Like It. Or Not.

Image courtesy of under Creative Commons

Image courtesy of under Creative Commons

I am full of gratitude for having attended easily the best wedding ever over the weekend. Knowing the bride, I knew it would be fun. But this was truly a magical evening, aside from the love and joy of the nuptials. I had been looking forward to this event because I knew the bride’s friends were very diverse in personalities, backgrounds, and perspectives. I knew there would be a lot of interesting people there.

Turns out they are really kind and genuine people as well. It was a wonderful evening of getting to know new friends and revel in the celebrations. I also finally met the bride’s mother. I have admired this woman from afar for years now. From the stories I heard, and knowing the bride as an upstanding, kind, amazing woman, I knew her mother was strong, smart, kind, and wise.

I think we all know families with mothers like her. She’s the one who leads gently, firmly, kindly. She raises kind children who work hard and make a difference in the world. She creates a happy and joyful family unit. These are the families you want to be a part of, the families you spend a lot of afternoons and weekends with. These are the families who welcome everyone with open arms, the families that exude warmth and acceptance. These are the mothers you consider to be a second mother. The bride’s mother is one of these.

This family is a tight-knit family with the usual sibling rivalries, misunderstandings, power struggles, and tragedies. But this family also stays connected both despite, and in the face of, all of life’s struggles. This mother has shepherded several children, grandchildren, and her own mother and husband through highs and lows, times of uncertainty and times of celebration, and tears of despair and tears of joy. She has done this all with her head held high, a remarkably positive attitude, and a peaceful grace that comes from within.

I was thrilled to finally meet her. We exchanged pleasantries and genuine appreciation for finally meeting in person. The we chatted briefly about our children, and raising children. She said, “You should always like your kids. Always.”

I laughed and said, “I love my kids always, but I don’t always like them.” In her firm, kind grace, she said, “No. You need to always like them, even when they’re unlikable. Through all their stages, adolescence, everything. You need to always like them.”

She wasn’t judging, she wasn’t challenging me, she wasn’t telling me what to do. She was offering me something, but I didn’t know what it was yet. So I told her OK, I’d need to sit with this for a bit. Because I’ve always thought it’s OK to love someone while not liking him/her or his/her behaviors. I try to teach my children that it’s OK to have ambivalent or conflicting feelings.

So here’s the thing. I think she’s right. This is about unconditional loving kindness. This is about offering love and kindness not in the expectation or exchange of mutual feelings or positive outcomes. This is about being love. Simply being love. When kids don’t feel unconditional loving kindness from a parent, they don’t know how to give unconditional loving kindness. They grow up learning to love conditionally. They grow up learning some people and some behaviors deserve love, they grow up loving and expecting likewise in return. This is nice, but it’s not kind. It’s not simply being love.

And kids can feel it, when you don’t like them because they’re acting in unlikable ways. They’re testing us. Will you still have my back even when I don’t deserve it? Can I come back to you when I’ve fucked up? Will you judge or condemn me? I see now the underlying love isn’t enough. There must be the clear message that you’re not there to judge worthiness. There must be the clear message that the behavior may not be appropriate or acceptable, but that you hold space for them in their messiest times. There must be the clear message that you like and love every part of who they are, the messy parts that make you cringe, as well as the appropriate parts that make you proud.

When I’m acting in unlikable ways, it’s usually because I’m wounded or sad or hurt or angry or frustrated. It’s in these moments I most need a hug, a smile, a caress, and space to just be. I’m reminded people who are most unkind to us are the ones who need our kindness the most. It is in this space of acceptance that invites and allows the unlikable to transform.

See, I used to view acceptance as mere tolerance. I see now it’s more than that. It’s love. It’s being love, and thus inviting the unlikable to transform into like and love as well. Tolerance is saying, “Oh look at that. Good for you, but not for me. I’ll take a pass, you can go on your merry way now.”

I see now acceptance is an invitation, “Well hello. Please, come in. Ah, I see it is good for you, and not for me. And it would be lovely for you to stay a while, or leave when you’re ready, either way. But no rush, your company is welcome as long as you wish to stay. May I offer you a snack in the meantime?” Because really, who doesn’t like empathy served with a side of a fun snack?

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8 Responses to Like It. Or Not.

  1. Wonderful post and lessons. Your friend’s mom sounds like a wise and loving person. How wonderful to have her as a role model. Your wordplay and message is very sharp in this post. May we hold loving space, offering kindness with a side of empathy… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Deborah the Closet Monster says:

    I am going to have to sit with this for a while, too.

    And then, I will share it with my husband because of how it fits in with things we have been trying to sort out recently.

    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a fascinating discussion and it is filled with complexities that may affect how we interpret love. Unconditional love is a rarity for human beings to pull off in its essence. Parents have the greatest opportunity to make this happen or destroy its ability to be developed in their offspring. Respectfully, I do not think a parent has to approve of all of the behaviors of their children. After all, isn’t this what we call teaching our children what we believe to right and wrong? I am not talking about their choice in music, clothes, or even careers necessarily but if your child makes a choice that goes against your core values then wouldn’t it be an error to accept that behavior. For example, if your child chose to join a gang and participated in beating someone nearly to death as an initiation then we would not want to like or accept that behavior. However, there is a huge difference between approving or rejecting of their choices/actions and do the same thing to them. How can we function as a moral compass for our youth if we do not teach them what we hold to be right and wrong. If a girl defies her parents and goes to a party and get wasted knowing her parents will disapprove of her behavior and expecting their anger when they find out will think twice before behaving in a self destructive manner. Yet, when that girl comes home or is brought home by the police she knows that her parents will always love and support her even if they disapprove of her mistake. We all make mistakes, challenge authority, and test the limits, which is called growing up. Anyone who expects a perfectly obedient child is delusional because that is not how we are wired. I think there are extremes in this case, the parents who disown their kids for a mistake they make and those who will perjure themselves to prevent their child from going to jail.

    Parents, who produce healthy, well-adjusted adults are those who set boundaries, expectations, tons of love, and unending support. I definitely do not like some of the choices of my niece and nephews but I do not love them any less and if they need me they know my door is always open to them no matter what and I would lay down my life for them. They also know that I will hold them accountable for choices and I will expect them to do the right thing. One important thing that many parents miss these days; holding their children accountable for the mistakes/choices they make without using something else as a scapegoat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! I agree with your thoughts, and I know this confuses matters after the post. I’ve been thinking long and hard how to verbalize all this. I agree that it is a parent’s job to teach and instill morals and values and acceptable behaviors, absolutely. I agree it is also the parent’s job to provide consequences in the relationship of teaching. I think for myself, this idea is really about the unconditional love–that you so rightly point out is rare if existent. I think for me, it’s trying to be that unconditional love for my children. My culture and family judges a lot, and that leads to shame. Which leads to a whole mess of other things. I think I need to take the judgment of the person out and focus on the behavior more. I try, but need lots of practice 🙂 Does that makes sense?

      Liked by 1 person

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