From the moment a couple learn they're expecting, the hopes, plans, and dreaming begin. What will their baby be like? Whose personality will he or she inherit? It's natural for parents to envision an absolutely perfect child -- one with all of their good qualities and none of their faults. That's why the reality is often so hard to accept.
The mother of 4-year-old Greg would like her son to be outgoing and friendly. "If I take him to a birthday party or the playground, he clings to me the whole time. I hate to admit it, but it drives me crazy."
Five-year-old Sarah's dad complains, "This child is so strong-willed, so determined to get what she wants, we're always fighting. She never backs down until we punish her. Her mother and I feel like cops."
"When Jessica was born, I used to picture us having great mother-daughter talks someday," sighs the mother of a 7-year-old. "But she doesn't talk much at all. I guess I thought we'd be closer."
Behind each of these observations lies a well of powerful and confusing emotions: "I wish I could feel different toward my child." "Sometimes I think I don't love him as much as I should." "If she weren't mine, I don't know how much I'd even like her. Isn't that a terrible thing to say?"
These parents feel let down -- not because they wish their child had blue eyes or curly hair or was a better reader but because of something fundamental about their son or daughter that they find difficult to accept. Their deep disappointment in their children and in themselves as parents is heartbreaking. "What's the matter with me?" they may wonder. Or "What's wrong with my child?" Feelings of guilt and blame may start to color all aspects of family life. If you, like the parents described above, are experiencing these feelings, chances are you've decided that there's not much that can be done to improve the picture. But that is not the case.
The first step is to realize that your child's behavior is not intentionally designed to drive you crazy. Your child can't help being the way he is, and if you understand the roots of his behavior, you'll be more likely to empathize with and accept him. Acceptance is key, because the way you view your child becomes the way he views himself. He'll learn to trust and accept his own feelings and develop what psychologists call positive self-regard, the basis of healthy emotional development. The next step is to remember the flip side of the coin: The very qualities that make a child hard to like or live with may serve him well in many areas of life.
Keep in mind, too, that the better you can embrace your child in all his uniqueness, the better able you will be to channel his more difficult behavior -- so that as he grows, his strengths will shine and you'll get more fun out of being his parent. Here are four traits that parents find hardest to cope with -- and how to help.