Crew had a rough morning the other day. He stole a bite of Locke’s eggs at breakfast, so Locke clawed him — which led to the girls laughing. Crew got embarrassed and lashed out at the girls and clawed them. They clawed him back and then a chase around the kitchen bar ensued. Meanwhile, I yelled, “Stop it!” from the sink over and over and louder and louder until someone finally listened. The girls apologized, sat back down, and didn’t say another word. Crew kept up the antics with blaming and yelling. Finally, I grounded him for the day.
(This is NOT a story to illustrate wonderful discipline or our morning routine. I am using this story to make another point. Don’t judge my control or lack there of. Just keep reading.)
Awhile later, I found Crew laying on the living room floor — not dressed, not moving, not ready to go to school in 5 minutes.
I kneeled down by him and asked him what was wrong. He mumbled, “No one l….. me.” Thinking he said, “No one loves me,” I replied, “I love you.” Then he declared in a louder voice, “No! No one LIKES me.”
Maybe he was referring to my nagging about… stinky socks, missing shoes, messy eating or an ungrateful attitude. Maybe I seemed put out when I had to snuggle by him at night or help him with his homework. Maybe I said “frustrated, annoyed, or bugged” too much. Maybe when I tried to get him to be quiet or sit still or put down the ball, he saw my requests as an aversion to who he is to the core. Maybe he was just lashing out in a painful moment and didn’t really mean it.
Either way, I identified with and recognized his heart hurt and the difference just one word can make. I assured him that I liked him too – he is funny and witty and he genuinely makes me laugh. Not in a “kids are funny” sort of way but in a “that was really clever; I could hang with you as an adult” sort of way. We have a lot in common too. I like sports; he likes sports. We play catch and watch football games together. I get how much he loves food and how he wants to have just one more bite. (Story of my life.) We replay clips from Full House and giggle and sing our hearts out in the car together. He laughs at my jokes and googles over my cookies. I really do LIKE him.
But Crew was on to something that morning. There is a difference between being liked and being loved, especially in a family.
Love sometimes feels obligatory. You’re my mom (insert any relation here … sister, dad, aunt…) so you have to love me. It is kind of your duty and responsibility to love me and if you don’t, then you are a really bad person. Most kids know their parents aren’t bad people so they assume the love is there. Plus we say “I love you” as they go off to school, when they get hurt, and as we tuck them in at night. The kids hear us tell them that we love them daily, and they see us making them dinner, washing their clothes, going to their ball games, reading to them, etc. They can connect the dots that LOVE is there.
But our heart hungers to actually be LIKED as well as loved. Where family (mom, dad, parent, sister, etc.) wants to be around us and chooses our company not out of obligation or duty, but out of choice — like they would with a friend. They chose us because they like our personalities and our humor; they appreciate our talents; they focus on our strengths not our weaknesses; they like you for you and me for me, not just because we are related.
So I am going to work on helping my kids feel liked as well as loved.
I could invite Elle to go on a walk with me, not because I want to model healthy habits, but because I actually like to talk with her. Maybe Crew could go to the store with me, not because moms should have one-on-one time with their kids, but because I enjoy his company. Maybe Croft and I could do a craft project together, not because it would make me feel like a good mom, but because I think she is creative and would love to get her opinion on what color to use. I could watch the tractor tippin’ scene in Cars with Locke not because I want to snuggle him, but because that part is his favorite and it is really funny.
Maybe I could say “I like you” as much as I say “I love you.”
I have a lot of work to do, but as Crew left the house this morning, I hugged him and said, “I love you, Crew, and I like you too.” It just came out, and it just happened to rhyme. I think it might just be our new love ritual.