Parenting love, just like other forms of love, is hard to describe. When a baby is born the world stops, if even only for a moment. We marvel at the tiny toes and softness of baby skin.
Our love for tiny humans bubbles over just because of the miracle who is completely dependent on us.
Babies are easy to love without condition; at least until the sleepless nights, the terrible twos, and tantrums make an appearance.
Somewhere along the way, those early honeymoon stages of infancy fade as babies become toddlers with unique personalities. Following tantrums in Target, conditions start multiplying so much so that occasionally it’s hard to muster up some ‘like’ for the not-so-adorable tear-stained little face.
Unconditional love, the kind we read about in the Bible and see on movies, looks and sounds deceptively easy. Although expectations and boundaries are part of every healthy relationship, I propose that sometimes the parent to child relationship becomes heavier on the condition side, with less and less unconditional interactions as the years go by.
While very normal, I think about the impact of a child believing he or she has to do anything to receive love.
Every parent I’ve ever known loves their child. I know I love mine more than I thought it was possible to love.
Although, in hindsight, I don’t think I communicated that love to them well enough when they were young.
For example, as a teacher grades were important to me. At the time, I believed good grades were critical to my own kids’ future success and happiness. To some degree it’s true.
However, I fear the message they heard was good grades were a condition that had to be met to gain my approval. At the surface, this doesn’t sound bad. But, the reality is my children deserved love and approval, no matter how they performed in school, or anything else.
The psychoanalyst Alice Miller once observed that it’s possible to love a child “passionately—but not in the way he needs to be loved.” If she’s right, the relevant question isn’t just whether—or even how much—we love our kids. It also matters how we love them. ~Alfie Kohn
It makes me sad to think that my kids may have ever worried about whether or not I loved them. Life is too short to major on the minors. While we may think our children know we love them; we still must be purposeful in ensuring that our actions match our words and intent, every minute of every day.
In the end, all that matters is how we love.