My Learning Curve: Lessons in Liking

Have you ever had somebody in your life who was difficult to like?  I’m not talking about love – love and commitment come naturally to me, especially when it involves a child. I’m going to go out on a big limb and confess that I have a child I love and am fiercely committed to, but sometimes genuine liking has been tough.  I know, some of you may gasp and think I’m a terrible mother, or perhaps you’ll understand but find it hard to believe that I am admitting it.  I’m a little surprised myself, but Russ and I came up with a plan for addressing this problem that has been very helpful for us, and on the off chance that one of you may experience this yourself, I’m going to share it.

We call it “Lessons in Liking,” and it is simple.  For several weeks, we have emailed each other one thing we like about this particular child.  Sometimes it is quick and easy, while other days it takes time to think of something.  We have tried to email back and forth daily and failed miserably through the holidays, but we’ve pressed on.

While this exercise focuses on the likable qualities of a child, it actually has the potential to have a more profound and long-lasting impact.  Russ was told about a psychological study where the participants all claimed to hate opera – hang on, this really is relevant. They were divided into two groups and both were required to listen to opera for a certain number of minutes per day.  One group, simply listened to the assigned opera.  The second group was required to write down observations of things they liked about the opera.  The first day they recorded one thing they liked, the second day, they wrote down two things they liked, the third, three, and so on.  At the end of the experiment, the group that had not recorded their observations still reported hating opera, while the second group had developed more of a taste for opera.

I can’t find the original study to read the details, but I’ve thought about this.  It seems that when we look beyond the obvious challenges and push ourselves to seek the things we like, we begin to find the thing or person more likable. Something changes in our minds and alters the way we see things. It makes sense to me.

Paul wrote to church in Phillipi,

Finally,
brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Philippians 4:8

As my mind focuses on the likable qualities of my child, I find her more likable; I see the sweetness, the sparkly eyes, the spunk, and I can appreciate her.  When I look past the struggles and see the good, something healing happens in my heart, and I can relate to her in a calmer way.  As I do, she relaxes and lets go of some of her challenging behaviors; she feels safer and more secure with me.

Every child needs to be delighted over, but many of our children from “hard places” missed this. Perhaps they spent their early years in an orphanage, or with a dying parent.  Perhaps they were neglected or abused.  These more wounded children may have  behavior that clouds our ability to see the truth –  that our children are made in the image of God. He delights over them and so should we – even if it takes a bit of practice.

So, how’s that for honesty?

#651 – 660 giving thanks

finding more and more things to like

Dimples snuggling up with me while I read to the children last night

and then falling asleep with her head on my chest

safe driving in the snow today

the satisfaction of knowing that those expensive studded snow tires were worth it

a completely unexpected and delightful package arriving in the mail

Russ’ grocery store run before more snow arrives

watching Little Man make discoveries during math time

Eby playing outside in freezing weather and loving it

a sneak-peek at a friend’s new book

Have a great Wednesday, friends.

Lisa

 

 

 

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRIÂź Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

70 Comments

  1. angela
    January 18, 2012

    Not gasping here… It's amazing how when all is going well how much l like the child (ren) and when they start showing their behaviors how quickly that can change. I have to often rehears in my head how much I like this quality and that about my kiddos and I agree it helps a lot. I wonder if my hubby would email back and forth with me over a certain little boy who is giving us a run for our money right now? Thanks for the encouragement.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Angela, I hope you will try it and see if it helps you. It seems we're making progress right now and I can't say for certain how much this has helped, but I think this is part of it.

      Reply
  2. Ashley
    January 18, 2012

    Thank you for the honesty. I have two (adopted) sons who I struggle to like. Love? yes. Committed to? absolutely. But there are definitely days where they just feel SO foreign to me that I can't seem to like them. I have started a grateful list each day (like you do) and it's helping me like my life a bit better, and I think your thoughts about starting a "like list" about these children in our homes that God has entrusted to us, will help me like them a bit better too! Again, thank you.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Ashley, my 'giving thanks' list has also been a great help to me – it presses me to focus on all that I have to be thankful for. Already this morning, I've had to refocus my mind on the sweet qualities of one of my children. Give it a try and let me know if your "liking list" helps.

      Reply
  3. Abbey
    January 18, 2012

    "How's that for honesty?" Pretty awesome! Loving you, friend…hoping we can catch up over laundry today. We're snowed in over here!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Abbey – glad you liked it! We're definitely due for a phone call.

      Reply
  4. Elaine
    January 18, 2012

    Lisa–First, thanks for being willing to share. Secondly, I met you at Empowered to Connect in Nashville, so hello again! :o) I think it took me about thirteen years to figure it out, but my honest and humble opinion is that these kids are like emotional thermometers. When they seem unlikeable there is really something else going on. Our most recent experience came to light over Christmas. Our child told us they had been joining in w/ the mean kids at school because they were afraid of rejection. Our child said, "I know right from wrong, but for some reason I don't have the strength to stand up yet." Together we decided it would be fine to homeschool for now and we'll reintroduce these social challenges with time. The most recent statement was, "I feel like I have been cured of a disease." Wow! Every morning this child just wants to sit next to me on the couch for a while, not necessarily talking. We really just have to be there to hold their hand through their own journey. No expectations. No heroics. It is hard and well, sometimes I feel like I am walking around with my clothes on backwards. But hey, even if my clothes are on backwards I am still dressed!! What difference does it make? We have to continue to let these kids be God's baby. Try to see if there are any expectations that have been put on your daughter that she just can't handle.

    Reply
  5. Elaine
    January 18, 2012

    Con't …Sometimes I feel like I am holding their hand and walking backwards. That is still walking, but it takes more determination and thought. My natural inclination is to turn around to see where we are going. I think sometimes it is more difficult having parented successfully in another way. I like your email exchange idea! I am going to share that with my husband. Take care–Elaine

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Elaine, thanks for the comment and re-introducing yourself. It's so good that you are able to be flexible in meeting the needs of your child. I agree that it is difficult to have successfully parented one way and then have to learn a completely new way for our children who have come to us from "hard places." We have to be flexible!

      Reply
  6. Emily
    January 18, 2012

    For our sons IEP meeting this year we had a totally different experience from past years. They started the meeting with a list of his challenges and his strengths on a grease board. This took a solid 10 minutes or so but was so worth the time be because while last year I believe he wasn't liked much by his teachers and most certainly not the staff- starting the meeting by having people brainstorm about all of his wonderful qualities was heartwarming and set the tone of the meeting to use his good qualities to help in the challenging areas. The likable strengths list was longer than the challenges which I am sure they do on purpose- and everyone in the room was saying positive things about our son! It made a world of difference to list and write down and agree on as a group what he was good at and what made him like able.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Em, how brilliant to start the meeting that way. It sets everyone's minds in the right place so you all can really focus on the child's needs and not the adults' frustrations.

      Reply
  7. Sarah
    January 18, 2012

    What a great idea, Lisa. I am going to try this with my toddler who on some days is very unlikeable (I'm serious here) 🙂

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      I can completely understand, Sarah! Press on with your little one.

      Reply
  8. Melissa P
    January 18, 2012

    I couldn't have needed this more today. Geesh. I have SUCH troubles "liking" one of my children from hard places. It is devastating to my soul. Especially given the contrast it is with my other kids. Thanks SO MUCH for sharing this. And, your practical step you and Russ are taking to combat this. What a struggle we face each day with these kids. I think I will try to write down one thing a day that is wonderful about her. Thanks again.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Melissa, keep the list close and be sure to review it often. If you have somebody to share it with, all the better. I hope you see progress – I know it is so hard.

      Reply
    2. Stephanie
      January 23, 2012

      Melissa, what you said about this being devastating to your soul…. those words just leapt off the screen! I am such a sensitive person and have parented all my other kids with attachment that came SO naturally to me, until this last one (the same contrast you mentioned). She's not our only adopted child, but the only one I've had such a hard time liking and attaching to. The heartache and guilt that have come with this have been overwhelming at times. Thank you for expressing it that way! I am going to try this also!

      Reply
  9. Robin
    January 18, 2012

    Hi Lisa,
    Thanks so much for this post! Stan and I have some relationships like the one you're describing–and they're with different kids. One's a challenge for me, and one's a challenge for him. Family dynamics are so interesting! We try to encourage each other by pointing out positive things about the kids, but I LOVE the idea of writing e-mails so intentionally. I can't wait to share this idea with him. I am so thankful for you and your willingness to share so honestly what you're learning, and the time it takes to craft these posts. I hope your day is blessed; I'm praying that it is.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Hi Robin! It's good that you and Stan can encourage each other about particular children. Russ and I have talked a lot about how certain children are easier for one of us than another and it helps me to hear his perspective. We're all in this for the long haul!

      Reply
  10. Kim
    January 18, 2012

    Thanks for a great reminder, Lisa! I think this is even true of the high school students I teach. Sometimes I need to consciously remind myself of the things that are special and likable about each student. I'm sure the same will be true for my future children, too.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Kim, great thought about your students!

      Reply
  11. Lauren
    January 18, 2012

    Thank you for posting this. I struggle with liking one of my ET sons too. You have said it so well. I love him and am committed to him, will protect him, teach him and help him heal. But some days, I just don't like him as much as my other kids. I have struggled with the guilt I feel in this. I love your emailing idea, I think I will start a form of this too. Thanks again for your honesty openness to share the not so pretty side of things.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Lauren, it is good to have a person or two with whom we can be completely honest, and who will encourage us to press on. I hope the emailing works for you and takes some of those rough edges off the emotions related to your child. I know it is tough.

      Reply
  12. Laura
    January 18, 2012

    I think the idea of liking and loving our children can be different concepts. I remember many times saying "I love you, but I don't like you right now" when my kids were really naughty or out of control. We always love our kids, but we don't always like how they act and it is normal. Love you my sister

    Reply
  13. Lori
    January 18, 2012

    Thank you for sharing. I struggle with this at times as well. As a mom, I can feel so guilty about not having what I see as appropriate feelings for one of my children! That doesn't help the situation at all, though. I like this idea and will talk to my husband about doing this with me. I appreciate your willingness to be transparent and not just sharing a "guilty secret", but sharing with the purpose of providing a possible solution!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Lori, I'm a bit of a problem solver – which serves me well most of the time, except when I need to simply be quiet and be present. Then I have to resist the urge to open my mouth. I hope this helps you.

      Reply
  14. Heidi
    January 18, 2012

    Thank you for this, Lisa. I have a friend I am going to pass it on to. I know this kind of sharing can be hard, but it is such a blessing and help to others.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Heidi, thanks for sharing it, and for reading.

      Reply
  15. Anita
    January 18, 2012

    I think you are right on! What a great post. I've heard about marriage counselors doing the same (having each spouse write a list of 100 things they like about their partner). Sometimes it is SO easy to slip into viewing things with a negative outlook, and the positive gets completely overshadowed or shrunk down to nearly nothing. Thanks for the reminder to focus on the blessings God has given!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Anita, I can see that this would be very helpful for a marriage – great suggestion.

      Reply
  16. Courtney
    January 18, 2012

    thank you. i NEEDED to hear this!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Courtney, I'm so glad that it meets a need in your life. By the way, I love your "act justly" art work – I even made myself figure out how to pin it on pinterest. http://cassadas.blogspot.com/2012/01/act-justly-l

      Reply
  17. pastormacsann
    January 18, 2012

    Struggling. Going to give this a try. Thank you, Lisa.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      So sorry for the struggle, Ann. I am praying for you today.

      Reply
      1. pastormacsann
        January 18, 2012

        Life is a struggle lately. Thanks for the prayers.

        Reply
  18. Diane
    January 18, 2012

    Found your blog a while ago, and, only recently felt comfortable commenting. This post, once again, is talking right to me!! Not only do many of our children come from "hard places" many of our children's birthparents and adoptive parents (this is me I am speaking to, come from "hard places") I so appreciate your honesty!! I have been challenged by this for a few years, now, and, have come to realize that yes our daughter does have her challenges, BUT, they are magnified by mine!! I, also, never really, REALLY looked at myself as coming from "hard places" until God opened the door to the daughter who also had for so many years a life of very, very hard. She teaches me we can do "hard places" together.

    I love the idea of openly listing what you "like" about your child. I, too, noticed while first visiting your blog that you had a gratitude list growing. I have read the Ann Voskamp book, 1,000 gifts! Grace, thanksgiving, JOY. Eucharisteo, wondering if you have read this book, too?

    Thank you, again, for speaking from your journey in life right into mine.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Diane, I have really appreciated your comments lately, so thank you for for writing them. Comments are gifts to a blogger 🙂 I had an interesting conversation with David Cross (who works with Karyn Purvis) when we were at the TBRI training at TCU last summer. He pointed out some of my "hard places" just in casual conversation and it helped me to look at things differently than I had before. Yes, my friend, Kathleen, gave me 1,000 Gifts and that prompted my gratitude list. It is a good exercise in looking more carefully at all of the good God gives me every single day.

      Reply
  19. charity
    January 18, 2012

    funny, i learned this lesson working through hard times with my spouse, and used to make a list of things i loved about him to find my way out of dark days with him….but we've never tried it with our children…i know my folks who had 12 children had this challenge with one, the child just seemed programmed to push buttons and attack people's sensitivities…the teenage years were the hardest to keep it together, but by the time that child reached adulthood, the rewards were apparent of all the time put in to foster those relationships and overcome those behaviors, on both the child's part and the family's…i'm sure you will likewise see great rewards for your love. we do use that scripture above as a motto for our teenagers…but we end it, we seek after these things…aren't the Words wonderful stays on the course to raise a family by?

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Charity, I love hearing that your parents and sibling made it through and there are rewards now. Somebody once told me (in the context of this child) "It's not over until it's over." That may sound trite, but I think about those words and work hard to trust that only Jesus knows the future and I can trust him. And I love, "we seek…"

      Reply
  20. Tammy
    January 18, 2012

    It's interesting. Because sometimes in the heat of the moment, my son will ask me, "do you 'like' me?" I often tell him that I like and love him, but I don't like the way he is behaving. But you know what…, he is just so percpective – which makes it a challenge some time.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Tammy, my daughter asks the same thing and it SO convicting. These children are hypervigilant and they can read us all too well. I think that is one of the reasons this is so important to me – I want to be able to answer without reservation, "Yes, I like you!"

      Reply
  21. Lucy
    January 18, 2012

    This is a fabulous idea! I discovered a complementary tool a few weeks ago with one of the children I care for. When my irritation with a certain child begins to rise, I NOTICE the irritated feeling. This helps me separate myself from the irritation so I can observe it and be curious about it instead of being blended with the feeling. I let my feeling be there and I watch it and wonder about it (without telling it to go away — it's there, and wouldn't disappear even if I asked!), and with the rest of me I attend to the child. I feel a great relaxation with this technique and the child seems to relax. This has even allowed me to be more playful and actually enjoy the time with the child!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Lucy, that is really interesting and I can see that it would help. I agree, when we can let go of the irritated feelings (or separate ourselves from them) we are able to be more playful. I have definitely been noticing that. Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  22. Jeannette
    January 18, 2012

    Thank you so much for your honesty. It is really encouraging. I struggle with liking one of my children and frequently feel guilty about it. Mostly I wonder if I will ever like him as freely as I like my other kids or if it will always be a very conscious decision to love him. He does have some incredible qualities, unfortunately most of the time we see the effects of those qualities used in the wrong way and that makes it hard for me to see those in a positive light.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Jeanette, I was just talking with a friend about expectations and how we place them so heavily on ourselves as we seek to love and parent our children. Fear of the future is a problem that I struggle with – so you aren't alone as you ponder your son's future and your relationship with him. I pray that you will have an extra measure of hope and courage!

      Reply
  23. Emily
    January 18, 2012

    I'm really glad you did decide to post about this- when you told me about it I thought it was a great idea!!
    I had a blast talking with Kathleen last night!!! Thanks for hooking us up!!
    Praying for you and your precious children.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Yes, I think you and Kathleen are kindred spirits. I'm glad you like the post!

      Reply
  24. Hannah Tucker
    January 18, 2012

    This is a splendid idea. Really, loving is easier than liking; yet a love without a like seems impoverished. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Hannah – those are good words. Would you mind if I quote you?

      Reply
  25. Carmen
    January 18, 2012

    thank you!! I needed that–

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Great – I'm glad it is helpful, Carmen.

      Reply
  26. Linda
    January 18, 2012

    Oh my! This is awesome, not just for my kids, but for other people in my life that I've become annoyed with because of behaviors that rub me the wrong way. Yes, God delights in them! May I link to your post on my blog?

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Linda, I would be honored if you would link to it. Thank you.

      Reply
  27. bags15
    January 18, 2012

    thank you for posting this, i am going to try it too! my hubby and i adopted twins from ET and one is really easy to like, the other one can be really hard to like some days! but God did give them to us as gifts and we need to treasure them as so, even when it is hard!

    Reply
  28. Melissa
    January 18, 2012

    Thank you so much for posting this. You are such an encouragement to me. God is using you in my life to be a better mom to my children from hard places. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I know how hard it is to say to close friends some of the things we as adoptive parents struggle with, let alone write it for complete strangers to read. But I am so glad you are, it is helping me! I am going to tell my husband this and begin emailing each other right away!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 18, 2012

      Melissa, thank you for encouraging me to keep learning, growing, and writing. Today was a hard day, but I reminded myself of all the things I write – look for things to like, remember her history, don't look at the behavior – look at the child. I write to help myself remember, and to push myself to work harder, dig deeper, and press on in this journey of mothering. I'm glad you are sharing it with me.

      Reply
  29. Angela
    January 19, 2012

    I remember as a new mom feeling so guilty about not liking my BIO child when she was two! She was going through a really defiant stage with the birth of her little brother. I remember through tears, googling "what to do when you don't like your child" and an article from Focus on the Family came up. It made me feel so much better, knowing others felt the same way, at times, and that it was normal. That article also encouraged making a list, and oh, how God used it to change my heart and mind. I need to put it into practice with one of our other kiddies now.
    A friend recently encouraged me with this same verse, in regards to my marriage. Dwelling on whatever is good and pure, as well as taking every negative thought captive to the obedience of Christ is great medicine for our hearts and minds, indeed!
    Much love, dear one! Thank you for posting this.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 19, 2012

      Angela, thank you so much for your lovely and honest comment. I love hearing from you.

      Reply
  30. Mom of "A"
    January 19, 2012

    You are not alone in the "I have a child who is hard to like" club! I love the positive email idea. I have also tried verbalizing positive things to her as frequently as possible. For instance, yesterday I told her how great it was that she used her "stick-to-it-iveness" to benefit her on a very lengthy difficult paper she wrote for her high school/college English class. This, of course, is the flip side to her "stubborness", but alas, maybe she will learn that even the qualities she has that can cause her problems can also be used for good! LOL

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 19, 2012

      You are so right – speaking it out loud, to our children, is powerful. Thanks for the reminder – and the comment!

      Reply
  31. Laurel
    January 20, 2012

    Great post! Thanks for sharing. We, too, have a child that is very hard to "like" some days … although we love her dearly, and pray for healing for her precious heart.

    Reply
  32. Mary Andrews
    January 23, 2012

    And Grammie would remind us to pray for that person always. Love you, Mom

    Reply
  33. Jenise
    January 26, 2012

    I needed this today. I have 8 children, 3 by birth, 1 by adoption and 4 foster. I have 2 that are hard to love. Thank you for giving me this wonderful idea that I can apply to my life!!

    Reply
  34. learningpatience
    February 18, 2012

    thank you – from that very deep place in my heart!

    Reply
  35. Rebekah Jones
    March 22, 2012

    Thank you for sharing this. I have so much guilt about not being able to change my feelings toward a child. It is even hard to acknowledge his strengths when it seems as though he uses them to get things. It does help to know others struggle with this also. It feels so 'not right'! It's uncomfortable to say the least when you have these feelings toward someone. I am going to work on seeing the positives and trust God to transform his heart.
    I just happened to land on your blog as I was searching for answers. Thanks,
    Rebekah

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      March 23, 2012

      Rebekah, I am so glad you found my blog – I hope I can encourage you. This is a long journey. My prayer for you today is that you will have a glimmer of hope – nothing huge, just a glimmer. Blessings.

      Reply
  36. elizabeth
    March 11, 2013

    The Lord just led me to your blog, this post, in my google search for 'help with liking a child + Christian mom'! Your transparency, humility–has really ministered to me today. One of my (adopted-though not sure that it would make a difference either way!) children is really hard for me to connect to, to enjoy, to trust, to like. It has been a LONG struggle. We pray, but it has also strained our marriage–and the guilt I feel for connecting so easily with the other (adopted also)–oh, it feels awful. Thank you for letting Him use you by sharing your story.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      March 11, 2013

      Elizabeth, thank you so much for commenting – I understand how very hard this is. If you see this response, you might want to read my posts on shame, as this is all entwined. Here is the a link to the first post in the series. https://www.onethankfulmom.com/attachment-and-trau

      Reply
      1. elizabeth
        March 11, 2013

        headed to it now…thank you and blessings!!

        Reply
  37. Lisa
    October 10, 2013

    Thank you for speaking to my heart. Our 14 yr old son has been home from China for 5 months. Most day are good but some days are a challenge. I appreciate your honesty and can't wait to grab a cup of coffee and read more!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 10, 2013

      From one Lisa to another, I'm so glad this is helpful to you.

      Reply

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