Unconditional Love: What It Is and What It Isn’t

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about the eight things parents need to stop doing for their kids if they want to raise an adult.  The blog reached over 7, 000 people and most people seemed to benefit from its content.  But there was one comment on social media that has stuck with me and I want to address it in today’s blog.  The comment said “this list is lame and sound like it was written by an unloving parent.”  Really?  Let’s talk about that.

Someone, somewhere, some time ago started an unhelpful rumor that led parents everywhere to believe that if they didn’t do everything for their kids all the time, have warm, fuzzy, super affectionate feelings everyday all day towards their children, that they didn’t have unconditional love for them.

Parents everywhere began and continue to feel guilty when they have any negative feelings towards their children or ask their children to do things for themselves rather than doing it for them. To combat this they began spoiling them, trying to make them happy at all costs, and let feelings of guilt (or the idea that they were somehow inadequate) govern their parenting decisions.

Love is so much more than making your kids happy. Love is more than being a service provider.  Love is more than giving gifts or hugs. Love is an attitude, a way of life, and something that is long-term and far reaching. You love your kids because they are your kids. Nothing they do will change that. You will love them no matter what. But does that mean you let them do what they want even to their own detriment? Does it mean you do everything for them to buffer them from discomfort or inconvenience? No!

Let’s dispel some common myths of unconditional love right here, right now.

Unconditional love is not dictated by feelings.

Feelings can be unhelpful, untrue and unproductive.  Feelings, though very true to us, should not dictate our actions and do not always accurately tell us what is going on.

If you are exhausted you may feel resentful toward your children because, quite frankly, you are letting them run you in to the ground. If your teenager is rebelling and taking the whole family down with him, you may feel anger, confusion and the intense desire to kick him out. Do these feelings mean you don’t love your child?  Do these feelings tell you that you aren’t capable of unconditional love and that you are a bad parent because of it? No. Absolutely not. If we let feelings govern our actions and decisions we’ll end up in a world of hurt because our feelings change like shifting shadows.

Unconditional love does not mean happy, fuzzy, service providing all the time.

There will be times when your decisions, and the decisions of your children, make everyone upset. They are upset they have to eat vegetables, do their chores and go to bed while you are upset they threw the vegetables on the floor, haven’t done their chores and keep getting out of bed. Children, because they are learning stage by stage to exercise their independence, will constantly defy, try and even mystify us.

Just because we get angry doesn’t mean we don’t love them. Just because we want to sell them to gypsies sometimes does not mean we don’t love them. It simply means we are humans and our emotions flare up in reaction to our environment. Because they make you angry, and particularly if you have fairly disobedient, ungrateful and entitled children, you may feel these negative emotions often. Just because you don’t look at your children and feel overcome with happiness at every moment of the day does not mean anything. Oh wait, yes it does. It simply means that you are human and you don’t have to compensate for that.

Unconditional love is long-term not short-term sighted.

When you discipline your kids, hold them accountable or make a hard decision and feel like a bad parent, the bad cop, the one who ruined your child’s life just remember, unconditional love works for the ultimate, not temporary, good. Selling everyone short in the long run to instantly gratify your children is not actually an act of love. It’s an act of laziness, and sometimes, even cowardice.

Unconditional love protects

Unconditional love says “you make me angry and you are ruining our family and I am going to do something about it. It puts rules in place, it helps find remedies, help, intervention, etc.”

Discipline and boundaries have wonderful effects on children long term. That does not mean, in their childlike minds, that they appreciate them. Love is much more profound than simply making someone happy and comfortable. It looks out for a person’s best interests and seeks to help them flourish in the long run.

Letting a child continue in a self-destructive pattern, sprint down the road of entitlement or remain lazy by enabling them is not love at all, some might even say it is hate. There’s a saying that what we sow we later reap. If we let our children sow seeds of destruction, rebellion, apathy, entitlement, dependency and chaos then they will later reap it. Playing the ‘bad cop’ for a while to protect your child’s future may be an act of unconditional love. Outside of your emotions you make a decisions and, even when you grow weary of doing what’s right and best, you stick by it. That is unconditional love.

Does that sound impossible?  It’s not.  But sometimes we need support.  Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for help!  

Written by Lisa Smith

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