I'm starting to really dislike my daughters's personalities

It’s hit me in the past week : they are self-absorbed, apathetic and absolutely uninterested in anything that has to do with learning, be it history, culture or science. They are also borderline disrespectful with me and their grandparents. And they’re only 9 and 12.

That realization really started last Sunday. We were supposed to visit my parents for the afternoon. My daughters like them (especially when they get a little envelope with 10€ each before leaving) but don’t enjoy going there. That I can understand. It’s a longish trip and my parents don’t really have toys that could hold their interests. But on Sunday, my eldest daughter flat-out refused to go. Since she wasn’t budging, I told her : “Fine. Don’t go. BUT call and tell them. That’s the least you can do”. She wouldn’t do that either. So, rude AND cowardly. The fact that her mother was egging her on not to go didn’t help.

But it has really hit home in the past couple of days.

My eldest daughter is a huge Harry Potter fan. For the past two years, she’s wanted to go to the Harry Potter Studios. When I asked her what she wanted for her birthday, it was the only thing she said.

Their mother wasn’t keen on the idea (“it’s expensive and we’ve been to London before !”). Still, I insisted, so we ended up booking a 7-hour tour to the studios. Since my birthday is also coming up and there is a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition at the British Library, I suggested we stayed two nights : arrive on Wednesday evening, go to the studios on Thursday and spend Friday seeing some of the sights.

To be honest, I don’t care one bit for Harry Potter, but I tried to show some interest when we were there, asking questions, showing them props. When we got back to the coach in the evening, the very first thing my eldest daughter did was whip out her smartphone.

“Er… did you enjoy the visit ?”
“Was it fun ?”
“So… you’re happy ?”
“Yes… Look, I’m going to beat my record at the snake game !”

Yesterday, was a sunny day, perfect for sightseeing and we’d woken up early. I had planned to take a leisurely walk from Westminster Abbey to King’s Cross Station via some of the major landmarks including the British Library. However, at their mother’s suggestion, they insisted on first going… to the tiny hotel swimming pool. Where they’d already gone the previous evening intead of going for a walk around the Tower of London.

So we left the hotel at noon. The whole morning was gone. I foolishly added the Tower of London to the day’s (actually, afternoon’s) walk. As soon as we were there, they wanted to go to the KFC. Because I had promised them we would. I pointed out that I promised to go to the KFC the evening before, after the Harry Potter tour but they had decided to go to the swimming pool instead. And we’d already been to the KFC in Camden Town on the first night. Of course, their mother stepped in to save them from certain death. “They’re positively starving, have you got no shame ?”. Sorry. I forgot it was sooo difficult to find a place to eat in London. My bad. Off to the KFC we went. At 12:30. In one of the busiest areas of the city. To everyone’s surprise (NOT !), there was a 30-minute-queue to place your order. By the time we left, we’d spent over an hour in that joint.

We arrived at Westminster Abbey at 2 pm, 3h later than I had expected. I now had the choice between a brisk walk to show them the sights or dropping some from the list.

After we’d walked for a couple of minutes up Whitehall, my youngest daughter decided that she was tired and couldn’t we take the bus, instead ? We arrived in Trafalgar Square and of course, they needed to sit down and rest after this exhausting 20-minute trudge. Interestingly, they weren’t tired when it came to climbing up the plinth of Nelson’s Column and run around. It was now 3 pm.

We went to Piccadily Circus, then Leicester Square with their mother sarcastically remarking that we’d already done all this before. On our way to Covent Garden, they asked me whether we’d reached the middle of the walk. “Not quite”. “But we’re tired !”

I lost it. It was now almost 4 pm. I placed the suitcase which I had been dragging around since morning in my eldest daughter’s hand and told them that there was a tube station which would take them directly to King’s Cross and I finished the walk alone, noticing with some bitterness that the distance wasn’t as big as I’d thought. If we’d started as planned, or even 1-2 hours later or if they had been a bit more energetic, they could have easily have done it. :frowning:

I was sad with what they were missing, so at the exhibition, I bought them a few postcards and a button each (with the first word in Beowulf). I gave them to my daughters at the station. They looked at it for a couple of seconds, said thanks and went back to their smartphone games. My youngest daughter would have lost the button in the train back to Belgium had I not seen it on the carriage floor. :frowning:

It turns out that after we’d parted, they went back to Leicester Square because their mother doesn’t know anything in London in spite of this beeing our third visit. They looked at a hip-hop “show”, went to a “huge” candy shop and took some selfies. Then, since their mother couldn’t show them anything, they went to King’s Cross Station over three hours in advance and spent the remaining time sitting on a bench there, playing with their phones.

I’m sure all parents go through situations like this, being disappointed at their children’s choices or behaviour. But ever since they were born, I’ve tried to instil them with a sense of interest in culture and knowledge. Tried to show them beautiful things. They don’t care. Classical music is boring. Visiting historical places and museums is tiring. Learning English is a waste of their precious time. I’ve never been pushy. Never forced them to do anything. All I wanted was to expose them to beautiful things. Nothing’s caught on. I give up. If they want to spend their stay in one of the most facinating cities in the world going to the swimming pool, playing smartphone games, watching dime a dozen street performers and eating at KFC, so be it. I tried. And failed.

Kids definitely go through a self-absorbed, clueless, selfish stage. It can last a long time. But that doesn’t mean they won’t turn out okay.

You just have to realize that they might not turn out quite how you want them to. The trick is to make all those interesting things accessible to them—including yourself—without alienating them by pushing too hard.

Unfortunately it doesn’t look like their mother is much of an ally of yours in this.

So the OP’s reached the moment in parenting where “fuddy” meets “duddy.”

9 and 12, and not interested in anything daddy thinks is cool?

I’ve always been struck by the astuteness of Miss Manners’ [US etiquette columnist] advice to show children your enjoyment of the more “difficult” grown-up pleasures involving art and culture and so on, but be a little selfish with it. They will be more receptive to something if they get the idea that it is a reward and privilege of maturity than if they feel it’s just another parentally-imposed chore.

Listen to classical music at home (and especially, PLAY classical music at home if you have an instrument), go to concerts, etc., let your kids see that you’re excited by this art form, but don’t expect or demand that they will share your pleasure in it. Instead, show some interest in the music they like as well, and express appreciation of it where you can (though you do get to be a little condescending about its relative childishness of course, you’re the parent after all).

Then music will become, at least tenuously, a common interest of you and your daughters, where each of you respects the others’ interest in it. And when/if they eventually develop an interest in the music you like, you’ll be able to enjoy that common interest more fully, without having weakened it with years of nagging and resentment.

Similarly for “culture” trips and excursions. You do the stuff you like, and make it clear that it’s important and exciting for you, but don’t expect them to be excited about it. Respond to their resistance with a tolerant attitude of “it’s okay, you’re not quite up to appreciating this yet” instead of “you’re a lazy uncultured brat”.

And again, taking an interest in their interests helps pave the way for reciprocity in the future. Your participation in the Harry Potter trip is setting a good example in that regard. Likewise, if you can bring yourself to explore phone games at all, you might try one of the ones your daughters are so obsessed with. But most pre-teens are not going to be very interested in cultural enrichment, especially if presented in the form of an obligation with a lot of parental anger over their lack of interest. (And you can skip the rejoinder about your friend’s or relative’s exemplary young children who are obsessed with Baroque opera and history of medieval fortifications and cuisine moderne or whatever. Trust me, that shit is NOT typical. :))

In short: Freely express your love of culturally sophisticated stuff but stop trying to push your kids into it. Let them be kids, with the affinities for dumb and childish amusements, fast food, etc., that kids naturally have. Of course you can limit their consumption of fast food and screen time and so on in accordance with your parental responsibilities, but stop trying to shame and scold them out of liking what they like.

If they get the idea that the things you like are a source of highly-developed enjoyment that kids can’t be expected to fully appreciate, then eventually they may come to see them as a desirable sign of maturity that’s worth putting some work into. But if you just keep drumming it into them that these things are an obligation that you’re disappointed and angry with them for not spontaneously embracing, then you are teaching them to regard art and culture negatively, and straining your relationship with them for no useful purpose.

On the one hand, I get it that that’s rough: they absolutely weren’t interested in the same things you’re interested in.

On the other hand, harsh, dude.

The kids were probably overwhelmed by a day at Harry Potter Land. That’s a lot of stimulation, and traveling can be stressful and exhausting on its own. There’s a pretty good chance that you were sending out messages of “Right, everybody, we’ve got a huge day ahead of us, and I’ve got a checklist, let’s get going, march march march!” and that’s going to make people even more tired.

My suggestions:

  1. Talk with your wife about expectations, away from the kids. Y’all really really need to get on the same page.
  2. Visiting relatives is, for us, non-negotiable. It’s just something we do, like going to work or school or the grocery store, and kids neither have the responsibility to handle the logistics nor the right to make the decisions. Perhaps you need a similar approach with Grandma. (If there’s a good reason–Grandma is spouting creepy religious shit to them or something–obviously that changes things; make sure you find out if there’s a reason).
  3. On vacations, make sure everyone knows what the plan is, in advance. If you’re wanting a brisk walking tour of London, and your family is wanting a lazy slug day, someone’s gonna be frustrated, probably everybody. This is a place where kids SHOULD get a fair amount of say, especially if it’s a birthday gift for one kid. But it’s legit to stick to a plan once everyone’s agreed to it.
  4. Don’t be resentful. If you agree to something like going to KFC, do it with a smile and with love. Saying, “Nope!” is also legitimate, as long as there’s another food source.
  5. Address whining directly, if you’ve not already done so. Kids need to self-regulate that shit every bit as much as adults do. Be sure you’re not being whiny about other folks’ choices (“Guuuuyyyss, come ON, can’t you swim at HOME? I want to go to PICADILLY SQUAAAAAAARE!”), and then have a calm discussion with them about how their behavior can make or break other folks’ days, and how when they’re complaining about doing the stuff they agreed to do, it makes your day worse. And then be prepared to have this conversation hundreds more times as it very gradually sinks into their tiny immature brains.

I’m sorry the trip was disappointing. Don’t resent your kids over it.

It would be nice, though, if your wife at least took the line “You got KFC yesterday. Today dad gets to choose what’s for lunch. Even if you don’t like it, you will not be mean to your dad over letting him have a turn to do something he likes.”

Naah. They’re not babies. Theyre not overtired. They’re being little jerks. But that’s not surprising. Dad has to realize he can’t push them into shape. He has to let them come to him, so to speak.

Sounds like your problem is more your wife than your kids.


I’m an adult, and I could easily be overtired or overstimulated by a whole day doing lots of stuff in a strange location.

I sympathize. But a few observations.

Observation 1: You planned out the day’s activities. Nothing wrong with that, but before you came up with this itinerary, did you probe the interests of the group? Did you establish whether they shared your interest in sightseeing by foot before you got your heart and head settled on it? Seems like as soon as they expressed a modification to your plan, you were annoyed that it didn’t conform to what you believed was the best use of their time. Your day got started off wrong because of an expectation clash.

Observation 2: Instead of taking a flexible approach to your plan and expectations, you were committed to sticking with your walk even though it should’ve been apparent at this point that neither your wife nor your daughters shared this commitment. This should’ve triggered either a modification of plans based on input from them or a modification of expectations on your end. Doesn’t sound like this happened.

I totally get being annoyed by the KFC thing. It would bother me too. But you are responsible for the impact this promise had on your plans. The frustration you experienced at lunch directly arose from your failure to anticipate and account for the KFC trip you should’ve known your daughters were expecting. Doesn’t matter if you think it was stupid they wanted that.

I can’t speak to whether it’s wrong or right for you to dislike your daughters’ personalities. But when it comes to travel and vacations, you can’t be a type A regimented planner if the folks you are with just prefer going with the flow. You will also have problems if your goal is to have novel, cultural experiences but your traveling companions prefer to have fun doing more familiar things. Both preferences have to be accommodated if there is a mix within a group. Sounds like your wife and daughters are wired one way and you are wired another. I don’t think this makes them wrong, just different.

There are two types of travelers. The type that want to see all the sights–both touristy and non-touristy–so they’ll be able to talk about all the different experiences they had when they get home. And then there is the type who just want to chillax by the pool or the beach with a good book (or their smart phone).

I am like the first type of traveler. You are like the first type of traveler. But lots of people are like the second. This is definitely one of those “different strokes for different folks” kind of things.

Personality isn’t fixed in stone. Teenagers can frequently be brats but they outgrow it.

The Washington Post had a great piece on Thursday by a Mom who really wanted her teenagers to enjoy France. It went just about as well as the OPs experience.

They are teens/pre-teens. They are learning to differentiate their experiences, likes and dislikes from their parents’. I think disliking them for growing up is very harsh.

And I am one of your type two travelers. And I frequently get frustrated because my type one traveling friends don’t get it. With some very specific exceptions, I DONT LIKE SIGHTSEEING. This does not make me uncultured. I love European history yet I have absolutely zero desire to see any of the historic sites I have read about.

This is one reason I like cruise ship vacations. My friends can get off the boat and run around all day looking at historic sights and scenic views while I lounge around an almost deserted pool deck all day, maybe exercise a bit and kick around the spa for a while. Then we meet for dinner and share stories, which usually make me very glad I stayed on board.

On my most recent vacation, I decided to accompany my sightseeing friend once, because she had been to this place before and I could tell there were things she really wanted to share. I was completely underwhelmed by the overpriced goods, aggressive salespeople ,mediocre food and boring historic sites in this Caribbean port town but she was loving every second of it. I also found navigating the local transport to be stressful. But she loved it.

After the first day I just hung out on the beach and let her go run around all day. She doesn’t get it, she thinks hanging on the beach is boring. I think sightseeing is boring and stressful. But we communicated about this before the trip so it worked out.

I would think that pitting your children for being themselves will not go over well in a few years when one of them inevitably finds this thread.

I think I’m a mixture of “let’s plan out all the sights to see and soak in the culture” and “can’t we just relax by the pool and play things by ear?” Ideally for me a trip abroad would have both structured and unstructured activities. As much as I hate shelling out a bunch of money to go abroad and then waste it by doing stuff I could very well do at home, I also hate feeling like I’m a contestant on Amazing Race, running from place to place on some self-imposed timetable, unable to just enjoy the moment because my mind is focused on a schedule.

If you’re traveling in a group—especially with tweens—you can’t have too many expectations. Inevitably someone or something is going to get in the way of your agenda. Especially if everyone you’re with is approaching the trip with different objectives than you.

The OP and his wife started out on different pages, because he wanted to do the Harry Potter visit and extend their stay a day, while she did not. While it certainly was generous and thoughtful of him to schedule the Harry Potter thing for his daughter, his attempt to control the second day’s events too meant at multiple turns his wife was pushing back on his plans instead of collaborating with him upfront. So it is not surprising that they were not a unified front; the fault for that is shared, at least from my vantage point.

Part of it is in fact the age. Part of it sounds like their mother and you have… issues to say the least? That “their mother was egging her not to go” sounds like the kids are being used as a battlefield. If this is so, it’s not them who are getting to you: it’s their mother through them and I’d love to bitchslap her for you but that’s unlikely to be the best strategy. One of the things you’re going to have to do there is learn to share leadership: plans to be agreed in advance, and once in advance stuck to, rather than handled as much as possible by you personally. Take lots of deep breaths and remind yourself that you’re teaching them how to make plans, which is an essential life skill.

And part of it reminds me of 1.SiL and 2.Bro. Both of them like exactly what they want; both of them used to ask for something in vague terms when what they wanted was actually very specific, and then if they didn’t get it exactly pout so much you could use their pout for a trampoline, but if they got exactly what they did want, they’d pocket whatever with not even a “thank you”. He was sibling-trained out of it (he’s very cost-oriented* and understands that “cost” includes time and effort as well as money, we hit him pretty hard with that); she’s eventually learned to… buy her own gifts so at least we don’t spend three weeks running around town for a dispirited “oh” and a massive pout.

  • His job title has ended up being Controller, aka The Costing Guy, and talk about being a natural fit.

Much of this is going to echo what you ‘with the face’ posted, but I think it’s worth emphasising.

I think you mean they are not interested in what you like.

So the only person who wanted to go was you?
Perhaps you need careful negotiation before fixing the trip.

What this says to me is that you wanted to do something nobody else did - and that you would rather do that than spend time with your family.

I’ve been a teacher for 30 years (including many school trips) and I know that teenagers can be infuriating. But it’s unlikely that you can force them to enjoy something - better to spend time with them and introduce stuff you like in small doses.

There are three types - Type 1 is subdivided into two types. I don’t want to spend my whole vacation relaxing by the pool - but I also don’t want the type of overly-scheduled vacation where spending an extra 15 minutes having lunch or 30 minutes longer at a museum throws the whole day out of whack. And that seems to be the kind of trip this was. In addition to that, it seems the whole schedule for Friday was based on what the OP wanted to do. Their mother ( the OP’s wife? SO? Can’t tell ) didn’t want to go to London to begin with and it seems like no one other than the OP was interested in taking a sightseeing walk that as far as I can tell was supposed to last from leaving the hotel at 10 or 11 am and getting to King’s Cross Station some time after 8pm*. And then to travel home, however long that took .

  • they separated at 4 and the rest of the family was at the station three hours early.