When Valentine’s Day arrives, many of us think of our spouse, partner, significant other… and those of us who have the privilege to be parents think of our little Valentine’s. ‘LOVE‘ is the first word that comes to mind this on Valentine’s Day and every time we look at our little ones sleeping. But what do we consider love? How do we love? How do we teach our children what love is? What’s the importance of love in our lives?…
I’ve always said that parents should love their children unconditionally, but what does that mean? Unconditional Love means loving them for who they are, for being, not for how they behave, or based on what they do. That’s a very tall order sometimes, right? Especially when 90% of the discipline and parenting approaches out there invite us to love our children with conditions.
Giving or withholding acceptance and love based on the child’s behavior is the essence of conditional love, and many of us were loved that way as children, and might be loving our children that way, without even realizing we are doing it and how damaging this can be to a child.
The problem with showing conditional love to our kids is that sends them the message ‘You are not good enough’, ‘You are not deserving of love unless…’, ‘You need to look for approval outside of yourself’… and what’s the problem with that? Unhappiness, low self-esteem, permanent anger, stress, internal turmoil, emptiness… I am not saying we shouldn’t discipline our children or that we shouldn’t have rules and boundaries with them; what I’m saying is that even when they’re being disciplined, even after they’ve broken our rules… they should feel unconditionally loved. They should learn about the consequences when they misbehave, but one of the consequences cannot be that they are less loved or that they will get less from us.
Most of us would say that we love our children unconditionally, without any strings attached; and we are sure that we do. However, what counts is what our children think and feel. It is important to realize that there is a very distinct difference between loving your children unconditionally and actually ‘showing’ this unconditional love and acceptance; and even though, we might feel unconditional love to our children, that might not be how they perceive our love towards them.
Do they feel just as loved when they misbehave or fall short as they do when they behave like angels, perform academically and in sports? Do they feel just as loved after we had a very hard day at work and get home to them exhausted? Do they feel just as loved… 24 hours a day, 365 days a year?
“What counts is not just that we believe we love them unconditionally, but that they feel loved in that way”. (Alfie Kohn)
After thinking a lot about this, I’ve decided to make a pledge: “I will think more about how my children feel my love, and do my best to guarantee that they feel unconditionally loved all the time”. I would encourage you to join me in my journey of becoming more mindful and conscious about this.