Liking the Child That You Love

by Rebecca Eanes

There is a lot of talk about unconditionally loving our children but perhaps not enough about how important it is to like them. As our sweet bundles grow and test boundaries and stretch our patience, it can become all too easy to fall into the insidious trap of looking at that child through a negative lens. Because we only see what it is we are looking for, we begin to only see the testing, the misbehavior, the whining, the aggression, the child who just will not go to sleep. Then ever so slowly, without us mindfully realizing what is occurring, we begin to feel a pang of resentment – of dislike. At this point, it becomes very difficult to notice the good, to see beyond the faults into the heart of that child which beats with goodness and love and purpose. Resentment is blinding.

While it's true that children need our love to thrive, what we've generally swept under the rug is that they need us to like them, too. They need us to see them, see who they are, and to like what it is that we see, because this ultimately is how they come to see themselves. Therefore, it's essential to the well-being of our children and to the peace and contentment within our homes that we learn to see through a positive lens, even through times of trial.  

If you're struggling with feelings of resentment or not liking your child right now, could one of these be the cause?

  1. You were expecting/hoping for someone different, easier, more like you, more like your spouse, a better sleeper, not so intense, etc.
  2. You're worn out, exhausted, and stretched too thin.
  3. You're focusing too much on the negative characteristics.
  4. You're distracted, juggling too much, and not able to take the time to connect.

Relationships can be messy, and it's okay to not always be in harmony. Sometimes we misstep in the parenting dance. We cha-cha when we should salsa. We get out of sync, and there lies another treacherous trap – guilt. We should have done better. We should have said that differently. We turn the negative lens off of them and onto ourselves, and while it is important to acknowledge and understand our mistakes so that we can correct them, it is utterly useless to wallow in the guilt. Here is where we must call forth compassion for ourselves and for our children, realizing that we are all imperfect humans and that is perfectly fine. Move on.

The key to cultivating positive feelings for your child (and anyone else) is to switch your lens. Lessen the amount of times you point out wrongdoing and increase the number of times you point out “right-doing”. Stop fault-finding and start soul-searching. She/he may not be who you expected, but I guarantee she/he is amazingly wonderful in many ways. Look closely at the miracle you have.

Take care of yourself so that your tank is full. If you're running on empty, you won't have much to give. I know it's easier said than done, but a little change can make a big difference.

Focus on your child's positive characteristics. Point them out to your child. “Do you know what I love about you? You're sense of humor.” Make “do you know what I love about you” sentences part of your daily communication with each child. Speak words of encouragement to them, and let them overhear you speaking positively about them to others. This is the sustenance that will grow them beautifully.

Finally, if you're too distracted (and it's hard not to be these days), join me in making a pledge to put away all distractions for a period of time each day to connect with loved ones. When we make a conscious effort to see beyond the behavior to the human being in front of us, the imperfect, messy, lovely, wonderful human being in front of us, the negative lens will drop and shatter, and we can come together, dancing in sync once again.

Rebecca Eanes is the author of The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parenting and co-author of Positive Parenting in Action: The How-To Guide for Putting Positive Parenting Principles into Action in Early Childhood. She is the founder of and creator of the Facebook community Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond. Through her Facebook community and website, Rebecca reaches thousands of parents daily with the message that connection trumps coercion and love is most powerful motivator. She does not claim to be a parenting "expert" but writes parent-to-parent with the hope of inspiring others to create peaceful homes through positive parenting. She is the grateful mother of two boys.