The first time I heard the above words, I had a very hard time not reacting. Unfortunately, it has repeated itself a number of times since, so I am better prepared and less judgmental. When a parent tells me, “I don’t love my child,” it is such a terribly sad and painful thing to hear, but I do appreciate the honesty of the parent to admit it.
The truth of the matter is that it is not really true. The parent does love the child, but first let me explain how a parent can possibly feel this way. Even those
of us who are repulsed to hear of such feelings may have had moments when we felt such anger toward our child that we didn’t feel any love for him. Intense anger and love
do not work well together. These parents carry such bitterness and anger toward their child for the pain he is causing them that their resentment and anger are constant, underlying feelings that bury
I was speaking to a parent who felt this way. Boruch Hashem, we had a major breakthrough. I was telling him that even if your child is a rasha (which he is not), the Tomer Devorah writes (end of Chapter Two) that one must even love the reshaim and pray for them to do teshuvah. The parent responded, “I daven for my child every day.” Bingo. I told him, “So you do
love your child. Do you daven for your neighbor’s child every day? You love your child because you care deeply about him. That is the deepest love. Unfortunately, right now you don’t feel the love and warmth that are so critical to helping your child.”
I would add that the parents who sadly feel that they do not love their child invariably grew up with their own rough upbringing. They were not loved unconditionally or shown love at all, and they therefore struggle to give love that is not what they call “deserved.”
Far be it from me to judge the parents of the incredibly difficult child, but they must get the help they need and find ways to overcome their negative feelings. As long as they carry such feelings, the chances of them being able to help him are slim to none. The child can sense the parents’ lack of love and will carry further resentment toward his parents and escalate his negative behavior. The only way to get out of this vicious cycle is for the parents to show love to the child and patiently wait for the child to slowly turn around – as long as it takes. The parents must replace their anger with compassion and understanding, not taking their child’s antics personally. They must be able to step out of their own pain to see their child’s pain.
Our job in this world is to emulate Hashem. Hashem loves us unconditionally and continues to give us despite our lack of proper respect and gratitude. As parents, we have that unique opportunity to do the same. The more challenging the child, the greater we can become as elevated avdei Hashem. We can rise to the challenge and transform our own lives, as well as our children’s, forever.
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Rabbi Kestenbaum is the rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Gedola Ohr Yitzchak, which is opening be’ezras Hashem this coming Elul. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for private appointments, speaking engagements, or parenting and teacher workshops. His daily shiurim and past articles can be found on TorahAnytime and his website, Olamhamiddos.com. Rabbi Kestenbaum is the author of “Olam Hamiddos,” “Olam Ha’avodah,” “Run After the Right Kavod” and “The Heart of Parenting.”