Most of us like to be liked. It is different from being loved. Love is something unconditional. It is tied up with emotion and attachment. Like does not carry with it the same weight. It is much more casual. You can like someone without experiencing the deep feelings that genuine love produces. Like seems to be love’s poor cousin. And yet it’s not. It is something very profound. In fact, like is the gateway to true love.

I know the power of like because I had a mother who didn’t like me much. She believed that like and love were two disparate things and that loving me was enough. It was not enough, however.

Whenever my mother and I were at odds over whatever silly things mothers and daughters find themselves at odds over, she would say to me, “I love you, Heather, but I do not like you.”  Sometimes I was wrong, but there were countless occasions when I was simply collateral damage in her endless battle with depression and her general dissatisfaction with life. The slightest infraction-taking a tone she didn’t like, expressing an opinion she disagreed with, using a mannerism she deemed “sophisticated and affected”-rendered me wholly unlikable. She did not make the distinction between the action or behavior and the person. No matter how much I strove to gain my mother’s approval, she simply did not like me. There was little I could do. I grew up feeling insecure, unlikeable, even unlovable.

Why did I not feel loved when my mother was very clear that, despite not liking me, she did in fact love me? The answer is simple. I knew that if my mother didn’t like me, she couldn’t possibly love me. Not really. Not in the deep, pure and absolute way a parent should love a child.

Even before I became a mother myself, I knew that love of a mother for a child is instinctive. Mothers are hard-wired to love their children in the most primal of ways. If we didn’t, our species would cease to exist. We must love our children enough to care for them, feed them and protect them from harm. We also like the way love feels. We like the way it feels to cradle a soft, warm baby in our arms. We like the feel of the tender embraces of our children. Outward manifestations of love feel good. We love our children because we are programmed to and because loving acts are gratifying in so many ways. 

A mother’s love for her children, however, is also something far greater than an intrinsic animal feeling. It is also something that we as mothers choose to fight for. In order to unconditionally love our children, we must choose to like them. The alternative is to dislike or, perhaps worse yet, feel indifferent towards them, and dislike or indifference towards one’s children creates within them feelings of insecurity, self-loathing and unhappiness, and those feelings are not the products of love.

It can seem difficult, however, to always like our children. What about when they engage in bad behaviors? What about when they act in ways in which we do not approve? Are we still expected to like them? The answer is a resounding yes.

Humans are deeply flawed creatures. Our flaws, however, should not render us unlikable. Liking the person does not mean we always like her behaviors. We must make a distinction between the whole person, all that makes her who she is, and her occasional words and actions.

It is our duty as parents to always like our children. If we don’t; if our affections are so fleeting; if we are so fickle; if our feelings towards our children can change with the ease in which our moods change, then we do not truly love them. I knew that my mother did not truly love me. I knew it as a child. I knew it as a teenager. And I am certain of it as a middle aged woman who is a mother now herself.

If we desire to truly love our children, then we must identify what we like about them. If we are unwilling to make that effort, then we are unwilling to love. It is only when we like a person that we can truly love her. We can like without love, but we cannot love without like.

It is important to recognize that we can choose who we like. In fact, choosing to like someone is rather simple. We like what we perceive to be positive attributes. If we choose to like someone, we need only to seek those out. Even if, in our eyes, a person is riddled with shortcomings, we can still find a way to like her. Liking someone is an acknowledgement of all that is good and positive about that person. If we can identify the positive, then we can find like, and like is the gateway to true, unconditional love                                                                                                                  

It is also important to tell our children how much we like them. I like you and I love you. You are driving me nuts but I still like you. I might not like your actions, but I surely like you. You know I love you, but do you know that I like you too?  I do not profess to be a parenting expert, but I know these are powerful words. In fact, my eleven year old son has said, “Mommy, what’s cool about you is that you don’t just love me like other parents. You like me. You actually like me.”                                                                                                                          

So, if your child is driving you crazy and misbehaving-as they all do- like her, even if you don’t like her actions. Like her. Choose to like her. Tell her you like her. In the end, your like may even mean more than your love because it was something you chose. 

Heather nanni

Between earning her B.A. from Fordham University and M.A. from Teachers College, Columbia University, Heather gave it a go as a modern dancer. Just before starting graduate school, she met her future husband when he was moving out of and she was moving into the same New York City apartment. He sold her his furniture, and they have been together ever since-although the furniture fell apart long ago. Heather is now a mostly SAHM to an 11-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter, writer, and part-time college lecturer. She is a great fan of martinis, Richard Russo novels, European club music and old Columbo reruns. She and her family reside in Connecticut.