Here are some “truths” you hear a lot about parenthood:
- You love your kids, but you should not expect to like them equally.
- “Liking” one or the other will go through natural cycles where at one point you might prefer one, and then at a different point favor another.
- And the famous, “I love you, but I don’t like what you are doing.”
As truths go, I think these are pretty true. It’s definitely clear is that loving your kids is different from liking them. You love them just … because. You kind of need to—it’s your job. Even on your worst day, in your worst mood, when they have exhibited their worst behavior, you drop everything and rush in if they are really in need. I’ve never spent any time with any parent and his or her kid(s) and not come away with a deep sense that, however many layers you might need to unpeel, at base the parent loved the kid.
Meanwhile, back to like. As I write this, I realize that this is a challenge I have and am continuing to put for myself. So let me stop pretending to write about “parents” and reel it in under my family’s own little roof.
I don’t know why—actually I think I do know why, but we’ll save that for the blog about my own childhood—but I think it’s really important to like my kids. More specifically, I think it’s important for them to feel like I like them—which would be hard to do if I weren’t communicating that. I want my kids to feel that, if I weren’t their dad, I would still think they were cool kids, would want to hang out with them, would be interested in what they had to say. So the job for me becomes to actually choose to like them.
Over the years this has not always been easy, especially on the days when I wanted to strangle one, or the other, or both. I had to tackle the challenge from a couple of angles: one mental/emotional, the other behavioral. On the mental/emotional side, I would try oto take a few minutes every couple of days to think about the things I like about my kids—maybe a particular memory, a personality quirk, an accomplishment. Even writing about our 12+ years has helped remind me that, on top of that “given” base level of love, we have had a heck of a lot of “like” moments scattered among the school mornings, and rides to practice, and checking homework, and such.
On the behavioral side, I have tried as often as I can to push myself to act like I like my kids. This might sound dumb, but it falls into the “fake it till you make it” category. Usually this would take place in 5-minute bursts, with some activities I’ve written about previously. It could be a school morning, when it was too dark and too cold and everyone was too grumpy. I would just start doing some kind of silly/weird dance or wrestling move or whatever goofy thing came to mind. It was less about shifting the mood—although it helped with that as well—as sending the signal that I liked giving my kids a few minutes of no-agenda face time, just because. Another example was, during a dinner conversation, sitting back and letting one or both lead with whatever teenage-y topic was on their mind—and remembering that for them, Katy Perry vs. Lady Gaga wasn’t silly or shallow, but an issue of actual concern (hey, I was a teen once). And instead of being all parental with my “Well, you know …” voice, treating this topic like it actually mattered—remembering that for them, it did.
This may be overstating the case, but I think giving my kid the sense that they are liked is just as important as giving them the knowledge that they are loved. And if I’m wrong, at least we’ve had a few more chuckles on school mornings than we might have otherwise. And I’m way more up on my Lady Gaga than I would ever be, which must get me some points somewhere.