‘I love you but I don’t like you:’ An exercise in parenting

My mom often reminds me of the time she was putting my hair in a bun and I didn’t want her to. In my simple 5-year-old honesty and through my crocodile tears, I cried, “Mommy, I love you, but I really don’t like you right now!”

That one moment stands out to her because I expressed my emotions so dramatically, but I remember feeling this way often throughout my childhood and into adolescence. Mostly it was when I didn’t get what I wanted, or I didn’t think she understood me. I was forever questioning her authority and truly believing that she had “no right” to set such ridiculous limits. I perfected the eye roll and stomp-away response in my childish frustration. As families resume a more normal schedule after more than 18 months of the upheavals of a pandemic, resetting household limits is likely presenting many parents with similar emotions these days.

Years later, I certainly got my comeuppance as a parent of two daughters. I realized how hard it was to set limits and to be unpopular with my own children. Raising children is a lifelong challenge of preserving love through the unpopular limits that children need. Secure boundaries, established through rules and routines set by parents, reduce anxiety for children. Consistent times for meals, homework and sleep, along with expectations around chores and indulgences such as screen time, create predictability in a child’s life.

Children are born seeking an understanding of the world around them, and just as we can learn through failure, children learn from pushing back against limits and breaking rules. Remembering foundational love and appreciation for your children, as well as your goals and aspirations for the people they will become, can make it easier to set and follow through.

Now that our community’s families have been back to school for a few weeks, we’re seeing routines established and school year rules reinstated. As families make this adjustment, here are a few ideas for setting the much-needed boundaries for your children:

1. Solicit input from everyone in the family and be open to compromise. When children participate in the process of setting the family rules, they develop a sense of ownership and responsibility toward following them.

2. Seek agreement between all parent-figures in the family. If parents aren’t on the same page, children will be confused and less likely to follow rules.

3. Simplify the rules to provide clarity and ease in following the family’s expectations.

4. Specify the consequences for breaking the rules.

5. Set a good example for your children by following the same family rules.

6. Seek professional help for stabilizing parent-child relationships when needed.

Lynette Spencer is a licensed clinical social worker and the managing partner at Action Consulting and Therapy in Geneva.