We all hear that word ‘unconditionally’ and we hope we can be that for our children. We either think ‘I would love to love my children the same way my parents did for me’ or ‘I will definitely love my children differently than my parents did for me’ (or maybe some combination of the two).
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In any of these scenarios, I think we are all searching to learn to love our children – more so than any other relationship – without any conditions and wholeheartedly. We inherently believe they are worth that and we want to be the ones who give it to them first and foremost. We start out with such good intentions, so how inevitably somewhere down the line do we feel like we might have failed somehow?
Parenthood seems to be the evolution of a longer journey of our souls. When we first become parents in pregnancy we choose to see the possibilities and ‘good’ from this exciting road ahead: we have our dreams of how it will all look, our hopes for our babies and this insurmountable promise of how lovely being a parent is going to be for us. We beam with glory of this ideal perfection in our minds. And then….for Every parent comes a ‘bump’ in this road.
Whether it shows up as a baby who doesn’t seem like they will ever stop crying, a young toddler having the worst tantrums, small children disrespecting and talking back to you, teenagers hating you, or adult children who just don’t seem to want to connect with you. Now you are left with a very disappointing and helpless feeling that definitely does not fit in with your once beautiful image of Parenthood.
A baby’s roaring cry hits a place so deep in you it’s hard to breathe at times. A toddler’s relentless tantrum produces such a harsh voice in your mind it even scares you. A teenager’s battle and rebellion with you causes a rage that you didn’t even know existed within you. And an adult child’s lack of yearning to be with you reveals an immense sadness that had slowly been building over the years. Different stages, different stories, yet all the same: Very Deep Pains.
Did we hit failure? Did we mess up? Did we do something wrong? Why is this happening? All questions I’m sure go through every parent’s mind at one point or another.
Perhaps we didn’t do anything wrong. Perhaps we are not bad parents. Perhaps we didn’t fail. Maybe, just maybe, This is where our opportunity to practice unconditional love enters in our life. It’s easy to love our children when they are getting good grades, eating all their healthy foods, being kind and nice to others, not talking back to us, and ‘making us proud’.
Here unconditional love is a breeze. Now, what about when they are crying, screaming at us, mad at us, ‘acting out’, disrespecting us, partying/drinking/smoking, and just plain being ‘a bad kid’? Time for positive reinforcement, time for therapy, time for strict discipline or whichever method you choose in your house to stop the ‘bad habits’, right?
What if one of those methods becomes acceptance, understanding and an open space to be heard…or another way to put it: unconditional love? Now I’m sure you’re thinking ‘sure that sounds great, but it’s just not practical and it doesn’t work’. The thing is you can’t pretend these qualities with children; they are incredibly smart, intuitive and can sense fakeness a mile away. So then, how in the world do we authentically create this magical energy for ourselves and our children?
We look at ourselves first. There really is not much else in our control anyhow. We can’t force a child to sleep, we can’t force them to do well in school, we can’t force them to stop hanging out with certain friends, we can’t force them to respect us, and we definitely can’t force them to love us. But we very much Can start to understand Why our rage is triggered when they rebel, What makes us feel sad when they don’t want to hug us, Why we are embarrassed when they act out in public, Why we feel ashamed when they make a major mistake, and the many other emotions that arise within us during those challenging, yet normal, moments along the life journey.
What if our children’s ‘bad behaviors’ are really here for us? To help us grow, learn more about ourselves and understand where our conditions on love (aka an open space) stop. Instead of trying to fix our children’s ‘bad’ or unwanted behaviors, what if we sit with what is coming up within us instead? Most parents don’t want the bad behavior to stop as much as they want the Unwanted Feeling in themselves to go away. Here is where our love, or open space, for ourselves stops. We can only give our little ones what we give ourselves.
How do we treat ourselves when we mess up? How do we handle our own failures? What do we tell ourselves when we don’t know something or when we do something embarrassing? Do we listen to these incredibly uncomfortable feelings in us? Or do we find every way possible to avoid these parts of us? Are we kind, compassionate and willing to take it easy on ourselves? Or are we harsh, judgmental and have very little patience with our own shortcomings?
We treat our children the way we treat ourselves. And we treat ourselves the way we were treated when we were younger; UNLESS we learn a new way somewhere along our life journey. Maybe it’s time we start looking within ourselves to see where our own harsh voices lie and where our compassion is hiding. When we start loving ourselves unconditionally, it will then be authentically passed down to the next generation. They look to us to see how to act towards themselves and others. Maybe now is our opportunity to introduce Love, Understanding and Empathy as our form of ‘discipline’.
A lot of parents will say ‘but I still love my child when I discipline them’; I would love to ask the child if they still Feel loved in these moments. Isn’t that the most important part of it? Not necessarily if you do love them or not, but if They feel loved or not. Every child – young or adult – wants to Feel their parent proud of them no matter what, wants to know their parent truly believes in them in every situation, wants to understand how can a parent still treat them with such gentleness and kindness when they’ve messed up time after time, wants to experience how a parent can come back to them with acceptance and love when they have outright been angry at them: at the end of the day, they yearn to feel unconditional love from us. They challenge us to see where our conditions on love really start and stop with them…and simultaneously ourselves.
Now of course, if you’re human you can easily find where your love has its boundaries. It’s not your fault. You are not a bad parent; you are human and you are on your spiritual cycle of this life. You are not supposed to be perfect. How can you find unconditional love for your child if you don’t have it for yourself? How can you show unconditional love for your baby if your parents couldn’t show it for you? Your parents aren’t bad parents either; they were on their own spiritual path as well. It’s all just part of the same cycle. But how can we start to shift this cycle?
It all starts with new ideas, new perspectives and a view into something that perhaps you haven’t really been taught or thought of yet. Maybe it just starts with pondering a different way. From here, maybe pieces of you will start to shift, it may cause an uproar and disarray inside of you – which is unsettling as well as Great news because that means the old foundation is breaking to allow new space for something else to rise. All of this may be followed by confusion as to where to go now, and maybe not much else will be unveiled for a period of time other than a new intention. I think that’s where it all starts anyhow: wanting a New Way to Be with Your Self and Your Children.
The rest will follow as it needs to for you specifically and will show up differently in everyone’s life. For some the next whisper might be a book that catches your eye, for others it might be a seminar invite that ‘happens’ to be in your inbox, others might notice it in a TV program or it might show up as a conversation you overhear or become a part of in the middle of your day. With your intention genuine in your heart, the Universe will find synchronistic ways to help you and guide you to where you want to be.
None of this is easy of course and very uncomfortable at times, but what radical change isn’t in our life? Sometimes the hardest and most challenging parts of our life are where we grow and learn the most; it’s where we come out the strongest, bravest and brightest. It’s how we start to learn to accept ourselves in those places where our love once stopped before. Our hearts are limitless and yearning to expand in openness, empathy, acceptance, love, faith and hope. We just have to give it a chance to unveil its magic.
Everyone will have their own definition of unconditional love and what it looks like in parenting. None is right and none is wrong; to each their own always. The more we can speak and share our experiences and ideas, the more we can move towards a more loving, open and kinder way of Being with one another….especially with our children, who – in my eyes and heart – seem to be the gifts that arrive mid-way on our life journey to remind us of the longer evolution our Souls came here to fulfill: learning to love ourselves without conditions and wholeheartedly.