I Love My Son, But I'm Not Sure The Feeling Is Mutual

By Joanna Smykowski

Updated May 09, 2019

Reviewer Cessel Boyd

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We all have those moments, during different stages of our child's lives, when we feel like maybe our child doesn't love us. In the case of younger children, sometimes they generally prefer one parent over the other for a little while. It can be heartbreaking, but there's nothing you can do other than weather the storm and wait for the phase to be over. Sometimes, it can last years, but eventually, the child will come around to realizing that both of his parents love him just as much as he loves them.

But what if it isn't just a phase? What if you have the strong sense that your child honestly doesn't love you? This can mean different things at different ages. With the very young, they may simply be trying on a new persona in an attempt to figure out how the world works. With teenagers, it may be a way of their asking for help without coming right out and doing so. And with adults, it may just be that they need their space for a bit after arguing with you.

Either way, it can be heartbreaking to hear our children say "I don't love you" or "I hate you." Worse still is when you say "I love you" and they don't say anything at all. What are they thinking at that moment? Are they simply afraid to say it? Or do they honestly not feel any love for you in return?

Not Feeling The Toddler Love

The most common complaints of "I think my child doesn't love me" happen during the younger years and the teenage years. For the toddler years, it can, in a word, suck when your toddler favors one parent over the other. This is especially true for moms who may feel resentment toward their partners who didn't carry the child, stay up with the child when it was sick, in some cases breastfeed the child, yet the child wants no one else but the other parent.

Some mothers feel like this is proof that they are "bad" at being a mother if their child doesn't even want to be with them, but that's not true at all. Sometimes children gravitate toward the more "fun" parent, the one who doesn't discipline them as much, even though they need to be disciplined. Sometimes, though, they don't even have a reason. Maybe they just like Daddy's scent or the way Mommy reads a book. Children are fickle, and while it's easy to read into their actions and motives, parents should refrain from doing so because chances are, there's not much more to it than that.

It's Only Temporary

The good news is that, more often than not, this is just a phase that will eventually end. Many moms reported feeling devastated that their children either ignored them or flat-out told them they didn't love their mothers, then went back to their happy, bouncy selves after a bit. Some parents have even reported that after the phase was over, their child's love for them was stronger than ever, and they never hit another icy patch like that again.

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Role Reversal

What happens, though, when it's your child who feels like you don't love him? That's when you begin to question where you could have possibly gone wrong to make him feel this way. Your love for him has never wavered, yet he stiffens up when you go to hug him, and your heart breaks into a million pieces. Why?

Sometimes it's just a puberty thing. We can do everything in the world to show our children that we love them, but they simply cannot feel it right now because they just have too much other stuff going on that's distracting them or making them miserable. Maybe, no matter how hard they try, they simply can't get their friends to listen to them. Or that one girl to like them, or their teachers to work with them to help them get better grades. Maybe they feel like the whole world is against them, and that the only person they feel comfortable enough to take that out on is, unfortunately, you.

Tamp Down On The Yelling

Sometimes it isn't what your child says but what your child isn't saying that's the problem. If your child is telling you that he doesn't love you, he may just be trying to fire back with the only weapon he knows how in an attempt to hurt you. Why would he feel the need to do that? It may have something to do with anger management.

Yelling is cathartic for the person who's angry, but it doesn't offer any benefit to the person whom the yeller is angry at. So if, for example, you've told your son five times to pick up his toy cars before someone trips and falls, and you come home to find that the toy cars are still on the floor where someone can easily trip on them and get hurt, you may lose your cool and scream at your son. "How many times have I told you to clean up this mess before someone breaks a leg?!"

However, as hard as it can be to keep stronger emotions in check, it is significantly more beneficial to the child to find a different way of explaining yourself so that he gets the message and does what he's asked. Yelling serves to shock at first, but if all you do is yell, then it doesn't even have that effect anymore. Instead, maybe explain to your child the repercussions of someone falling on the toy cars, as well as the possibility that they will end up hurt and that the toys will be broken.

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To drive the point home further, note that if he doesn't listen and pick up his toys, and someone falls and them and breaks them, you will not be buying him a replacement. Once those toys are broken, he's done. That's his lesson, and consequences, of not listening to you when you told him to do something. Especially if those cars are some of his favorite toys, faced with the possibility of losing them forever, you may find he wises up and takes better care of his toys. Problem solved, and no yelling necessary.

What To Do When The Child Is An Adult

Something we must keep in mind as our children get older is that it is natural and perfectly okay for them to want distance from us. They must find their place in the world, and that is as an individual, not as the person they have always been known as your child.

Consider your own life. The things that happened to you personally while you were growing up were always more powerful than the things that were happening to your parents. The same goes for your kids as well. Sometimes it may take them a while to return a phone call, text, or email, but - and this is especially true for college kids - that doesn't mean they don't love you, just that they have a lot going on right now. This is true even for the kids who were inseparable from their parents while growing up.

Some parents feel jealous of or threatened by their child's partner, but the adage is true: the more you harp on his or her girlfriend, the farther away you will drive your child. Your child has chosen this person as the person he loves most in his life. And while it can hurt to be demoted to second place, this is again perfectly natural, and by condemning your child's choice of partner, you are showing a lack of respect and trust for the choices he makes as an adult.

Another thing that many parents struggle with is the fact that to have a strong relationship with your adult child; then you need to stop treating him like a child and treat him like the adult that he is. Don't be doing his laundry for him, or criticizing him for things like the way he keeps his apartment. The last thing you want to do is seem desperately needy for his attention by finding ways to butt into his life.

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If, however, you notice that a legitimate estrangement is developing, then you must be proactive and initiate a conversation with your child. Grab the bull by the horns. Tell your child that you sense a rift is growing, and that you would like to do what you can to repair it. Be honest. Let your child know that you love them and that you don't want to allow anything to get in the way of having an open, honest, and healthy relationship with them.

Are you and your child struggling to form a close connection with each other? You may want to contact a professional to intervene and offer ideas when you feel you've simply run out. Our licensed counselors are here to help.





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