There is a notion I frequently encounter that to unconditionally love your children means letting them get away with murder! Actually, the opposite is the truth – to not unconditionally love children either means you let them get away with murder or you ‘murder’ (in the metaphorical sense of the word) them in order to keep them in line. To unconditionally love children automatically leads parents to model and guide their children step-by-step to taking responsibility for self and for all their actions. The difference between the parents who are unconditional and those who are conditional is the way they carry out their parenting responsibility to rear children to become separate and independent. The parent who is conditional certainly confuses the child with his behaviour and alongside that, when the child does not conform to the conditions, can either let the child get away with murder or ‘murder’ him by harshly and, sometimes, violently punishing him. The parent who lets the child get away with murder is overprotective and spoils the child and the parent who ‘murders’ the child is dominating and controlling.
It certainly is now largely accepted that there are no ‘bad’ children, but it is still not seen that neither are there any ‘bad’ behaviours. If you equate ‘bad’ with evil, then Kahlil Gibran is very clear that there is no such thing as evil or bad:
“ Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil.
Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it thirsts it drinks
even of dead waters.
You are good when you are one with yourself.
Yet when you are not one with yourself you are not evil”.
Children’s difficult or ‘bad’ behaviours are unconscious attempts on their part to manage the defensive /threatening behaviours of parents and others. The parent who is unconditional recognises that when it is not emotionally safe for the child to communicate directly the truth of his life circumstances, he will ingeniously find a defensive and indirect and masked way of communicating his unhappy inner state. The parent who is unconditional will maintain her unconditional love of the child and will also unconditionally accept the difficult responses as messages to be understood and for resolutions to be found for the child’s inner troubled state.
Certainly, when a child is acting-out by throwing temper tantrums or being destructive of furniture and fittings or engaging in kicking or biting, the parent needs to take care of herself or any other person who may be at risk from the child’s troubling behaviour. A parent needs to manifest a very definite boundary around safeguarding her own or another’s wellbeing and what she does is take action for herself and not against the child. Taking the above acting-out examples, the action may be:
- To show no immediate response to the temper tantrums.
- To physically hold the child in a way that he can neither kick nor bite and assert ‘kicking or biting hurts me and I don’t allow anybody to do that to me.’
- To remove from the child the object he is attempting to break or to restrain the child in a way that he cannot engage in destructive behaviour.
In all cases, when the dust has settled, the parent who has not broken her unconditional relationship with the child will seek to talk with the child and discover how was it that he needed to engage in these difficult ways. The parent who operates unconditionally knows there is a hidden agenda that needs to be uncovered and when it is revealed, she will support the child to express those needs in a direct and clear way. She will also indicate that there will be times when she can meet an expressed need and times when she cannot, and she will let him know that directly and clearly. It is in these ways that the parent models and guides the child into maturity. Unconditional loving of a child would immediately cease to be unconditional were the parent to allow a child to slide out of an age-related responsibility. Of course, for a parent to do the foregoing, he or she needs to have come to a solid place of conscious responsibility for self and all his or her actions. When a parent is not in that mature place he or she needs to seek out the help and support required to arrive there. When a parent does not do the latter and when a child acts out or acts in, it is the parents’ troubled interior that needs attention first.
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Clinical Psychologist/Author, National and International Speaker. His recent book with co-author Helen Ruddle, Relationship, Relationship, Relationship: The Heart of a Mature Society is relevant to today’s topic.