“It’s Not My Job to Make You Like Me:” My Parenting Mantra Now and Always

It’s not my job to make you like me.

On a normal day with teenagers, that’s my mantra. I adore my children, and I like to think they adore me. When movie theaters were open, they would sometimes let me join them at the movies, as long as we went at an off time, when it would be unlikely that they’d run into friends. I’m pretty sure they like me.

teen girl on couch on phone
Everything about this pandemic is hard. (Twenty20 @JulieK)

My kids don’t have to like me

But that’s not my job. Stripped down, my job as a parent is to guide my kids to be self-sufficient, good people, and to keep them healthy. Not to make them like me.

I tell them this when they want to go out with friends instead of going to a family dinner, or when I drag them to the doctor for a sore throat, or when they roll their eyes and say with exasperation, “You don’t have to make everything a life lesson.”

But during the pandemic, the one that whipped us around like a tornado and plopped us down in the eerie solitude of our living rooms, all that’s been amped up a thousand times. For almost half a year, we’ve been living every day in close quarters, not getting out to go to school or work or lunch. We are together all the time. There isn’t anywhere else to go; there’s no point even asking.

Sure, my kids want to go but they can’t

Still, my children want to be with friends, in houses, in cars. Which I understand. I, too, want to be with friends, and with family for that matter. Nobody wants to be stuck at home all day long, every day, I tell them. Nobody is trying to isolate you or make your life miserable.

Nobody wanted you to have to sit in front of your computer at home and see your teachers and friends in Brady Bunch tiles on a screen. Nobody wanted you to miss a precious semester (more?) of your short-lived high school and college careers.

Nobody wanted any of this.

But here we are, still in this pandemic that’s wreaked havoc on our health and economy and emotional state and life as we know it. And our only choice, if we want any chance of making this situation any better at all, is to keep our distance. My kids aren’t convinced.

“I am the only one who didn’t stay at school,” my college student told me in March, as she showed me videos of friends dancing in their apartments, sheltering-in-place together. I’m so sorry, I told her.

“Everyone else is getting together,” my high schooler tells me as she looks at Instagram pictures of kids gathered in each other’s homes. Yes, some of them are, and you’re not.

They say they can’t stay home for one more day

“I can’t get dressed in a t-shirt and be here and not go anywhere for one more day,” they tell me. I know, and I know there are a whole lot of worse things going on in the world, so get dressed up if you want to, but you’re not hanging out at your friends’ houses.

It’s not my job to make you like me.

Everything about this pandemic is hard. Including the fine line between being able to tell a college student, who is used to grabbing friends for a french fry run at 2 a.m., what they can and can’t do.

I’m just going to throw this out there: The parents letting their kids get together with friends are making it that much harder for those of us “mean” moms and dads standing our ground.

I’m sorry if you’re a fun parent. At least your kids like you.

But as one of the mean ones, I have weathered a whole lot of eye-rolling these past six months. I have turned a deaf ear to feet stomping up the steps, intent on creating some social distance from me, and my rules. I have done my best to keep smiling through many versions of “You are the most freaked-out/paranoid/strict person we know.”

My job is to keep you safe, not to be your friend

Maybe I am. But you know what? That’s my job.

And besides, the time together not spent jockeying for the best Zoom spot in the house has actually turned out to be a gift. Because my children and I haven’t spent this much time together since their baby days. Meaning we’ve never spent this much time together since they’ve grown into real people who can have real conversations.

I dare say there might actually be some things we all will miss about this time: daily walks through the neighborhood with the dog; reconnecting with neighbors on the lawns; after-dinner games of onze and gin; movie nights.

Oh, who am I kidding? None of our kids are ever likely to cherish the time they got to spend with us, cooped up in our houses. But maybe they will understand someday that we were just trying to protect them, keep them healthy, do our jobs.

For now, though, it’s not my job to make them like me.

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About Andria Frankfort

Andria Frankfort lives in Houston and writes about food and family. Most of her stories start with her two daughters, who are very good sports about letting their mom turn their lives into copy. You can connect with Andria on Instagram or on Facebook.

Read more posts by Andria

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