I’d always wanted my children to like me, to enjoy being with me, to think I’m a cool mom. This was fairly easy when my kids were toddlers, preschoolers and then preteens. I was their regular playmate and companion. We are homeschoolers, so I’ve also been their teacher for several years now. During some of our earlier homeschool years, I made our lessons and my children and I enjoyed learning together. We made arts and crafts, read and sang together and went to our own little field trips. My children liked me and I enjoyed it.
Two years ago, I lost a preteen and gained a teenager. Gradually, my relationship with my elder child changed. Since becoming a teenager, she has been spending less time with me and more with her friends. She no longer wants to do lessons or learning activities with her younger brother and me. When at home, she spends most of the day in her room, away from the rest of the family. I know that she is trying to form her own identity, but it felt like she was drifting away from me. It felt like she didn’t like me anymore.
I tried to be the cool mom. I met her friends, gave them rides every now and then, and welcomed them into our home. I let her go to the mall with close friends unsupervised. I went clothes shopping with her once and, after seeing for myself how hard it is to find nice but fairly conservative shorts, I convinced her dad that our daughter’s shorts don’t always have to be mid-thigh in length. Though her dad and I draw the line at anything tiny and stringy, I went with my daughter once to shop for her sporty bikini. I bought her little knick knacks when she asked for them. I was very flexible with what time she needed to sleep and wake up, when she could and couldn’t have friends over, and when to do her homework. As much as I could, I allowed her what she wanted because I wanted her to still like me.
On a few recent occasions, I’ve had to be more strict with her homework and her social activities. I found myself saying no to her more often that before. And this made me a very unlikable mom. I know she was very unhappy with me then (I remember being a teenager too, and definitely not liking it when my mom didn’t let me go out with my friends), but I was surprised at how unhappy I felt when I saw how disappointed she was. And the realization hit me. By not setting clear boundaries and values, by trying to be her friend, by wanting to be liked, I was failing as a parent to my child. I was failing to love her, to guide her well in her own journey to becoming a respectful, responsible and resilient woman.
I was reminded that liking is for cute things, cool movies and crushes. Loving is about a commitment to the beloved’s growth and wellbeing. Liking is about feelings that come and go. Loving is for honest relationships that stay with the ups and downs.
I’ve learned that I have to live with the moments when my child won’t like me. I will remember that these growing pains, these struggles in the parent-child relationship will not break me or my child. I will remember that these difficult times make us more resilient persons. My child doesn’t need me to be a likable friend. My child needs me to be a mother who loves her unconditionally, steadily and wisely, not only during the happy “yes” days but also during the angry “no” days.