One of my favorite friends and I were talking recently. The kids are back in school, and somehow, the name of another mom came up. My friend asked me if I know her and I answered, truthfully, “yes, but I don’t really care for her.”
Oh, I felt guilty for saying that. But I also felt it was better to nip the conversation in the bud in case my friend really likes this person or was going to say something that I needn’t know. Instead, my friend surprised me with her reaction. She said, “Isn’t it great to be old enough that you don’t feel obligated to like everyone? You can pick and choose who you want to spend time with and call it good.”
As I thought about her comment over the next day, it dawned on me that it is good to know who you like and who you don’t (I like Susie, I don’t like Ralph). It is good to know what you like and what you don’t (I like snow skiing, I don’t like water skiing). Not only is it good. It is also liberating. Then it hit me. This liberating idea, the idea that one can choose with whom and how to spend one’s time, is the exact opposite of what most of us teach our children.
Think about it. From the time our kids enter preschool, we encourage them to like and get along with everyone. Often when a child expresses the opinion that the or she doesn’t like someone (and if they are in middle school this is usually expressed as follows “she is such an IDIOT!”), many parents correct them, reminding them in so many words that they need to like everyone.
Now I have no problem with the “getting along with” portion of this. I think it is paramount that all kids learn the essential social skills of tolerance and civility. But I think that it is especially important that we teach our kids not only to get along, but to be true to their own feelings. I think that it is important that kids develop independent opinions and learn to think for themselves. Expressing dislike or indifference for someone is simply a child verbalizing their honest opinion of that person. As a parent, what right do I have to tell my son, “no, your opinion is wrong”?
As long as a child understands that they don’t have to like the person, but that they do have to get along with person and not bully, taunt or threaten anyone, I think negative opinions are just fine.
I could have saved myself years of guilt, frustration and insecurity had I not tried to like everyone and be liked by everyone. It is liberating to know who and what you like. It is liberating to know who and what you are. And one is never too young to be liberated.
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