"Where there is great love, there are always miracles." -- Willa Cather
Loving our child unconditionally means we accept and appreciate him without needing
to make him different. It means we find a way to see him positively at this
moment, trusting that he will continue to grow, blossom and change as long as we
continue to love him.
If you're having a hard time finding your unconditional love when your child doesn't
meet your expectations, maybe it's because you've forgotten you're on the same
side. Parents spend so much time "managing" kids -- moving them from one
task to the next, negotiating treats, navigating disagreements -- that we sometimes
start to see them as our adversary. We forget that they're our precious babies,
doing the best they can in that moment. We forget that the worse they act, the
more unhappy they are -- and the more they need our help.
We can heal this disconnect by deepening our relationship with our child. No amount
of 'parenting skills' can make up for the lack of a close relationship. A
close bond makes our children want to please us, and it gives us access to our
natural parenting know-how.
Parents often ask me how to create a deeper relationship with their child.
My top five recommendations:
1. Spend at least fifteen minutes alone with each child every single day. Parents
often admit to me that they don't do this, and they have a hundred good reasons
why. But I guarantee you that it will make a huge difference to your relationship
with your child. Don't use this time to bring up issues you're having with
your child, or to do any specific activity. Instead: Snuggle, Ask your
child questions to get to know him better, Play a physical game that expresses
your affection (see #2). If your child insists on playing his favorite game,
agree -- but say that tomorrow you just want to snuggle and hang out together and
play a silly (physical) game.
2. Physical games are a wonderful way to connect. My
favorite (just because most kids love it) is the Fix game, because it fixes whatever
is wrong with your child.
Convince your child on a very deep level that you LOVE him by chasing him, hugging,
kissing, then letting him get away and repeating -- again and again. "Where's my Michael?....You can't get away...I have to hug you and cover you with kisses....oh, no, you got away...I'm coming after you....I just have to kiss you more and hug you more....You're too fast for me....But I'll never give up...I love you too much...I got you....Now I'll kiss your toes....Oh, no, you're too strong for me...But I will always want more Michael hugs...." This
game is guaranteed to transform your child's doubt about whether he's truly loved
(and any child who is "misbehaving" harbors that doubt).
(From a parent: "I'm kind of shocked how much my son is loving the Fix game! I don't think I've ever heard my son say, "Let's do it again!" so many times :)"
3. Watch how you think about your child. Your
emotions are created by your perceptions, and your child picks up all of your emotions.
If you see her as a brat, she will almost certainly act like a brat. If you
see her as scared, you'll automatically soothe her fears -- and her brattiness
will vanish. Your child may not know what words are going through your
mind, but he feels your intention towards him, every moment.
Need to find a more positive way to think about your child? Look at baby
pictures. List the ways she drives you crazy, and then find a positive way
to reframe that quality. (She's spirited!) Then go into her room while she's
asleep and talk softly to her, telling her how much you love her. Your words
will go straight to her subconscious.
4. Make sure your child knows you're on his side. That
doesn't mean giving him everything he wants. But it does mean saying Yes whenever
you can, and validating his feelings of unhappiness when you have to say No.
Children can accept not getting what they want in a given moment if they get something
better -- complete acceptance and appreciation of who they are, including those
sometimes difficult, messy emotions and desires.
If there's a problem, start by reminding yourself that you can always find a win/win
solution. Let go of your need to be right, which by definition means your child
has to be wrong (and that would make anyone resistant!) Once your child feels
you're on his side, rather than out to attack him, everything can shift. If you
get clear on your positive intention before you open your mouth, you create a sense
of safety between you. You move from “fixing” your child to loving your child. Now
you can work together to solve the problem.
5. Stay connected when your child is upset. Instead
of giving your child the message that her strong emotions are too scary for you
to handle by sending her away "to calm down," stay with her, and stay connected.
Let her rage or grieve. Empathize and validate her feelings without adding
to the drama by losing your own calm. We don't help our child by having a meltdown
along with him. Our job is to empathize but provide a steady shore, not to flail
in the water alongside him.
Welcome to the work of parenting. But it's where the rewards are, too. That
overwhelming love is what makes all the sacrifices of parenting worth it.
It's what nourishes our children. And it's part of what heals those unloved
places inside of us.
Loving unconditionally means it's not all about us. It's not even all about our
child. It's all about love.