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‘I find this hard to admit, but I love my daughter more than my son’

Ask the Expert: It is generally best to honestly face such feelings so you can understand them


This is a very difficult problem to admit. I have two children, a four-year-son and a 15-month-old girl. I am finding it really hard to love my son. I had a very difficult birth with him and I could not breastfeed him. He was also fussy and irritable from the start.

When my daughter arrived 15 months ago I had a very different experience, she seems so quiet and content in comparison and for some reason I could breastfeed her straight away.

Since then, my son has become more irritable, demanding and constantly seeking my attention. Of course, I understand he must be jealous and find it hard to share his mother with a new baby. However, I find myself becoming increasingly resentful towards him. I hate the way I feel, as I love him and don’t want to damage him in anyway. I do my best to hide my negative feelings, but he is sensitive boy and I am sure he picks up my irritability in my voice, etc.

What can I do as I don’t want him to feel his mother does not love him the same way as his sister.



Having challenging feelings whereby you feel you ‘don’t like’ one of your children is remarkably common. Understandably, most parents tend to hide these feelings and not discuss them with anyone. However, when you ignore or repress feelings like this, they can fester and grow or as you have realised they can be communicated indirectly to your children in your tone of voice and in your behaviour. As are result, it is generally best to honestly face these feelings so you can understand them. Once you take time to process your negative feelings you can remove their power and you can begin to change them.

Take time to talk about your feelings

In your email you started to describe the source of your feelings in how you had a difficult birth and found it hard to bond with your son. It might be useful to go deeper into this story and to talk to a compassionate listener such as a counsellor or an understanding non-judgmental friend. First babies bring such disruption to a new parent’s life that they come with feelings of stress, loss, and resentment (as well as feelings of love).

It could be also be that your son’s temperament triggers memories and feelings for you about your own childhood. Perhaps your son displays behaviours you don’t like in yourself or which remind you of a sibling?

What was your relationship with your own parents and siblings like?

What is it about his sister that makes it feel easier to bond with her?

As well as talking to someone, you might also find it useful to write down your thoughts and feelings in a private diary. The important thing is to adopt a compassionate curiosity as you write. You are trying to understand rather than judge your feelings.

Build your relationship with your son

You can cultivate positive and warm positive feelings for your son by increasing the number of fun enjoyable experiences you have with him. This might mean setting aside a daily play time with him when it is just the two of you. This can take place when his sister is asleep or minded by another family member. When you play try to pick activities he really enjoys and which bring out his passion and the best side to his personality.

Many experts recommend adopting a ‘love bombing’ approach as a means to increase bonding. This means for the defined play period, you try to follow all his demands and requests (rather than saying no or arguing with him) and you really increase your praise and encouragement focusing on his strengths and the things you enjoy about him.

Change your perception

Building your relationship with your son might also mean changing your perception of him. For example, rather than just seeing him as a demanding irritable boy, you might see him also as a high-energy boy who needs lots of stimulation. Perhaps he is a sensitive boy who needs a support to manage his feelings.

When he constantly seeks your attention, you can see the boy who is understandably struggling with sharing his mother with the new baby and who is looking for your love and help.

Focus on self-care too

Of course, responding thoughtfully in an understanding way is not easy and particularly hard if you feel stressed and/or resentful that your own needs are not being met. As a result it is very important to practice self-care and to create a day that meets your needs as well. This might mean ensuring you have a daily break from your son as well as time alone from both children.

Work out what you need, so you can feel resourced and positive and able to respond positively as well. Even a couple of five-minute breaks when you pause or meditate can start to make a difference.

Support his relationship with his sister

The birth of a second child is a challenge in most families and it requires sensitive handling so your son does not feel rejected (which would greatly aggravate his demanding behaviour). The key thing is to try to involve him so he feels the pride of being a big brother. Show him how to help with her care, guide him in holding her tenderly and show him how to play and enjoy her (‘Look, your sister smiled at her big brother’).

Also, make sure to still have a daily playtime with just him (as mentioned above) and build this into a routine such as him getting his bedtime story with mum or dad (after he has played quietly and helped getting his sister to sleep!).

  • John Sharry is clinical director of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD school of psychology. He is author of several parenting books, including Positive Parenting and Parenting Teenagers. See