There's No Place Like Home: Understanding Unconditional Love
Unconditional Love: a phrase many have heard but may not fully understand in terms of the important role it plays in child-rearing. The truth is that in order to grow into (optimally) emotionally healthy adults, children need to be the beneficiaries of unconditional love and effective parental leadership. Though both are important, unless a child feels loved unconditionally, parents cannot lead effectively. But what does unconditional love look like in action and how is it best conveyed to children?
Simply defined, unconditional love is love without condition; no strings attached. It doesn’t have to be earned nor is it dependent on feelings. Feelings fluctuate, unconditional love does not. It is what mature love encompasses and what children deserve. Unconditional love is loving children for who they are, not what they do. Unconditional love involves acting thoughtfully in a particular way, not reacting thoughtlessly at a particular moment.
At its core, unconditional love involves trust. Security for children is being able to trust that their parents’ will always be there for them. Synonymous with feeling completely safe, there are many children today living in households in which feeling safe is not guaranteed. For those children, unconditional love is elusive at best and non-existent at worst. Without the anchor that unconditional love provides, resentment, anger, even illogical or irrational thinking become ripe for the taking.
Ensuring that children feel unequivocally loved requires deliberate parental nurturing. When consistently implemented, the following actions convey unconditional parental love to children:
1. Ensuring that each child in the family feels a healthy uniqueness – Children need to feel that they have their own space in the family, are valued as family members, and accepted as unique beings.
2. Making sure each child feels connected – Regularly engaging in family activities such as chores, home projects, family games and outings as well as establishing family traditions makes children feel connected and loved.
3. Modeling family values – Modeling for children what is right morally and socially provides a framework for family life/expectations. Ensuring that all understand the reasons for, and importance of the family’s values unifies the family unit.
4. Instilling in each child a sense of autonomy – Allowing children to experience the independence needed to demonstrate their understanding of the family’s core values provides a sense of empowerment. Exhibiting parental trust by permitting each child to make age-appropriate decisions that include addressing challenges as well as learning from mistakes instills confidence.
Though not always easy, when it comes to loving children unconditionally, it is important that parents:
· Never apply provisional criteria or conditions
· Avoid connections with praise or criticism
· Act consistently, without faltering (regardless of a child’s actions)
· Never expect something in return
· Always act unselfishly
In today’s culture, consistency is difficult for many parents to maintain. When parental actions and reactions are inconsistent, children are left to chase a moving target with hit-or-miss success. Consistency is key to children feeling confident in their parent’s love. As such, ensuring that they feel loved unconditionally is a responsibility that falls directly on parents.
In the movie classic, The Wizard of Oz, the main character, Dorothy, is on a journey to return home, the place where she feels the greatest sense of security and acceptance. All children deserve to experience that same type of love and all children deserve to feel, just as Dorothy did, that there is no place like home.
© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, April 2023