At its best, parenthood calls for an ability to love unconditionally. To love your child regardless of what he or she says or does takes maturity, selflessness, and commitment. When you dedicate yourself to this style of parenting, you are providing an experience that will have long-lasting positive effects on the entire family. But conscientious parenting is hard, surprisingly hard. It requires a tremendous amount of generosity, dedication, and a willingness to give of yourself, at times, when you would really rather not.
What is unconditional love and how does it work? Unconditional love means affection is not based on a child’s behavior. It’s never threatened or taken away. It’s not used as leverage or to manipulate. Unconditional love means not shaming, embarrassing, or harming a child to get your way or to punish them.
Loving unconditionally isn’t about being permissive, nor does it mean approving of everything children do. It just means that whatever they do, even when you disapprove or get angry, kids know the issue is never about whether or not they’re loved. Love is a spoken and unspoken certainty.
Unconditional love entails respect, emotional and physical safety, and trust. When you’re able to love in this way, your kids feel secure. What’s more, feeling loveable then becomes rooted into their personality.
For the most part, unconditional love is unique between parents and children. Experience teaches that husbands, wives, and even friends do stop loving one another. They divorce, break up, and stop speaking fairly frequently. But if parents have the ability, the love between them and their children can survive acts of disloyalty, disrespect, or periods of neglect and even abuse. The ability of parents and children to forgive one another is truly remarkable but not absolute.
Despite the desire to love your children unconditionally, you may find yourself struggling to do so. Mothers and fathers, who grew up in an inconsistent and unreliable atmosphere themselves, often slip into creating a similar pattern with their own children, regardless of their intention to do otherwise.
Withdrawing love may get kids to do what they’re told. However, when children cooperate because they fear being humiliated or rejected, they’re doing so for the wrong reasons. Rather than acting out of respect for themselves and others, they’re afraid of being emotionally abandoned. This type of “cooperation” can lead to problems because it causes children to doubt their own self-worth.
If loving unconditionally doesn’t come naturally, all is not lost. Rather than ignoring this problem, it’s important to recognize it.
- To help clarify your concerns, try writing them down.
- Become more curious about how you grew up.
- Note the connection between the ways in which anger and love were expressed when you were little and the ways you resolve conflicts and express your love now.
The loss of parental love is life-defining. The devastating consequences are why it’s so important for mothers and fathers to manage their frustrations and disappointments without withdrawing their affection. Winning this internal battle and refusing to use love as a weapon helps children feel good about themselves – which is really what unconditional love is all about.