In theory, we all agree that children should be loved unconditionally and accepted for who they are. They should not reconfigure themselves so that they can receive the full love and affection of their parents. By being born our children, they should have our unconditional love. We all agree, right? Well yes, in theory.
In reality though, how many of our children receive unconditional love? What if you are a former college athlete and your child despises athletics? Do you sit with them at the table and create art together or fight with them about getting their cleats on so they are not late to practice? What if you graduated from an Ivy League school with an advanced degree and your child’s passions leads her to the trades? Do you celebrate that, or remind her of how she can make the family proud? What if you are vegan, and your child desperately wants to eat meat? Do you lecture and guilt her into your belief system by showing her the atrocious videos, or accept that she is different than you?
So often we want our children to be someone they are not; the child we envisioned having, rather than who they are. Many times we get caught up in this thinking because we want what is best for our children. We don’t want them to be lazy. We want them to be healthy. We want them to have all the options. If we really stop and think about it though, what would best prepare our child for a future filled with happiness, health, and productivity; living a life that was not designed for or by them, or knowing that they are seen and loved for who they are?
If your child is a gamer or an introvert or a person who does not meet societies expectations of acceptable in some other way, what do you do? Do you painstakingly prod them and mold them into a extroverted basketball player? Do you shame them and remind them that gamers do not amount to anything (not true)? Do you criticize them every single time they are doing the thing they love most in the world- playing video games? Or do you sit down on the couch and grab a controller? You might be surprised by how enjoyable it is to really get to know your child- and how much they know from playing video games.
We all have behaviors that need improving- this includes children. As their parents we can guide them and show them what that looks like. We can do this without making them feel rejected, less than, or undesirable. We can do this while keeping their self worth and self confidence intact. Some would say we can even help them increase both of these things if we do it really well.
It seems to me that self worth and self confidence could be the antidote to so many problems we see today; bullying, violence, social anxiety, eating disorders, and more. Both of these things can come from a sense of belonging- real belonging. One cannot feel like they belong if they need to shift themselves into someone else to be accepted or treated kindly by their parents. And if one does not belong in their own family, what kind of a start to life is that?
What Does Unconditional Love Look Like?
Loving our children unconditionally does not mean only loving them through mistakes, it means lighting up when they walk in the room because they are exactly who they are- whether that is a D1 athlete, an artist, a gamer, a reader, introverted, extroverted, affectionate, not a fan of being touched, early riser, late riser… whoever they are.
It can seem overwhelming to start giving our children unconditional love if we are not used to it. A good place to start is right here in this moment. What can we do the next time our child walks into the room to let her know we love her? Can we ask her about her passion- maybe it is flower arranging or watching movies? Can we ask her to show us how to cook vegetarian, or take a trip to the library to look for new recipe books? Maybe it is about what we don’t say. Maybe instead of snipping that she gets her nose out of the book we bring her a favorite cup of tea and a cookie, set it down next to her, put a blanket around her, and give her a kiss on the head.
Starting does not have to be big. How would unconditional love feel for our child even in small doses? Pretty damn good, I bet.