What children expect from parents is love, unconditional love. They expect perfect maternal love -- and they are never going to get it because perfect love has to be given by perfect people, and there are no perfect people. There are women who are juggling work & family & expectations & the usual fear, trying to tough it out and do their best.
I knew, going in, that I was never going to be perfect. I could possibly manage perfect behaviour for eight hours a day - but I was going to be a parent for 24/7, and I swear to god babies need way less sleep, no matter what experts say, than I did. I was going to have bad days. I was going to be frayed by stress & every other thing in life going wrong, because some weeks, that’s what happens.
I needed my children to understand only one thing: I was their mother, regardless, I loved them, regardless, and my frustration was not their fault - because children are natural solipsists. Everything in the world revolves around them. If I was unhappy or grouchy or angry or in tears, the natural, default assumption on their part was that it was about them. I needed them to understand, at as young an age as possible, that this was not true.
So I made it clear, early and often, that I was not perfect. That I had some of the same fears and insecurities that were, on some days, their entire lives. I made it clear that when I’d lost it - and I hasten to say that this did not involve violence, because I do consider that a different class of difficulty - that it was a breach of behavioral rules on my part. I would time myself out in my room; the rule in the house was that if you could not be civil in public spaces, you were roomed until you were calm or in control enough that you could.
But even so, my children did not see me as a person; they saw me as a mother. I think they felt, for the most part, that I loved them. And as they grew and developed, and their ability to perceive changed, they changed, their understanding grew.
Some people’s understanding does not.
They can be twenty, and still, at heart, that very young child. They see love, and understand it viscerally, as the thing they expected from their mother. They can look at other adults, and when they want love from them - what they want is what they wanted from their mothers. The women they didn’t and couldn’t see as people. The women who fulfilled a role.
Let me go a bit further. They feel entitled to that love, because on a visceral level, they were entitled to that love from their mothers. Who they were, and who they are, doesn’t viscerally matter to them - they expect to be loved “for themselves“; children are, after all, loved by their parents. They don’t actually see themselves clearly - because children don’t. They are materially, emotionally, caught in that state. Who they actually are - what they like, what they dislike, what they feel responsible for (and frequently, in the end, they feel responsible for very, very little because toddlers just don’t) is irrelevant to them.
They look at what other people are getting - and they feel that they should be getting it, too. Because of course, the actual other people are irrelevant. They don’t evaluate what the other person offers, because, again, toddlers don’t. They know what they want. They know what they need. And they know they deserve it, and maybe someone else is getting it instead -- but that’s the sum total of their self-awareness. There’s a lot of insecurity there.
They try to be “good boys” or “good girls” because that’s often a condition laid down by parents. But it’s a dependent condition at best - they are being “good children” because they expect the reward for this is “love”. Which is to say: their behaviour is not rooted in any sense of self-respect. It is dependent; it is fragile; it is an external behaviour that has no internal compass. It doesn’t come from them; it’s a form of barter. An inflexible form of barter.
This is the mind-set at the heart of “But I’m a nice guy/girl! Why don’t girls/guys notice me!” It is a visceral, incredibly pernicious mindset, and it is entirely and completely natural to them because it is the mindset they have known for their entire lives. At two or three years of age, they could be loved in this fashion, if imperfectly.
But if the understanding doesn’t grow, they are left wanting and demanding the same thing for the rest of their adult lives. They can’t actually see the difference between mother-love and love.
I’ve written about this before in a different context. Adult women do not love adult men as if those men were their children. They don’t give time & affection - and tolerance and patience - to other adults the way they would, and can, to children - because these people are not their children.
When we look at our mothers as small children, we want. Our sense of love is almost indivisible from our sense of need. Love = need, in that mindset. What they want, the fact that they want it, is considered love in their own mind.
But what adults want from each other is not that kind of dependency. At best, it’s uncomfortable. At best. When we approach someone else with the visceral sense of need, with the idea that we need to be loved to be complete, there’s nothing else there. We are not offering anything of ourselves except our need and our sense of desperation. There’s no there, there. There’s nothing but a void, waiting to be filled.
This may come as a surprise to some - and actually, surprisingly it does - but this is not remotely attractive. Offering someone the sum of our insecurities and demanding the attention & affection (or even sex) that will make the insecurities go away for a while makes, of the other person, a type of serotonin dispenser. It’s not about the other person. The other person doesn’t exist except as a role, a daydream, or an obsession. It is a role that is meant to be filled, just the way Mother was filled, and the anger and pain and hurt are as extreme as if all these cold and distant women are their mothers. But, with the extra squick of sex thrown in.
What the other person does or does not want is irrelevant to the sense of aggrieved entitlement, because in the end, what our mothers want is invisible when we are that developmental age. The response is exactly, again, the response of an angry, resentful child. They are feeling hurt. They are feeling hurt in the way that toddlers do and can.
But toddlers can’t buy guns.
When toddlers lose it - and they do - they can’t cause untold damage to other people.
Toddlers can’t stab three people to death. Toddlers can’t get in their expensive cars and go gunning for people. Toddlers can’t see the incredibly, hideous irony in the fact that their rage, fueled by a sense of rejection, is exactly why people do not choose to come near; it’s exactly the thing that twigs unconscious distrust, dislike, and lack of attraction. We’re not stupid. That “Nice Guy” thing is generally a veneer over some pretty ugly social assumptions, objectification, and solipsism. At its most extreme, this is what it leads to.
ETA: The assumptions and solipsism that are natural in toddlers are acceptable because: toddlers in a developmental stage. But they’re not meant to form the emotional basis for a reasonable or rational adult life.