You don't have to like your kids

Love your kids unconditionally.

If I had to summarize my job description as a parent, I think that would be it. But I realized recently that I haven’t been performing so well.

I've been reading a great book: Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships by John Welwood. The author describes love as having two components: 1) warmth, as in a sense of kindness and goodwill; and 2) openness, as in allowing a person to be who they are without trying to control them.

I think it is a beautiful description, and one I aspire to. The problem is that instead of loving my kids, I've been trying to like them.  And those are two very different things.

Unlike love, there is no such thing as universal or unconditional like.  I can find things to appreciate about nearly anyone in any situation, but that's not the same as liking them. I can't talk myself into liking someone just because I think I should.

This is because liking has to do with emotions. I like people who make me feel good, and dislike people who make me feel bad. If, as a parent, I think my job is to like my kids, this is going to be a problem, because being around my kids doesn't always feel good.

I don't like it when people are mean to each other, when they whine and complain, when they take me for granted. And yet I still live with two children who exhibit behaviors like that on a regular basis. Combine that with how their actions make me question my competence as a parent, and I like them even less.

But here's the thing I need to remember: To do my job -- to love my kids -- doesn't require me to like them.

When I forget that love and like are two different things, not liking my kids feels like an emergency. I tie myself in knots trying to like them, either by faking my emotions, or by trying to control them so they'll be more likable. Neither works very well.

Not only that, but I end up giving them the opposite of unconditional love’s warmth and openness. Instead, I send them the message that they have to earn my love by being more likable to me in the moment -- that they are not good enough as they are.  Yuck.

But I don’t have to send them that message. I can love them even when I don’t like them. I can remind myself that they are separate human beings with the right to live their own lives and learn their own lessons, that I really do want what’s best for them, and that even though the experience is unpleasant, I am big enough to handle it.

The cool thing is, when I can shift my focus away from the “problem” of not liking them and toward warmth and openness instead, I automatically feel better.  And when I feel good around people, it becomes much easier to like them -- even if they are acting like children.

May you too remember the difference between like and love, and not withhold the second for lack of the first.