Megan has a daughter who just turned two. The two-year-old is not napping consistently, she’s whiny and needy and wonderful and gorgeous and funny and tantrum-my. Megan is frustrated and desperately needs a spa weekend with five of her closest friends. The other night, on twitter, she said, “It’s weird. I’m like up and down every other minute. “Oh, she’s adorable. I love her!” Then “I’m gonna kill her.”
I almost tweeted back to Megan, “I haven’t ‘liked’ my kids in years.” But I didn’t. For one thing, it’s not true. Most of the time – 50% of every day? – I like my kids. They are really neat kids. They can also be jackasses, especially around their mother, and I have many moments of really NOT liking them. Especially from the ages of 2 – Present. For two: thinking about those not-liking moments made me feel mean, and like a terrible parent.
Then I thought some more and I realized I was confusing like with love. I will always (forever) love my kids but I don’t always (every day) have to like them. After all, they are Beginner People. They are going through phases and stages that will help them become the people they will be someday. They are like aliens halfway out of the pod. Slimy baby chicks kicking their way out of eggshells. I like eggs. I like chickens. Not so fond of slime.
But why did I have the expectation that I would like my kids? They are just people, like all people. I don’t like all people. Even all the people I am related to.
When babies are new, it is an adjustment. Everyone says “enjoy this time” but you’re covered in pee and milk and sweat and blood. You know why they call them “receiving blankets”? For all the bodily fluids they will be receiving.
But you adjust. You get the hang of the baby. You know when it’s going to cry, (when you’re on the phone or in the car) when it’s going to poop (right after you leave a place with a change table), and when it’s going to smile the biggest (when you are just about to leave it at a bus stop). You figure out how to predict the unpredictable behavior.
And they are pure love. Even when they scream and flail and turn red in the face you forgive them. There’s not even anything to forgive. They are babies. You don’t ‘like’ your baby. It would be like ‘liking’ a watermelon if there was nothing else on earth for you to eat. You adore your baby. You hate your baby. You adore your baby again.
You might wish it (babyhood)(the screaming) would end, you might have lesser or greater experiences of depression and you would find support for those things on the Internet, at your doctor, or public health clinic.
Toddlers, though. When a baby starts to walk, it’s called a toddler but really, I call it toddlerhood when the baby is asserting its will. When a baby starts to morph into a person, no, of course it was always a person, but a Person with preferences and opinions and, more importantly, the ability to act on those preferences and opinions.
There is still that unconditional love that you felt with the baby, but because the baby is now sort of a Person, you enjoy its Personhood too. You like the little words it says and the way it pets cats or screams at spiders or puts blueberries in its nose and looks like a movie special effect, and you start to like it. It is an entertaining/loving/genius little Person, and you like it. But oh no. It also likes to throw things at dogs and it complains when you wash its hair but it still rubs yogurt in there every day, and it just punched its brother in the face! For no reason! No! I Do Not Like That Person.
I don’t like my child, therefore I am a monster who doesn’t love my child. I thought that way, until I thought of it this way:
Do I like everyone I claim to love, all the time? No. And that includes myself. We all make mistakes. We are all jerks. We are all worthy of understanding, forgiveness, respect, and love, whether or not we are likeable in a given moment.
I don’t have to project I like you at all times in order to raise my kids to be the kind of people I want them to be. I have to project I love you.
It is both a revelation and a relief.