We’re not supposed to admit we don’t like our kids sometimes, but it’s true. Sometimes they are uncool. Like, extremely uncool.
Lest we forget, our kids are humans with (usually) our DNA, or (probably) our last name. And we are just humans raising them. We are all just people with bad habits and bad breath, living in the same house. But there are things beyond DNA that bind us together, that make families work.
It’s true, often our personalities don’t match. Or we have children with truly challenging behavior. It can bring a person to a breaking point parenting a child who will not respond to their patience and care, and sometimes parents feel they are simply going through the motions with difficult kids. I do not want to minimize this at all.
What I’ve found to be true about parenting is, “Love is a verb and Like is a feeling. We can love our kids by caring for them and meeting their needs, but we need positive interaction with them to feel that we like them”. So I am not questioning your love for your kids. It’s there. I know it. But when the loving is taking everything you’ve got, wouldn’t you like to like your children too?
So how do we like kids when they are repeatedly and consistently unloveable?
I know I’ve had days that turned into weeks where I felt disconnected and angry with one of my kids, and my behavior showed it.
The worst part of this season was how I felt about myself. I didn’t want to be mean or hurt my child’s feelings. I wanted to be in control of myself and be loving even when it was hard. I had a ton of shame and guilt over this, and that’s how I knew I had to do things differently.
I want to share what helped me change my heart posture toward my child when things were off. This worked for me, and I come back to it when I feel anger crowding out love.
1. I recognized I was disconnected from my kid, and this was not normal. Sure, we get mad at our kids, but when we start to actually not like them, when we struggle to get “I love you” out of our mouths, when we don’t want to give them hugs or affirmation, when we speak about them in public in angry or frustrated ways, then something is wrong, folks. Where else are our kids going to get positive feedback and love? The family is the place where our kids learn whether they are worthy of love or not. Of course, they are, but are they hearing it from you?
2. I remembered we are on the same team. We talk about “breaking our kids down” or a “battle of wills”, and I think this way of talking about parenting puts us at odds with our kids. Why are we fighting them again? We can make behavior or habits the opponent without making enemies of our kids.
3. I forgave my kid. He was acting like a punk, and we just weren’t getting along. It was more angry vibes than feel-good vibes, if anyone was keeping count. Maybe I had unreasonable expectations, but either way, I had to forgive him. This is basic but often overlooked – if you are mad at someone, forgive them. No matter who they are. Forgiveness erases the old thought and makes room for believing a new thought about a person. It’s essential. Don’t skip this.
4. I started acting like I liked him. I started saying “I love you” and being intentionally affectionate, and it changed me. Action goes before feeling, people tell you, but there’s science behind this piece of advice. Oxytocin, our well-being and bonding hormone, is released during positive interaction, specifically positive touch like hugs, wrestling or tickle fights, and other play. In fact, we need at least eight hugs a day to maintain an optimal oxytocin, or well-being, level. If you have kids, eight hugs or should be a given, which is awesome. But if you’re finding your relationship with your child to be adversarial, you may just be trying to survive, not maintain a hug quota. [Check out Paul Zak’s TED talk on oxytocin below. Fascinating stuff.]
5. I started praying for my kid. Every night before we put the kids to bed, we talk to God. This reflection ritual can be very powerful when practiced regularly. The oldest thanks God for three things from the day, and we, the parents, thank God for aspects of each child’s personality, then ask him to help them be wise, grow as leaders, be protected, etc. Prayer forces me to seek the good in my children, and it gives me an opportunity to bless them and get God’s view of them. If the day – or year- has been especially hard, this time of reflection allows us to reconcile and not go to bed angry, but also to end on a positive note.
6. I do hard things for my kid. When we’re in a relationship rut with our kids, reaching out and saying “I love you”, putting a kind note in their lunch or tucking them in at night with an extra story might feel almost too hard – do it anyway. If you’ve been crabby or distant for a while, or if you find yourself angry at yourself for how you’re parenting, you probably need to ask your child for forgiveness. If there’s something you can tell you don’t want to do, you should probably do it. It’s not wrong to feel disconnected from time to time, but when our habits and interactions reflect this missing feel-good vibe in the relationship, we reinforce to our kids that they are not valuable and loved. We need to correct that.
We can love our kids and like them too. Relationships will always be work, but the peace in your home and the feeling of enjoying your kid is worth it.
Next Sunday is Mother’s Day. I’m celebrating by honoring moms who inspire us. Send me 100 words or less about one mom who is doing a great job to scsiders(at)gmail.com. Your inspiring mom can be your own mother, your wife or the mom of your kids, someone from work, your sister, a neighbor, whoever. Tell me about a great mom you know, and I’ll pick the most inspiring story by Wednesday. The winner will receive this necklace pictured here to give to their special mom. Sounds good, right? You have two days. Go!
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