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Moms' Dirty Little Secrets

Stephanie Rausser

Your child might not turn out the way you want her to.

"My dirty little secret is that I expected my daughter to be just like me," confesses Sarah, who doesn't want to reveal her last name or where she's from. "I did well in school, I was athletic, and I always stayed thin. My daughter, who's eight, is just the opposite—she hates school, hates sports, and is a bit heavy."

Babies are all possibility. Older kids, on the other hand, can be rude, uncooperative, bratty, self- involved...the list goes on and on. When your child stands up and toddles away from you, she turns into a person, and people can be complicated and upsetting.

Whether it's a secret hope that our child will excel at gymnastics, or simply a fond desire that she'll love the same things we enjoyed at her age, we often assume our kids will mimic our values, our desires, our talents. After the initial surprise—where did she come from?—darker feelings can follow. "I secretly think, 'Why couldn't she be more like I was at her age?' And then I feel so guilty," says Sarah.

Coming clean. "I have to remind myself that I love my daughter first and foremost, and that she is who she is—she's not a reflection of me," says Sarah. Venting to a selective audience also helps. Though she never confesses her negative feelings about her daughter to her husband or other family members, "I'm lucky to have two very close friends whom I can talk to about everything, and they're great. I even saw a therapist about it, and she said something that shocked me—that it's okay to hate your kids sometimes so long as you always love them."

Sarah says she felt much better after her therapist gave her "permission to feel the way I was feeling." While she's had to accept that her daughter will never be, say, a star soccer player, "she's a whiz at computers." When she shows her daughter she's proud of her—and rewards her for progress in school instead of holding her to unrealistic standards—"our relationship improves, and I feel much better."

We don't choose our kids—they are who they are. Coming to terms with this really does make us not only better parents but better people as well.

Fernanda Moore, a frequent contributor to Parenting, has also written for New York magazine.