We love our kids –of course we do – as their parents we HAVE to, and so we do – but we don’t have to love their behavior. There is a distinct difference between loving the child and separating the distasteful behavior from the person.
At different stages of a child’s development the parent simply does not like his own child, which is perfectly normal. When we feel that we “ought to” love, this commandment is an attitude not an emotion. To love one’s neighbor is not to feel affection for him but to wish that he be well. Willed love, or “ought to” love, is different from liking; this type of forced love can lead to phoniness and guilt.
Affection can be nurtured, but it cannot be turned on and off at will. When behaviors are disagreeable you do not have to like the person doing the behavior; so you can easily love the child even those you do not like her. Ironically it is often the least lovable person who is the one most in need of love. The terrible toddler when he seems most impossible, at those times he needs the most love. And every person at every age has their moments when they are just not likable.
Acceptance is an attitude of neutrality – you can be neutral in spite of the fact that the behavior you are seeing may not be in keeping with what you would like to see. At times everyone falls short and has failed in another’s expectations; everyone has moments when they need acceptance. We’ve all done things that are hurtful to ourselves and to others, yet in spite of our inadequacies, we want to be loved as we are. Acceptance nourishes the child’s self-love and helps maximize their future potential.
Acceptance is not synonymous with approval. You can accept another person’s feelings and still not approve of his behavior. “I get that you really mad at your sister (acceptance of the feeling) for taking your toy, but you still can’t hit her (non-approval of the behavior). Let’s find another way to work through your anger so we can talk about this when you’re ready. How about hitting this pillow as hard as you can?”
Pseudo-acceptance is harmful. While playing the role of “good parent” – trying to show acceptance outwardly, but inwardly feeling non-accepting: “you aren’t irritating me”, “I’m okay with that” – your body language and tone of voice betray your real feelings of non-acceptance.
COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY: it is perfectly natural to dislike your child during certain stages, while still loving them. You love the person that they are and that they are becoming. But during certain stages you dislike the behavior that they are exhibiting, which must be separated from who they are. Sometimes it’s hard to make that separation, but the person really is not the behavior. Feeling guilty over these natural feelings doesn’t help the situation at all. Acceptance of the natural feelings that causes the errant behavior goes a long way towards changing future undesirable behavior.