Can you love a child you don’t like?

Can you love a child you don’t like?

The disturbing question “Can you love a child you don’t like?” comes up more than you can imagine.

This dilemma can cause painful feelings of guilt for parents or teachers who have mixed feelings about a child, or harder yet, for those who find one child easier to like than another.

When asked, my answer is always, “Of course,” but it’s been hard to explain why. Today I can:

Like and love are NOT two versions of the same thing.

Here’s what I mean. We all know that “best” is the superlative version of “good” (good – better – best). When “love” is used as a kind of superlative version of “like” (like – like more – love), as in “I love ice cream,” like and love become two versions of the same thing.

Guess who sees love that way – children.

What I realized today is that if you are conflicted about feelings of like and love, it might help to consciously separate your adult understanding of love from its childhood underpinnings.

When you say what you see to your child-self, “You think love is an extension of like,” it’s easier to get the difference. As an adult, you know love is a deep connection, beyond superficial feelings and independent from preferences or tastes. Putting the two side by side can help clear up any confusion.

Even though we use the same word for both, no one would confuse loving a child with loving ice cream. The question, “Can you love a child you don’t like?” does. It conflates deeply connective love with a superficial preference.

Disclaimer: This personal growth blog is where we share our realizations, insights, and breakthroughs as posts that offer a different way to look at life (different, not “right”) and stimulate further thought. If you are wracked with guilt over your feelings about your children, please seek help from one of our coaches or a licensed mental health professional such as a counselor, therapist, or psychologist.


  1. I LOVE this! I secretly asked myself this question this very morning. This is a fantastic “un-collpase” of one very powerful and confusing concept. Keep it coming, Sandy! The world needs you!

    • Katherine, Thanks for your comment! Those secretly asked questions are the most troubling for all of us, and the most freeing when we can actually ask them.

  2. Wonderful Sandy,You have a way of making complex ideas make simple sense. Thank You.

    • Michelle, Thanks for taking the time to comment. You know I love simple!

  3. Rachael |

    How is this helpful? I realize awareness is a step in fixing a problem, but clearly emotional bonding with a child is way more difficult than a glib 3 paragraph answer. No matter which perspective this issue is serious and requires professional assistance. Perhaps, you should leave your parenting advice to something more appropriate like potty training your child.

    • Rachael,

      Thank you for sharing your concerns. Bonding issues between parents and children can indeed require professional assistance to overcome. I hope the above disclaimer inspired by your comment makes it clear that overcoming deep relationship issues was not the intention of this post. For that, this post is, as you said, not helpful.

      What I hope is helpful is the idea of distinguishing between the two distinct parts of any relationship: superficial preferences (liking) and the deeper level of bonding (loving). When you can tell the difference, you can more easily determine whether or not you have a need for professional help with important parenting issues like bonding, which is the first step to getting it.

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