Momfession Monday :: When You Have a Child Who Is Hard to Love

As I watched the scene from Kevin’s therapy session on a recent episode of This is Us, I literally sucked in air. When Rebecca stood to defend her mothering and said the other kids were just easier to love, I thought, “This is us.” (Pun intended.)

It’s like living with a dirty little secret when you struggle to parent one of your children. Admitting this feels like a betrayal of the fierce love that keeps you fighting in the trenches for that child. Finding safe places to be transparent is akin to looking for a unicorn. Because half of you wants to argue with the naysayers on behalf of your child, while the other half wants to say a hearty amen to the criticisms.

Thankfully, I have one particular “safe” friend. She, too, has a child that falls into this hard-to-define category — a child who requires mothering that is extremely hard to navigate. This friend is my hotline, and vice versa. As we searched for words for this parenting dilemma, she found the perfect description.

“It’s like parenting a porcupine,” she whispered into the phone during one of our crisis calls. “This child is like a porcupine who throws out their quills as some sort of defense mechanism for the storm within them. And you want to embrace them, but it is painful, and they feel hard to love in these moments.

I know she and I are not alone. While every other mother on the playground seems to have a perfectly lovely child, mine is the one who inexplicably begins to rage. Or whose rage delayed our outing by hours. While other mothers discuss blissful mothering moments, I am the one who feels like my child argues about everything for argument’s sake. I’ve yet to determine if it is a blessing or a curse that when outside our home, he can turn on the charm and be the most engaging child. But, behind our closed doors, it can be like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. On a dime, his big personality can erupt into tortured angst.

I’ve been spit on, kicked, and hit. I’ve held doors closed as he raged in his room, waiting for the minute I hear him begin to calm. Because in that moment, I will fling open the door and praise him for doing the hardest thing for him — regain control. When the anger and shouting subside, he is exhausted and scared. He wants to be held tightly, and he is embarrassed.

Some friends and family have seen these trigger points. Teachers have rushed to throw a label on him. He has been declared a behavior problem by teachers who will not listen to my insight. Friends have scratched their heads or, worse yet, seemingly withdrawn from our time together. I’ve decided that unless you parent a child who has these bents, I cannot make you understand the battlegrounds.

I cannot find words to explain his tender and compassionate heart that gets so overwhelmed with emotions that he acts out. I have learned that when he is hardest to love is exactly when he most needs it. This is part of the bumpy road we walk.

I cannot convince an outsider that he is not rebellious or malicious. He is just a child with great creativity and particular quirks. If you expect him to sit quietly and do his work, you have set him up for failure. If you discipline by shaming him, you have defeated him. But if you give him a place to lead and think outside the box, conveying your belief in him, then you have fueled him for success far more than you can conceive.

I recently read an article about the emotional and social tendencies of gifted children. It described our home life perfectly. From a diagnostician, we had already ruled out ADD or ADHD. We had already learned that he was academically advanced, while emotionally and socially on target. We already knew that focus was hard for him. We know that he works hard all day to hold it together to meet social norms. When he gets home, the emotional outbursts erupt from the exhaustion of it all. But nobody ever told us that what we experience is in fact, quite normal.

Knowing these facts has equipped me with courage and grace to embrace our scenario. Some of my kids are easy going. Some of them are pretty much what-you-see-is-what-you-get. But this one, this little porcupine, he is a complex creature. He is highly emotive and easily overwhelmed. He requires more finesse, prayer, blood, sweat, and tears than the others.

But he is mine. And I therefore choose to believe in every hard moment that I am the mom God intended for him. I will choose to believe the best about him and seek tools and resources to equip him and ourselves as his parents. I will throw all I have at this.

When the quills come out, I will go rock-hard in a fetal position, pray earnestly, and call my sweet friend who is a refuge. We will cry and laugh together, and when the day comes that these children fly our nest to soar on their own, we will celebrate together and declare with all we are . . . it was worth it.


  1. You have just written about my middle child! Thank you for your transparency; I know how scary it can be. You have succeeded in encouraging this mama! Thanks again.

  2. I have an explosive child, too, and I so wish I could find that one friend who actually gets it. Reading The Explosive Child was very helpful if for no other reason than I could see there were other kids like mine.

    Bless you. We will survive this, right?


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