I remember the first time I fell in love with each of my children.
I also remember the first time I fell out of like with each of them.
My staunch, fierce, mama bear love for my children has never wavered since their births. And in the early years of motherhood, I assumed that that love would carry us through everything, that the overwhelming adoration I had for my babies meant that nothing they could do would ever change my feelings for them.
But as it turns out, “love” and “like” are two different feelings. While love is immutable and constant, like is a bit more of a fickle beast. Just because the former is always there, that doesn’t mean that the latter automatically follows.
Just to be clear, I do like my children in general. I like them as human beings. They’re good people, my people. But they have definitely gone through phases where I simply didn’t enjoy being around them very much. And a few of those phases have actually been so tough or annoying or maddening that I found myself thinking, Wow. I really do not like this kid right now. I love them dearly, but I don’t like them.
One such phase involved incessant whining over every little thing — not whining to get what they wanted, but whining any time anything in the world was not exactly the way they wished it to be. So. Much. Whining. I can love a whining child, but after a certain point, my feelings of “like” take a hike.
Another such phase was the annoying sounds stage. Hey, let’s make Mom lose her mind by punctuating every single silent moment with random sound effects — beeps and blurps, screeches and slurps, siren sounds and singing non-songs in random voices at the top of our lungs! Weeee! Yeah, no. I love you, children, but Mommy’s going to need a little time without the sound of your voice ringing in my ears in order to like you again.
There have been dramatic phases, defiant phases, constantly squabbling with your siblings phases, and several other normal kid stages where liking my children was a chore. And though fairly few and far between, there have been times when I could definitively say I did not like a particular kid in a particular moment.
The first time I felt this lack of like, I felt terribly guilty. How can I not like my own child? I thought. What is wrong with me? I’m a terrible mother! So I called up my mom BFF and hesitantly asked her, “Have you ever had times that you don’t really like your kid? Like, you love them, but you’re having a hard time being around them?”
And like any mom BFF worth her salt, she replied, “Of course I have!” We commiserated about the surprising elements of motherhood, including this one. We shared stores of our kids being so unbearably difficult or annoying that our like for them had hidden itself away for a while. And neither of us judged one another for saying we occasionally don’t like one of our children. (Get a mom BFF if you don’t have one. Seriously.)
This feeling may be hard to fathom if you have babies or tiny kids. I think my first experience with it was around age 7 or so, but I also had a pretty easy first kid. I’m sure some children push their “like” luck earlier than that, and I imagine there are also unicorn children out there who are nothing but angelic their whole lives. If you haven’t experienced not liking one of your children for a short while yet, just know that those phases may be coming and they don’t mean you’re a horrible mother.
And for those of you who have been through one or more of these phases, or if you happen to be knee deep in one of them now, no worries. The beautiful thing about childhood phases is that no matter how awful they get, they are temporary, right? The pendulum always swings back, and I always end up liking my children again in short order. In fact, they usually become so enjoyable and remarkable after a horrible phase that they make me forget that I ever even had a stint of not liking them very much. Amazing how that works.
It might sound terrible to say that I don’t always like my children, but it’s true. I do always love them — with every fiber of my being. But love and like are not the same thing, and one does not always lead to the other. You will always love your children, but you may not always like them, and that’s okay.
This post first appeared on Scary Mommy.