. Among all working parents with children under age 18, more than half (56%) report that it’s difficult for them to balance the responsibilities of their job with the responsibilities of family; 14% percent say this is very difficult, and 42% say it’s somewhat difficult.
As a therapist who works with families, I can tell you that some parents are actually more bitter than they admit to family, friends and coworkers (and pollsters). While a handful have a fairly pleasant experience parenting, others have significant resentments and bitterness as they try to meet their children’s seemingly endless emotional and tangible needs.
Who are the most bitter parents? In my work, I have found that the most bitter often have little social support; received neglectful or conflict-laden parenting when they were young; or have children who are difficult or challenging (sometimes to the point of meriting a mental-disorder diagnosis).
Take a look at the sources of bitterness below and ask yourself which (if any) resonate the most with your experience:
1. Parents who received neglectful, abusive, or conflict-laden parenting when they were young.
Can you be happy meeting all the needs of your child if you feel like your own emotional needs were never met by your parents? It’s a regular occurrence for me to hear frustrated parents compare their kids’ experience to their own. “He has no idea how good he has it,” a mother recently told me, before launching into a description of how her own parents didn’t pay enough attention to her or criticized her for everything. Some parents are bitter because they are still stuck in—and resentful of—the insufficient way they were parented. Deep down, they sometimes feel envy because their child has it so much better than they did.
2. Parents who have difficult children, or children who meet the criteria for a mental disorder.
How one feels about the parenting experience has everything to do with the kind of child the parent has. A parent who feels happy and positive about being a parent probably has a kid who scores pretty high on the “easy meter”—and that’s largely a strike of good luck based on the child’s natural temperament. But having children who are defiant or angry, or who live with conditions such as severe ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, can make parenting, at least at times, a truly difficult experience. In their darkest moments, such parents may secretly dislike—but still love—their children. Additionally frustrating for these parents is the response of their communities. Society rarely acknowledges how much harder parenting is for these parents than for those whose children don’t have special emotional needs. What’s more, people often dismiss these parents’ frustration by minimizing the children’s special needs. With the diagnosis of ADHD, for example, these parents sometimes hear people telling them that ADHD is overprescribed and not even a “real thing.” This denial or minimization adds to the bitterness and resentment the parents may already feel.
3. Parents who have little help or social support.
The more social support you have, the more you enjoy parenting; the less you have, the more resentful you feel. While some parents have large families on call to babysit or handle other tasks, others are extremely isolated. Isolation makes parenting more frustrating and lonely, but many isolated parents don’t have the resources or the energy to set up more supports.
The most important thing for all parents to remember is that parenting can be extremely challenging. The community at large can help overwhelmed parents by validating their frustrations and offering empathy. And parents can also help other parents: Those who are having an overall positive parenting experience could significantly help others who are struggling by offering to help with small or large tasks—from driving a carpool to taking a child to an appointment.
Parents who feel extremely frustrated on a near-daily basis could consider seeking out psychotherapy or counseling which could help make them feel less isolated and overwhelmed. But above all, parents should confide in someone about how they feel, and shouldn’t feel shy or embarrassed to ask for more help when they need it most.
1. Perfectionist mother
Typically, an over-controlling, fearful and anxious woman for whom appearance is everything. Her children tend to be hypercritical of themselves, feeling inadequate and emotionally empty, says Poulter.
Children of a perfectionist mother…
- Your strengths: You can have a strong sense of commitment in relationships, and are responsible and reliable in everything you do. You value hard work and persistence as core character qualities.
- Emotional legacy: You always feel that the opinions of others are far more important than your own. You often have a heightened sense that the world is watching and judging you.
2. Unpredictable mother
Anxious, angry, excessively emotional, this mother is overwhelmed by feelings so her parenting style is based purely on mood. This type has the most chaotic of the five styles. She creates problems, issues and crises in her mind, through her emotions and relationships, and passes them on to her children.
Children of an unpredictable mother…
- Your strengths: Excellent people skills and the ability to be empathic. Often great motivators, you offer emotional support to colleagues as well as friends and family.
- Emotional legacy: Growing up with an ingrained need to take care of people and their emotional issues, you can be overwhelmed by emotions such as anger, anxiety and depression. You learn early on how to read people and situations, in order to manage the strong feelings of others.
3. The best friend mother
She enjoys treating her children as equals in order to avoid the responsibility of setting boundaries. This mother believes her life would be over if she embraced motherhood so avoids that role. Instead, both child and parent assume the role of emotional confidante and partner, leaving the child effectively motherless. ‘In this situation, the emotional needs of the mother are so consuming, she has to rely on the child to meet them,’ says Poulter.
Children of a best friend mother…
- Your strengths: You understand the importance of boundaries between parents, children, colleagues and families. Because of your sense of motherlessness, you are often aware that you take the lead and assume the responsible role as an adult.
- Emotional legacy: You may feel emotionally neglected with a fear of rejection. You can be resentful and bitter in relationships, tending to feel unloved and under-appreciated.
4. The me-first mother
One of the most prevalent mothering styles, me-firsts are unable to view their children as separate individuals and tend to be self-absorbed and insecure. Their offspring will learn from an early age that their role is to make their mother shine.
Children of a me-first mother…
- Your strengths: You are extremely good at supporting others, and are intuitive and insightful with people in all types ofrelationships. You are loyal and supportive, able to appreciate other people’s needs and solve problems.
- Emotional legacy: You doubt your own decision-making abilities. You find it difficult to trust your own feelings on any matter because you view your mother’s opinion as more important and powerful than your own.
5. The complete mother
This ideal is only experienced by about 10 per cent of us, says Poulter. The complete mother combines the best elements of the other four styles. Emotionally balanced, she can see her children as individuals and help them achieve their own independence. She isn’t necessarily perfect herself but whatever her emotional circumstances, she is committed to motherhood — regardless of other responsibilities outside the home.
Children of a complete mother…
- Your strengths: Because you feel loved and understood you can take risks, embrace change and initiate relationships without fear of rejection.
- Emotional legacy: You will have the ability and insight to appreciate that other people, colleagues and family members have their own perspectives. You’ll be able to navigate the challenges of becoming independent and won’t feel emotionally enmeshed with your mother.