I follow Catholic All Year on Facebook. The other day Kendra shared an article on there about parenting and included some personal commentary. Towards the end, she said,
"All I hope is that at the end of the day, despite my failings, my kids know that I love them and I like them. No matter what."That idea has been going through my head all day. It contrasts with a line I know I have heard many times: "parents should always love their kids, but they can't always like their kids, and that's okay." And I've been telling myself for a few years now that this is true. That as long as I love all my kids, work for their best interests, and carry out my duties as their mother, that everything will be fine. After all, "liking" someone just comes down to feelings, which is not ultimately as important as loving, which is an act of the will.
Because I"ll be honest - I often have a very difficult time truly liking one of my kids in particular. And that's my eldest, Sly*.
It pains me to say it. But I really struggle with him. Our personalities are fairly different, and I think neither of us understands the other very well. Tom seems to have figured out how to "crack the Sly code" and fully win his little heart. There's no doubt in my mind that Sly likes Daddy better than Mommy these days. And there's really no one to blame but myself. While Tom feels frustrated by all the same personality traits and bad habits that I do, he is able to see past them and recognize how much it is outweighed by all Sly's good traits. But I just don't have enough patience, and I haven't devoted enough time to actually trying to get to know Sly and understand him and like him for who he is....and I was hoping that maybe he just wouldn't ever be aware of it...
But of course kids know when you don't always like to be with them!
I started to think about my own situation. I've suspected for a few years now that my dad doesn't actually enjoy my company all that much. It took getting married to really bring this home for me. Because when Tom and I get together with my dad, I can see such a contrast between how he responds to each of us. He really likes Tom. My dad and Tom have a lot in common (I think I followed the old "women tend to pick guys who remind them of their father" pattern), and my dad really enjoys talking with him. I've noticed that when I talk with my dad, he either seems to not pay me much attention, or else he instantly "corrects" what I'm saying or tells me how my ideas are wrong. I don't think he's conscious of it at all, but he ends up just shutting me down a lot of the time, and making me very hesitant to share any more thoughts with him.
Now don't get me wrong, I am certain that my dad truly loves me. I could go to him with any problem, and he would help me without a second thought. But I don't feel like he enjoys being with me a lot of the time, and it does hurt my feelings.
I don't want this for Sly.
I do certainly love all my kids. And maybe I don't have to like them all the time, but darnit, I want to like all my kids! I mean, we're stuck with each other for life, afterall. Everyone in the family could be so much happier if we all really and truly liked one another and enjoyed each other's company, despite our individual faults. I imagine how wonderful it would be if as the years go by, we all wanted to spend lots of time together, and couldn't think of much else that would be more pleasant.
So I'm resolving to make a serious effort to get to that point.
I've been brainstorming how to build my relationship with Sly. Here are some ways I can start to understand my son better, respond to him better, and learn to like the person he is:
1. Make eye contact when he's talking to me
2. Say "yes" more often to his requests
3. Make a conscious effort to give him the quality time he always craves
4. React with firmness but not anger to his misbehavior
5. React with patience and not annoyance to his.....annoying behavior
6. Remember that even though he's my oldest child, he's still only five years old, and cut him some slack when he behaves like a normal - childish - five year old
7. Tell him spontaneously that I love him (instead of just before bedtime or other partings), tell him that I like spending time with him, tell him the qualities I like about him
*I debated with myself about mentioning Sly by name, as this is a very personal post. I mean, what if he comes across this one day? Well, I'm hoping that if he does, he will not only be assured of the love I have for him, and also maybe think it's a little funny. Because hopefully by then we will both have changed so much in our feelings towards one another that it will seem a little unbelievable that there was really a time when we struggled so much to always enjoy each other's company.