Mama — if you love me — why don’t you like me?

Here’s a question worth considering — What do you think of your child?

Here’s a more important one — What does your child think you think of him/her?

The two are related but not at all the same thing. Certainly, the answer you give to the first will not be the same as the answer your kid(s) would give to the second. The greatest value of both, however, lies in the difference between them.

It’s worth considering what we think of our children for more than a few reasons, but a few of them are as follows:

  • Without considering it, we may be feeling something we haven’t yet been fully aware that we were feeling — adoration, esteem, admiration, contempt, sadness, distrust.
  • Calling it to our own attention, gives us the opportunity to choose a perspective from any number of possibilities, rather than being swept up into a stream of unconscious mantras about “the way things are going”.
  • Finally, being clear about what we think of our children is the best guide we can hope for in knowing how to teach and work with them as they grow and develop.

It winds up being “more important” to consider what our children think we think of them, because that is what they are receiving from us, regardless of what we actually think. If we enjoy being with them but they don’t think so, then obviously we need to adjust how we show it. If we think they are “irresponsible”, but they believe that we think they are “stupid” or that we just don’t like them — then we are blowing it on teaching them about responsibility, and blowing it on making sure that they know we love them unconditionally.

Again, there’s more than a few reasons (but here’s a few of them) why we ought to look into what our kids think we think of them:

  • In part, we just want to be sure that what we are attempting to communicate is getting through. “Does the fact that I love my daughters no matter what they do or say, actually sit in their minds as a given? Do they know as much as they can know about my feelings for them?”
  • Based on whether or not they are “picking up what we are putting down”, we can formulate a sense of what they’ve understood from our previous actions and words, and thus may better choose our future actions and words to specialize in communicating what we have not yet succeeded in communicating.
  • And most importantly, while we have the deceptively brief opportunity, we want to have as much influence as possible over how our children see themselves. Their first and foremost perspective on themselves is coming from us. If we want to be sure we are having the effect we wish to have in this area, we have to know what they have gotten from us.

While we are at it — it would serve us to also consider what we want our children to think of themselves. Do we really want them to think they are “so silly”? Or “impatient”? Or “bad”? “Stingy”? “Naughty”? “Stupid”? Do we want them to think of themselves as thieves, or untrustworthy liars, or mean pranksters, or vicious hooligans, or deviant animals? Because if we don’t — if that isn’t what we want them to think of themselves –then we’d do well to approach how we treat them accordingly.

If they are taking their first impressions of themselves from us, and those impressions are based on what they perceive us thinking of them (from our actions and words to them more than our thoughts about them) then we want to make sure that we are transmitting to them what we want them to think of themselves. That is to say, if we don’t want them to think of themselves as lying, cheating, nefarious miscreants, then we had better watch how we treat them and what we say to them about their behavior.

We can think of this as a self-fulfilling prophecy. We imagine them as acting/being “bad”, then we call our kids “bad”, then they think of themselves as (always, already) “bad”, and then do more “bad” things based on this perspective. We treat them as though they can’t be trusted, they act accordingly. We look for the worst, they show it.

It’s incredibly easy to trip along the well groomed parenting super-highway toward treating the kids like inmates in a high security facility in the boonies well outside town. It happens one interaction at a time. And with kids’ willingness and prowess in living up to our expectations, it is not long before parents feel totally victimized, and then justified in running their homes like a lock-down. And in that situation, it feels as though there is no choice but to remain on guard.

But one interaction at a time we can undo even this worst case scenario by adjusting our thoughts, and augmenting our actions, and words, and even our expectations to match what we want our kids to be. One interaction at a time, we can communicate our feelings of unconditional love and acceptance of our children — even, and perhaps especially, when we don’t like what they are doing. Every chance we get, we can be sure we are communicating clearly with all of our faculties that we think our children are good, are well intentioned, are sweet, are kind, are learning what life is about.

So when I come into the living room and the 3 year old is disemboweling her sister’s favorite stuffed animal with a Sharpie, I don’t have to assume she is trying to exact some revenge, or trying to be mean, or attempting to irrevocably destroy her innocent sister’s little friend. I can choose to assume the best about her intentions (innocent unless proven guilty), and at the very least, I can choose to be neutral about how I communicate with her about it, remembering that she is recording what I say on her list of things that she is. And, if I am paying close attention, I can even take it one step further, and use the moment to reaffirm how I hope she will think of herself (in this case, kind, compassionate, considerate, etc.) by appealing to her ability to empathize, asking her to imagine how she would feel if the tables were turned, and by giving her gentle information about how her sister might feel — expecting and treating her as if she is smart enough and “good” enough to get it.

We don’t really get to control what our children become. But we can make sure that we keep our thoughts about them clear, and consistent with an empathetic view of the facts. And we can make sure that we communicate (i.e. show as well as talk about) what we want them to know about our thoughts of and feelings for them. We can even find out what they are getting from our communications — just ask ’em. It’s our best bet for helping them to become what we hope for them, and our only hope for influencing what they decide about themselves.

May we all be exceptional at making sure our kids know we love and respect them, even if we are hating what they just did. Be well.


About Nathan M McTague, CPCC, CPDPE

I am a full-time parent of three, Writer, Life Coach, Lecturer, Parenting Mentor, and Shamanic Practitioner. In all of the above, I am seeking to assist my fellow humans in their processes of claiming and unleashing their highest potentials.
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4 Responses to Mama — if you love me — why don’t you like me?

  1. Gina says:

    I finally had a chance to read this post and I’m so glad I did! Such great advice and something I always think about when I’ve had an especially tough day with our kids. It’s so easy to lose your cool and, in the moment, it seems as if your words may not be having any lasting impact; but we all know from our own lives that this is not the case. Thank you for the reminder to take a deep breath and try my best to remain neutral even when I want to blow my stack. 🙂 On that note, I think it’s important to remember that as parents we all need to recharge our batteries on a regular basis so that we can live up to this task. It’s so easy to deplete ourselves when we have little ones running around!

    • Hi Gina,

      Thanks for joining the discussion. I am glad that you found something in the post worth taking away for yourself.

      I agree, it takes skill, and conscientious effort to keep “your cool” (to borrow from your phrasing) and to speak and act mindfully. It also takes courage to keep at it, after faltering, or blowing it. And it can wear on the parents to work to maintain such a state through the ups and downs of the parenting rollercoaster. And I agree that rejuvenating is essential.

      But I get wary of the reminder “that as parents we all need to recharge” because I think the phrase (and even the idea) is often misappropriated and used as a commercial for parental escapism. Don’t get me wrong, I think both things are necessary — we do need to take care of ourselves, and sometimes we also need child care. But the mindset (especially in America) that parenting is this terribly draining endeavor from which you have to take lengthy or frequent breaks (or you won’t have enough energy to give to your kids) is problematic at best. I wind up feeling sad about it because I think a majority of parents our age get tired out faster from parental giving because they weren’t given enough as children themselves. They are more prone to need to break away than would otherwise be necessary because they are also trying to parent themselves (attempting to self-provide what they missed when they were children).

      In addition, by taking frequent and lengthy breaks, parents become more accustomed to being away from their children instead of with them, thereby, also becoming less accustomed to their kids’ needs/struggles/chaos/joy, as well as less able to care for themselves while parenting.

      If possible, I would like to be a voice to remind parents that we can recharge while continuing to treat our children well, and while continuing to be with them. We can take care of ourselves in the moment. We can be conscientious about where we let our thoughts take us. We can breathe deeply at any time. We can be honest with ourselves and our children about how we feel in any situation. Self-empathy is a powerful depressurizer and rejuvenator, and can be employed in the moment, and after the fact, with great success.

      And instead of carrying around the idea that we are fragile parents who can only handle this parenting thing so long before we crack, I would rather carry the idea that we are constantly looking for new ways to empower ourselves while still being the conscientious, mindful parents that we wish to be — recharging at will, as we speed around the twists and turns of the rollercoaster.

      Thanks again, Gina.
      Be well.

      • jo johnson says:

        hi nathan,

        great post and interesting discussion. i find it useful to remind myself that it’s all right to not actually like my children sometimes. it seems that honesty with myself (a yoga precept; satya in sanskrit) about how i really feel about their behaviour etc frees up a load of energy that allows me to be more accepting. that said, behaviour isn’t, of course, the sum total of who/what a person is.

        i too really dislike the notion that in order to parent well, one needs regular “me time”. i get somewhat disheartened when i see the pitying looks that come my way when i say, no, sorry, won’t be coming out tonight as i have to breastfeed my child (although as i’m now on number 3 most people know i’m out of the loop for another 4 years or so!). having kids was a freeing experience for me; i felt more liberated and at peace with myself than when i was child-free. for me this is totally tied up with yoga practice; each successive child has enriched and deepened my practice. so long as i do yoga most days, i honestly, genuinely, don’t find parenting a sacrifice, or a drag. – which is not to say that it’s always easy, or fun, or even pleasant. i have plenty of times when i’m not up for facing whatever challenge the parenting moment is throwing my way. neither is it to say that because i practice yoga, i have any kind of special patience gene. i think it’s just that i look on both parenting and yoga as opportunities to develop patience (and kindness, communication, etc etc)…which makes me a happier person :). going to the pub, or away for the weekend is, as far as i’m concerned, less likely to do that for me!x


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