When Mothers Love But Don’t Like Their Children

The Taboo Carnival
Welcome to the Taboo Carnival. Our topic this Fall is I LOVE YOU BUT I DON’T ALWAYS LIKE YOU! This post was written for inclusion in the quarterly Taboo Carnival hosted by Momma Jorje and Hybrid Rasta Mama. This month our participants reflect on the concept of loving versus liking our children and their behaviors. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.



Of all the things my mother said to me as a child, there is ONE phrase that has stuck with me through the years. It wasn’t about how “good” I was, how “beautiful” I was, how “talented” I was, or how “smart” I was. It wasn’t even about how MUCH she loved me. No, the phrase that I can still hear her saying today is…

“Jennifer, I love you but I sure don’t like you right now.”

Ouch. That stung the younger version of me.

To a child, hearing the words “I don’t like you right now” is a huge blow to their sense of self-worth. I know now that my mom loved and liked me and it was actually my behavior or developmental stage that she wasn’t too keen on at that particular moment. But nonetheless, all I heard at that time was that the mother I adored didn’t like me. 

(Don’t worry mom – I’m not scarred or anything).

I think about this idea as I mother Tiny. I love her more than words will ever be able to express. I genuinely like my daughter. She is a blessing and a true joy, even during the most difficult time. But I would be lying if I said that I lovingly embraced every single moment with her. Tiny certainly tries my patience. But is it really Tiny trying my patience or is it my needs and expectations of her that try my patience and make me not “like” a particular moment? I am going to go with the latter.

As a three year, Tiny is a handful. She is pushing against the world around her, trying to find her place, trying to make sense of it all. She is easily frustrated, extremely vocal about her preferences, more emotional than ever, and yet still clings to the comfort I provide with a ferocity that I cannot put into words.  

I never know how Tiny will react these days. Some days are smooth sailing, the vibes are right, our energies align, and life is harmonious and incredibly enjoyable. I am able to just “be” with Tiny, soaking up her childhood in awe and wonder. 

On the flip side, there are those days where it seems like nothing can go right in Tiny’s world. Sometimes it is my hurriedness, my needs, and my emotions that frazzle her. Sometimes it is simply the chaos of her developmental stage and abilities. Other times there is no rhyme or reason. I am off-kilter, Tiny is off-kilter, and really, the end of the day cannot come soon enough.

I do not like those days. But does that mean I don’t like Tiny? Does it mean I don’t like her behavior?

Of course not. Even during all the turbulence, the emotional instability, the physical aggression (Tiny’s not mine), I still love AND like Tiny. I certainly don’t prefer the behavior but the only reason for this is because it stretches ME as a mother. It forces me to hold the space for Tiny during challenging, chaotic moments. *I* have to step outside my mothering mindset and find a creative tool in my gentle mothering toolbox to support Tiny during less than harmonious moments. I have to keep MY patience. I have to remain calm. I have to dig deep and keep myself together as a 28 pound ball of feistiest is slamming herself against the other side of the door in a fit of frustration over her toy horse falling over.

This is what I really don’t like. I don’t like how tough it really is to remain gentle and understanding during these times.
Think about it…while some developmental tendencies and behaviors are not particularly enjoyable, is it fair to label them as unlikable? From where I sit, once you apply a label, you either consciously or subconsciously change your reaction to that label. Apply a negative label and you will react more negatively. Apply a positive label and you will possibly have a better reaction.

Here is a real life example of me checking my own reaction to a recent incident with Tiny.

Tiny has a little Zen garden. It is about 12”X12” inches and lives in her corner meditation area. (Yes, her meditation area. She took it over from me!) This Zen garden has sand, some stones, a little Buddha and a miniature rake. When Tiny is feeling the need to center herself, she gravitates to it and spends a few moments loosing herself in the simplicity and tranquility of it.

The other day, Tiny was a ball of fire over the fact that I needed to cook dinner right in the middle of a doll game we were engaged in. I had given her warnings and tried to make it a smooth transition but Tiny lost her marbles over my leaving the game. She ran into the bedroom and started throwing her Zen garden all over the place.

Now, I immediately bristled and ran in there telling Tiny that I was upset with her behavior and that she knows that the Zen garden is to be treated with kindness and respect. In my mind, I was thinking that this was an unacceptable behavior. I continued orating about not throwing the sand, not throwing the rocks, making a mess that now I had to clean up…I was already busy…this was such an inconvenience…blah blah blah. And then I listened to myself. I heard what I was saying. It was ringing in my ears.

For one minute, I listened to what my brain was thinking. It was labeling Tiny’s reaction to my departure as “bad” and “unacceptable.” But to whom? Certainly not Tiny. It was me that did not like her reaction. But why?

At the root of it all, I did not want to be inconvenienced with getting out the vacuum and cleaning up sand. This is why I labeled Tiny’ action as something I did not like. Did Tiny harm anyone or anything by expressing her emotions in such a way? No. Did it say to me that next time I need to leave in the middle of playing with Tiny, that I need to figure out a better transition, maybe one that includes Tiny more? Yes.

I put my negativity about the situation on pause and reframed the situation in my mind. I immediately began thinking of this in a positive light. Tiny felt safe in her home and in my presence to express her disappointment and frustration in this manner. Tiny knew how *she* needed to best release her emotions. Tiny was in tune with herself.

I told Tiny that I understood how upset she was that I had left the game. I told her that I was sad that we had to put the game on hold. I gently touched her arm and told her that it made me happy that she knew what emotions she needed to release and that she was always able to do that as she saw fit provided it was in a safe way. I then apologized for making her feel like her release was an inconvenience to me.

Tiny immediately started cleaning up the mess. She grabbed the hand-vac, asked me to turn it on, and tried her hardest to vacuum up the sand. She put all the little stones back. She kissed Buddha and placed him gently in the little garden box. She asked for a re-do.

We went back to our doll game and after a minute I announced that she was welcome to join me in making dinner. She declined, I left, made dinner, and all was well. 

Since this incident, I have been extraordinarily mindful about my thoughts as it relates to Tiny’s behavior. When I view a behavior as something I do not like, I do notice a physical change in my body as well as an emotional change in my being. My spirit gets heavy. I feel bogged down. “Dealing with” Tiny in that moment seems heavy and difficult. When I spin the same behavior into something more positive, I feel more confident in my ability to help Tiny work through it and perhaps learn or feel more safe managing it on her own next time. 

As parents, how we view our children really does impact how we feel. The more we can stretch ourselves, keeping a positive mindset, the more natural it will be for us to support our children through all of their emotions, behaviors, and beliefs. 

I love Tiny. I like Tiny. And I can say with all honesty that I like everything she does and says, even when it pushes me outside of my mothering comfort zone.

What say all of you? Agree, disagree?  Do you think it is ok to not like your child’s behavior? Can you really conquer that mindset?

Visit Momma Jorje and Hybrid Rasta Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Taboo Carnival! Enjoy the posts from this month’s Carnival participants!


  • Learning to Like and Love — JeninCanad at Fat and Not Afraid divulges the long journey it’s been to learn to love, then like, her son.
  • How Do You Like Yourself? — Destany at They Are All of Me writes about teaching her children likability.
  • You Can Love Someone and Not Like What They Do — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children reminds herself, just as she reminds her children, that unconditional love is not dependent on liking what a person does.
  • I hated my three year old — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about how much trouble she had dealing with her 3 year old.
  • I love her, but… GRR — Jorje of Momma Jorje vents a bit about annoying behavior, but loves her children… even when they drive her nuts!

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  1. says

    Quite valid that you can love someone but not like all their actions. I’d prefer to say I don’t like what someone is “doing” rather than not liking the person but sometimes it comes out that way.

    Great post.

  2. says

    Ah, this is so wise! I love the whole take on challenging behaviors pushing US to grow: “I don’t like how tough it really is to remain gentle and understanding during these times.” Yes!

    When I hear myself in the moments I’m most aggravated with my kids, I hear a little child whining about my own needs and impatience. I need those reminders to “woman up” and be the parent in that situation. Thanks for writing this!

  3. Amanda says

    This was a really great post – thank you for sharing. With two boys, one who is entering the “tween” stage and is departing from his calm, non-hostile early childhood to an age where he is argumentative, aggressive and frankly a little bundle of hormones I’ve been thrown for a loop. I’m one of those moms who would say I love my children but there are times I don’t like them. You’re right it’s about their behavior. It’s such a good reminder in here and something I’ve realized that it’s less about them and more about me and how I’m feeling. Thanks for this read!

  4. says

    Oh this post SO resonates with me. I love how you described your shift of perspective during the zen garden situation. I’m totally in awe of your ability to check yourself in the moment – it’s my biggest challenge. Sigh. But this post reminds me that it’s possible and so important for our kids and ourselves. I hear myself too and it makes me cringe – but I’m not always able to stop… Then after the storm blows over I think about it and see it much more clearly, but the damage is done. This post is giving me hope though, that maybe next time I can stop. Thank you.

  5. says

    I find the use of positive labeling very useful. Understanding where the negativity is coming from is also really important. For me, it is a lot about not wanting to be inconvenienced with another mess or another melt down. I also find that I am still trying to overcome hurdles of societal expectation.

    I have two teenagers who can be trying in their own right, but also very argumentative and believe they know better than I do about most things. So, of course when the littler children are acting in ways that the older ones find frustrating, I often deal with heavy critism from them as to how I “handle” every situation. It can be a lot of pressure trying to honor everyones feelings in each situation. It does start with me though, you’re absolutely right that it’s up to us to check our responses.

  6. says

    Jennifer, I really appreciate how you shared an experience of transformation with us. I completely agree that our perspective is paramount in such situations, parenting, and life in general. It really is what we make of it. Not that we need to deny how we feel or what we initially think, just allow those messages to signal us toward positive change if we are open. Thank you.

  7. says

    Are you Buddha reincarnated? I need to try to take this lesson to heart and apply it with Sasha – especially at bedtime. The SLIGHTEST resistance at bedtime turns ME into someone I don’t much like.

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