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Is It My Fault I Have a Difficult Child?

As a mother, there were times when I asked myself, “What did I do wrong?”

When my oldest son turned nine, I saw signs of defiance; he didn’t respect me. I thought that by staying home, and sacrificing my own career, my three sons would turn out polite, compassionate, and well behaved. After all, they had a loving home environment. But was I too soft? Would my son have treated me differently had I been a working mom? Would he have shown me more respect had I put him in day care?

All these questions have spun around my head while I’ve been revising my memoir, about a mother wanting to heal her family and moving to Belize, where after many trials and tribulations, her family comes together.

For years, parents have been made to believe that a problem child is their fault. Now it seems mental health professionals have reached a different conclusion.

In a recent New York Times article, “Accepting That Good Parents May Plant Bad Seeds,” by Richard A. Friedman M.D., I came across a mother of three sons, who asked the same question as me about her rude and defiant oldest son. After testing, the son showed no signs of any learning disability or mental illness. In fact he tested in the intellectually superior range. Like this woman, her other sons were well-adjusted boys. So the therapist asked the question, “If the young man (seventeen years old) did not suffer from any demonstrable psychiatric disorder, just what was his problem?” Dr. Friedman admits his answer may sound heretical, especially coming from a psychiatrist, “But maybe this young man was just not a nice person.” He continues, “While I do not mean to let bad parents off the hook ... the fact remains that perfectly decent parents can produce toxic children.”

This is a new way of thinking of problem children, and “there is little, if anything, in peer-reviewed journals about the paradox of good parents with toxic children,” Dr. Friedman says.

In his summary, Dr. Friedman states: “For better or worse, parents have limited power to influence their children. That is why they should not be so fast to take all the blame—or credit—for everything that their children become.”

I would urge you to send the article to anyone who may be going through a rough time raising their kids, as it may help them stop blaming themselves.

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