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Being Disliked Is OK

As of this week, most parents have sent their kids back to school, many of which are experiencing this for the first time — which is, well, emotional. We all know why, of course. This is the beginning of the end of our tenure as guides and teachers and caretakers. Our children are no longer under our supervision 24/7 and we have no choice but to pull away.

I think for a parent, one of the hardest pills to swallow is the idea that our lovable, AMAZING children might not be so lovable and AMAZING to his or her peers. And so I would like to focus this week’s column on the importance of prepping one’s children for the possibility that they will not be liked.

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Because, let’s be real: Not everyone is going to love our children, let alone like them. And our kids should know that. They should also know that that’s OK.

It’s OK to be disliked. It is a part of the human experience.

This is hard for us parents to accept because we adore our children and are unable to see outside of our own bias most days. And we’re entirely right to feel this way. Hello. I mean, OUR KIDS ARE AMAZING and everyone should think so, duh.

But there is a chance that people don’t. And there will be times when they won’t. And it isn’t just childhood but fortherestoftheirliveshood.

Take this post, for example. I am very much aware that there are people reading these words right now who don’t like me. As a born people-pleaser, it has taken me many years to recognize that I can perfectly unlikeable at times and that’s OK. I’m doing my best and being myself and owning my words for better, for worse, for as long as they feel right to me … It’s OK to be disagreed with. It’s OK to be the one dissenting opinion. It’s OK to stand up and be told to sit down. Again and again and again.

And, hell, sometimes the critics are right! Sometimes I am being a jerk. Sometimes I get a historical fact wrong or rub someone the wrong way because strong opinions often do that. Sometimes my posts are full of typos … And I’m OK with that. FINALLY. I’m OK with others thinking less of me for whatever reasons they have decided to think less of me, because living to impress everyone is a fast track ticket to Miserableville.

I was not nearly as confident as my children are. I was what one would call an outsider when I was in elementary school. I was so obsessed with the way others perceived me that I didn’t speak at all. I was so afraid of getting into trouble that I never lived my life. The ONE time my name ended up on the board, I became inconsolable. I assumed my teacher hated me, just like I assumed all of my peers hated me for eating flower sandwiches and tucking my shirts in.

We cannot protect our children’s hearts from breaking. But we can talk to them candidly, remind them that there will be times when they won’t be liked and that it's OK.

I wanted to be loved by everyone and therefore isolated myself from the world.

It wasn’t until sixth grade when I began to care less and less. Not that I didn’t still care, because I did, but I stopped trying to impress and please my teachers, my friends, my parents. I became strong-willed, and for the first time, had real friends. Some kids liked me. Some did not. Some teachers liked me. Some did not. But it was a FAR better life than the one I led when I tried to impress everyone.

Being that this was the most important social lesson of my life (and one I am still working on), I have been extremely transparent with my children on the issue.

The truth is, we cannot protect them. We cannot change the minds of classmates who don't want to hang out with them, be their best friends, invite them to their birthday parties, but we can remind them to be bold, to be kind and to be THEMSELVES.

I mean, Taylor Swift really nailed it, didn't she? Taylor Swift. N-A-I-L-E-D it.

We cannot protect our children’s hearts from breaking. We cannot keep them from the tears they will undoubtedly shed in a bathroom at some point. But we can talk to them candidly, remind them that there will be times when they won’t be liked and that it's OK. We are all capable of being loved. We are also capable of being disliked, ignored and misunderstood.

I recently read the collected interviews of Wes Anderson and the following passage stood out for me:

“There is one thing you can absolutely, 100 percent rely on, which is that if you show five different people the same thing, they’re all going to have a different complaint or compliment. Each is going to have a different response and you’d better know what you’re gonna do, otherwise you’re going to get confused.”

One of the great secrets to happiness in this life is recognizing that there will be people at every turn who think you suck. There will be birthday parties you don't get invited to and teachers who don't understand your brilliance and friends who misunderstand you and on and on …

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Beyond the usual school supplies, bento boxes and new shoes, let us remember to equip our children with the knowledge that they are lovable regardless of how many friends they accumulate or who wants to sit with them at lunch. They are lovable even when they aren’t unanimously liked. We all are.

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