Two people napping in adjacent seats on an airplane are not “sleeping together.” Nor does having given birth to a child define you as an adequate parent. "Staying awake together" and having kids is complicated. Babies know precisely what they want and articulate that information in a straight-forward, shrieking manner. Parents know how they want their kids to turn out, but are frequently murky on the path going forward. And don't even ask me about romance, another esoteric subject about which I know nothing.
It has been suggested that “all you need is love.” Meh. If only, raising contented, self-actualized children were that simple. Indeed, loving our kids may be just a necessary but not a sufficient condition for their healthy development. I sometimes think that simply liking our kids is preferable. Admittedly love is easier. But like is lighter and easier to carry. There is a tremendous amount to be said for liking our children.
Love costs nothing. But love doesn’t buy much either. Love can disappoint. Because kids frequently act in ways that their parents wouldn’t. Kids frequently believe things that their parents don’t. Kids frequently are that which their parents aren’t. Love can’t help with any of those actions, beliefs, or destinations.
"The opposite of love is not hate; it's indifference" to quote Eli Wiesel out of context. But liking our kids cuts everybody some slack. To get back to the shrieking baby, we are better able to attend to needs rather than wants if we like rather than love. And as all good parents know, attend to every one of your child's needs; be stingy with their wants.
Still think love is the only game in town when it comes to your relationship with your children? Consider Josie in accounting. I like Josie. She works down the hall. I don’t know her well, but she seems nice enough. She impresses me as a competent employee and always has a pleasant word. Because I like Josie but do not love her, all of the following paragraphs are nonsensical:
- “I am a bricklayer. My father was a bricklayer. I wanted my son to be a bricklayer, but instead he enrolled in medical school and is now a doctor. I am deeply disappointed. We have been bricklayers in this family for generations. Why would anyone want to be a doctor?” (Go ahead and swap “bricklayer” for “doctor” and “doctor” for “bricklayer” if you like. The point remains.)
- My daughter married outside my religion. She is dead to me. We will never speak again. This heartbreak will continue through generations in that I will never meet my grandchildren.
- My daughter baked a red velvet cake and brought it to Thanksgiving dinner. She knows I was bringing a red velvet cake as I always do. I am outraged and ashamed. How could she do that to me?
If Josie from accounting decided to go back to school to study medicine--or bricklaying for that matter--you wouldn’t give her choice a second thought. You would wish her well on her new career. If Josie from accounting married someone from a different religion, you wouldn’t care. You would wish them well. And if Josie from accounting brought a red velvet cake to Thanksgiving, rather than being offended, you would think, “great! Now I have two red velvet cakes!” Note that if you do fall in love with Josie, her choice of profession, mate, and baking preferences suddenly become critically important.
If you like someone, you want what’s best for him or her. You are not enmeshed, overly involved, emotionally connected, burdened. If you love your kids too much, what they do, what they think, how they act can take on magnified significance.
Doubtless some reader somewhere is going to infer from the column this week that "David said not to love your kids." I will attempt to sputter a response to this calumny as soon as I see if there is any left over red velvet cake in the kitchen.