When we were moving a few months ago, I stumbled upon an on old journal from my childhood. I sat down, amidst a pile of boxes, and ignored the surrounding mess to go back to a place that I hadn’t visited in a long time. The pages were laden with my 12 year old scribbles. There were entries about my loves , my friends, and trivial problems, but in between those pages were some hauntingly poignant entries about the abuse that filled my childhood. As I read, it wasn’t the entries describing the latest attack, it was a simple statement, ended with a question, that I think I sent out to the universe:
“I feel like I will never be good enough. Like I will never measure up. I feel like unless I do what they want, and only what they want, they will never love me fully. They call me names, they insult me, they punish me when I stray from their beliefs. Is this how a parent is supposed to treat their child? Is this normal?”
As I grew up, I spent a lot of time asking that question over and over again. It wasn’t until I had my own child and pulled out this journal that I recognized the answer to that question was supposed to be a resounding “NO!” I’d like to say this discovery has ended any self-doubts, but daily, I still ask “Is this enough? Am I enough?” The impact of this emotional abuse as a child has left a permanent mark, even so many years later.
More acutely put, a parent is meant to love their child, no exceptions. The idea that a parent should, and actually could love their child unconditionally, with no limits was a new idea to me. This idea, this new ‘theory’ was something that I had never witnessed as a child, or as an adult. I felt like I had stumbled upon some amazing discovery of my own. It felt foreign and strange, but it felt like I was onto something that had been hidden from me for my entire life.
When Matteo was around 5 months old, I happened upon a forum that was having a controversial discussion about the book, Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. I was intrigued by varying opinions on this book, but the title struck a chord deep within me. That very night, I went to my local bookstore and picked up a copy.
The parts in the book about conditional love and acceptance versus unconditional love and acceptance hit me hard. Every paragraph set off another “Aha!” moment, and I just felt enthralled to finally read a book that not only embraced my approach to parenting, but also made me feel validated for the love withdrawal I received as a child. I spent many hours reading excerpts out loud to my husband, discussing our childhoods together, learning more about where we stood on the attachment parenting spectrum.
We had one common goal as parents; we both wanted our child to know, no matter what, he or she would always have us. We will never judge them or withdraw from them based on their choice of partner, lifestyle, career choice, religion, or any other decision they make. We want to be the type of parents that in the thick of it all really does have their child’s best interest at heart, and understands that the decisions we may want to make for them really could be different from those they choose to make for themselves.
Our society is so fixated on raising obedient, ‘seen and not be heard’ children. They are fixated on quick fixes that will get our children to comply to OUR wishes, using tactics that involve love withdrawal when they don’t comply. We will receive encouragement to just dominate our will on our children, taking away their simple rights, even as small children, all for our own sakes. What we should be focused on is how these simple actions, actions that may seem harmless to us, can communicate the wrong message to our children. Personally, I don’t want Matteo to be that child that grows up into an adult who constantly needs someone to tell him how to live his life. I want him to be secure, confident, kind, and the sort of person who knows that it’s okay to question. As far as I know, the only way to obtain this goal is by loving him for who he is, no strings attached.
Perhaps the reason unconditional love is so rare, is because as adults we struggle to love ourselves and even our partners unconditionally. Paired with that the fact that many of us were raised in a generation where punishment often overshadowed the love our parents had, and voila- we have a whole generation of adults who barely understand what unconditional love really means. Really think about it- Do you love yourself come what may? What about your partner? I know I struggle daily with truly loving myself. I was never taught to love myself despite my imperfections. My point is, maybe that this is why unconditional love is so undiscovered in our culture. Without sounding cliché, it is hard to fully love someone else, without first loving yourself. Starting at the bottom, with ourselves, and reaching outward will have a lasting effect on all of our relationships. Especially those with our family.
At the end of the day, when the toys are strewn all over the floor, when you’ve mopped the kitchen floor a dozen times, spent at least an hour rocking one of your children to sleep, and you are exhausted, all that matters is love. Did you convey to your child today in the rougher moments, that you still love him or her? Did you take a moment in the midst of a chore that needs to be crossed off your never ending to-do list, and really engage your child in a way that demonstrates your love for them?
Sure, there are other things that a child needs, but at the base of everything, all they need is love. Unconditional, no-strings attached love; the kind of love that we all deserve, no matter our age.
Danielle lives with her 21 month old son, and husband in Canada. When she’s not blogging, she can be found reading or volunteering in local AP orientated groups.