"The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well” -- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
We all know that children require unconditional love to thrive. But how many of
us feel capable of giving it? We can't, quite simply, give something we don't
have inside. Loving your child starts with loving yourself.
So if you didn’t have a perfect childhood, if you're more cranky than compassionate,
should you just give up on being a good parent? No. Research shows
that we can always grow inside, to become more loving to ourselves and others.
In fact, the fastest path to stretching our hearts is parenting, because our love
for our child motivates us to grow. (You sacrifice and work harder for your child
than for your own well-being, right?)
It takes work, but the good news is that as our hearts get bigger, we’re not just
better parents. We’re happier people.
Healing your ability to love takes daily attention and commitment, but it's quite
do-able. Think of it like playing the piano. In the beginning, a scale
is an effort. But in a year, you can play a sonata. Here's how.
1. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Unconditional
love means dropping that list of ways you need to be different before you're good
enough in your own eyes. Perfection is the lowest standard anyone can have.
We aren't going for perfect. We're going for love! What your child needs
is your full presence and appreciation, not perfection. Sometimes you'll
make mistakes. As long as you can forgive yourself, you'll find a way to
repair those little rifts with your child, which will strengthen your relationship
and your child's resilience. Start by changing how you talk to yourself.
Every time you notice self-criticism, remind yourself that your goal isn’t perfection.
Your goal is loving yourself and others.
2. Unconditional love is like a muscle. It needs a daily workout. Compassion
is the heavy lifting of life. You know it takes daily practice to build that kind
of muscle. Why should your heart be an exception? Commit to treating yourself
and everyone around you with compassion. Every time you notice harshness creeping
in, toward yourself, your child, or anyone else, stop and find something to appreciate
about that person. No exceptions. If you could choose compassion in every
interaction with everyone, including yourself, you'd be enlightened by the end
of the month.
3. Want to wake up jazzed about the day ahead? Commit to radical self-care. We
all know that when we can stay connected to our internal fountain of well-being,
it overflows onto our children and we're more patient, loving, joyful parents.
To love our children unconditionally, we need to keep our own pitchers full
so we aren’t running on empty. And yet, most
of us live in constant stress, which depletes us. What if you committed
to taking care of yourself and staying centered? First, because life is short,
and you deserve it. And second, so you can be the peaceful, patient, encouraging
parent your child deserves. Would that be a radical act? Whose life
is it, anyway? And at the end of it, who will have been responsible for how
you felt -- and acted -- during it?
4. Forgive your parents for being human. When your child pushes
your buttons, do you ever wonder when those buttons were built into your psyche?
That's right -- during your own childhood. If you want to liberate your heart,
you have to heal your old wounds. Maybe you got the message that you were too needy,
too angry, too selfish, too lazy, too careless...too childish? Our parents,
however well-intentioned, were products of their time, and most of us didn't get
the message that we were wholly loved, human imperfections and all. It’s time to
let that go. Letting your childhood family determine your happiness level
is like letting the waiter eat your dinner.
5. Heal Your Heart, Heal Your Life . The only way out is through.
Sorry, but that means breathing your way through that unfinished business.
Find an hour by yourself. Light a candle and sit quietly. Reach out to that
child inside you who still feels unloved and feel his or her pain. Breathe. Reassure
that child that he or she is completely lovable and loved. Be brave. Once you get
through that pain you've been avoiding, you won't need to hang on to any kind of
anger. It may arise --you're still human! -- but you'll be able to notice
it and let it go, rather than acting on it. That's why forgiving others heals us.
It isn't about them. It's about consciously feeling our pain -- accepting
it instead of fighting against it -- so we don't need to hang on to our anger as
6. Accept your child unconditionally. Unconditional love
isn't just what we feel. It's what the object of our love feels: love without
strings attached. That means our child doesn't have to be, or do, anything
in particular to earn our love. We love her exactly as she is. A tall
order, since most of us have a little list of things we want "fixed" in our child.
The trick is to commit to seeing things from your child's point of view.
Suddenly, misbehavior is comprehensible, forgivable. Challenging character
traits evoke tenderness. Compassion comes easily. The blocks to love
melt away, and our love becomes unconditional.
7. Commit to parenting from love, not anger. It's easy
to love unconditionally when our child is being delightful and we feel good. But
how many of us can stay lovingly connected to our child while we set limits on
behavior? How many of us can resist the temptation to lash out at our child
when we feel justifiably angry? How many of us can love our child through his upsets?
A teachable moment is always when both people are receptive and positive.
Anger and punishment are never based in love. Maybe it's time to move your
game up a notch and commit to parenting from love, not from anger. Notice I didn't
say this would be easy. But every time you manage your anger instead of spilling
it onto your child, it gets easier. Within a few months, you’ll realize you
don't lose your temper anymore. And that your relationship with your child
has completely transformed as a result.
8. Lighten Up and Show Up. Have you made mistakes
as a parent? Join the club. They aren't mistakes if you use them to
guide you toward a better way in the future. You don't have to have all the
answers. You don't have to fix your child or the situation. All you
have to do is stay present and choose love instead of fear. Your child doesn't
even need the red cup, or whatever he's crying for; he needs your loving acceptance
of him, complete with all his tangled up feelings. His disappointment, rage, and
grief? They're all ok, part of a rich emotional life, and they will all pass if
you accept them, and him. Just love him through it.
9. Take the High Road. You know what the high road is. When you’re
feeling really good, nothing fazes you. You respond to your child’s foibles with
patience, understanding, and a sense of humor. You know what the low road is, too.
It’s when you’re stressed, exhausted, resentful. When you insist on having
it your way or proving you were right. When your fuse is so short that you
feel justified in having your own little tantrum. When you're in the grip of fight
or flight emotions and your child looks like the enemy. Nobody takes the
high road all the time. But there are ways to live that help you find yourself
on it more and more.
10. Practice Makes Perfect. Healing our ability to love
unconditionally requires daily practice as we catch the curve balls of life. Nothing
has to be different for you to love yourself exactly as you are. There is no such
thing as a perfect parent. But it is entirely possible to be a better parent every
day. After all, you have live-in teachers and 24/7 lessons! Use your mistakes
to your advantage. They aren’t mistakes if you learn from them, they’re life lessons
in your parenting PhD. That’s why spiritual masters call it a Practice! At
first, it seems impossible. But it's like playing the piano. In the beginning,
scales are a challenge. But if you practice, in a year you can play a sonata.
Just keep practicing, bringing awareness to every interaction, finding that moment
of freedom between the stimulus (your child's behavior) and your own reaction.
Noticing is what gives us a choice next time. The miracle of one foot in front
of the other, in the right direction, is that one day you look around, and all
the scenery is different.
Enjoy the journey.
Repeat daily. Watch your life transform.
Want More? In the US, it's autumn, often a time of exciting new beginnings.
But wherever you are, it's always a good time to learn to love more! So we'll
be exploring each of the ten steps above in more detail over the next few weeks
(and I'll be adding the links above as we go.) Join us for some heart stretches!
Please click here for the Spanish translation of this article.