Children are like mirrors. They reflect their parents’ every strength and flaw in ways that test everything a parent believes to be true about themselves.
As parents, sometimes we like what we see, admiring our skills and beautifully executed strategies. Other times, however, we bump into a version of ourselves that we don’t like and never thought we’d become.
Humans are wired for connection and an intense need for love and belonging. While adults have more opportunities to find love, children are more dependent on their parents for their sense of value and lovability.
“Nothing is more important to us when we’re young than how our parents feel about us. Uncertainty about that, or terror about being abandoned, can leave its mark even after we’re grown.” ~Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting
The concept of unconditional love is simple. The practice of it, however, is another story.
We all have triggers or sticking points. For example, I know as a parent I unconsciously added conditions for my approval. I may have given the impression that I loved my children more when they:
* were truthful
* earned good grades
* were polite
* attended church
* didn’t complain
* weren’t emotionally needy
* participated in extracurricular activities
* did chores
The list could go on, I suppose. The truth is, I’m human and brought a lot of internal baggage to parenting. Everyone does.
It’s kind of like an ongoing litmus test. We tell children we love them unconditionally—but, since kids are master detectives, they will find ways to test our love.
This is the part of parenting that goes unspoken. The feeling that children should know we love them even when we are displeased. It seems we often have no idea how to accomplish that task.
If there is one master strategy for parenting it would be this: love your children unconditionally and prove it to them every day.
Diligently find ways to delight in their spirit, light up when they enter a room and appreciate them for who they are with no strings attached.
This does not mean there is no accountability for misbehaviors. It does mean that they are loved no matter their behaviors and choices.
Often referred to as the Love Chapter in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 best describes love as an action. Although mostly referenced as a description of romantic love, it’s also a perfect lens for parenting.
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8
After more than 20 years of parenting, the one lesson that continues to stand out is that I should always err on the side of love. Children cannot be loved too much.
In all my ways, I want my children to know there is nothing they can do to make me not love them. When I see myself in their reflection, I want to see confident humans who know without a shadow of a doubt they are worthy of love.