My journey

Can unconditional love be learned?

Last week, I received an e-mail from my parents suggesting me to watch an interview of Alfie Kohn, probably one of the most famous authors and lecturers in parenting and child behaviour. The e-mail continued with a short, but heart-felt apology for not having applied any of the methods suggested by Alfie Kohn, mentioning with regret that back then they didn’t have access to such information on child parenting.

My heart melted as I read the long-waited apology letter and I was so happy to see that one of my favourite authors, managed to get across such a simple message, but yet one that many parents refuse to acknowledge. That simple message, that secret recipe to a good, solid parenting is: unconditional love. This might seem like an obvious and basic ingredient to good parenting, because many parents claim to love their children unconditionally. However, I think there are many parents in denial out there who are not even able to see the numerous amount of conditions that they attach to their love.

I think unconditional love is so hard to achieve when parents have so many expectations from their children and are so quick to label them as “good” or “bad” according to their behaviour. Children start to confuse at a very early age their behaviour with who they are as a person and how they are perceived in this world. As Alfie Kohn mentions, many children begin to think that they are a good and lovable person only when they are nice to other people, when they don’t show their anger, when they don’t talk back, and when they act according to the parents’ rules. Many parents make it clear in a very subtle way that their child is lovable and accepted only when they don’t make any mistakes, when they are good in school, when they follow the expected path in their studies and life.

The problem with this behaviour is not only that your child will miss out on the one and only opportunity of being loved unconditionally, as all other types of love have conditions attached to them, but you also deprive them of loving themselves. When parents put conditions on their love, children learn not to accept themselves for who they are. They lack trust and confidence in themselves and they carry around a guilt for not being a “better” person. In other words, they lack self-love.

But, what I’m wondering for the past few days ever since I received that e-mail is: Can a person who received only conditional love and loves herself conditionally be able to give unconditional love to her child? If there were so many conditions attached to my parents’ love, if I felt completely unlovable all my life, will I ever be able to give unconditional love to my children? Is unconditional love something that comes naturally or that is learned from our parents? If it comes naturally then why do so many parents fail to give it to their children? Is it because they don’t want to or because they can’t?

For the moment, I don’t have an answer to all these questions. But meanwhile, I have the opportunity to read and learn about different parenting practices that my parents didn’t have a chance to read about. In regards on how everything will turn out, it’s a matter of the future.

I kindly invite you to watch the interview attached. It’s in English with Romanian subtitles.

Drawing credits: Anamaria Olaru


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