Somewhere over the rainbow someone started (another) unhelpful rumor that led mothers everywhere to believe that if they didn’t have warm, fuzzy, super affectionate feelings everyday all day towards their children, that they didn’t have unconditional love for them. Mothers everywhere began and continue to feel guilty when they have strong negative feelings (whether momentary, seasonal, or relatively long term) towards their children. To combat this they began spoiling them, trying to make them happy at all costs, and let feelings of guilt (or the idea that they were somehow inadequate) govern their parenting decisions.
Let’s dispel some common myths of unconditional love together.
1) Unconditional love is not dictated by feelings. Feelings can be unhelpful, untrue and unproductive. An anorexic woman’s feelings may say she is fat though she weighs 85 lbs. A gambler’s feelings may say the next hand will be the big win. Someone going through a bad breakup’s feelings may say they’ll never date again. Feelings, though very true to us, should not dictate our actions and do not always accurately tell us what is going on. If you are exhausted you may feel resentful to your children because, quite frankly, you are not working at full capacity and you resent the ones who did it to you. If your teenager is rebelling and taking the whole family down with him, you may feel anger, confusion and the intense desire to kick him out. Do these feelings mean you don’t love your child? Do these feelings tell you that you aren’t capable of unconditional love and that you are a bad mother because of it? No. Absolutely not. If we let feelings govern our actions and decisions we’ll end up in a world of hurt because our feelings change like shifting shadows. Feelings do not change the truth. Love is not [only] a feeling.
2) Unconditional love does not mean happy fuzzy all the time. There will be times when your decisions, and the decisions of your children, make everyone downright ticked off. They are ticked off they have to eat vegetables and go to bed, you are ticked off they threw the vegetables on the floor and keep getting out of bed to come and mess with you. Children, because they are learning stage by stage to exercise their independence, will constantly defy, try and mystify us. Just because we get angry doesn’t mean we don’t love them. Just because we want to throw them against the wall (oh no, she did not just say that) does not mean we don’t love them. It simply means we are humans and our emotions flare up in reaction to our environment. Because they make us angry, and particularly if you have fairly disobedient children, you may feel these negative emotions often. Just because you don’t look at your children and feel overcome with happiness at every moment of the day does not mean anything. Oh wait, yes it does. It means that you are human.
3) Unconditional love is long-term not short-sighted. There are some decisions we make as parents that will make our children unhappy for a while. Grounding for a month, say, for a severe house rule infraction will likely tick them off for a while. But, just like long-term financial planning, investments, and pursuing an education, sometimes you have to put in the hard work first, make tough decisions, and know that it is for the benefit of your child. Making these hard decisions (moving cities for a more stable job, putting a child into a better school even though they don’t want to leave their friends, etc.) are acts of love when you are thinking about your family and children’s best interests. When you make a hard decision and feel like a bad parent, the bad cop, the one who ruined your child’s life (temporarily) just remember, unconditional love looks for the best long-term arrangement. Selling everyone short in the long run to instantly gratify your children is not actually an act of love. It’s an act of cowardice and laziness.
4) Unconditional love protects. Parenting is much like marriage in this respect. This day in age, people think that if you fall “out of love” with someone that is a good enough reason to move on. What if as a parent we did that? What if God did that to us? Let’s take addiction, for example. If a husband is an addict (gambling, alcohol, pornography) then sticking by him and letting him continue self-destructing is not an act of love. That is called enabling. Unconditional love says, you make me angry and you are ruining our family and I am going to do something about it. It puts rules in place, it helps find remedies, help, intervention, etc. A wife cannot change her husband, but she can do things to try to help. He will not like it, in fact, he’ll probably hate it. He’ll say “you don’t love me” or “if you loved me you’d accept me as I am” but those are simply negative human emotional responses to being confronted with something he doesn’t like. Children are the same. Discipline and boundaries have wonderful effects on children long term. That does not mean, in their childlike minds, that they appreciate them. They fight against them and they tell you they hate you or they have stopped loving you. But as a mother, this is what you should think. Letting a child continue in a self-destructive pattern is not love at all, it is hate. What we sow we later reap. If we let our children sow seeds of destruction, rebellion, and chaos then they will later reap it. Playing the ‘bad cop’ for a while to protect your child’s future is an act of unconditional love. Outside of your emotions you make a decisions and, even when you grow weary of doing good, you stick by it. That is a mother’s love.
A mother’s love is a strong thing. There will be many many many moments of affectionate, warm and happy feelings. But there will also be feelings of anger, frustration, and perhaps even violence (particularly for the very sleep deprived moms). These feelings are not indicators that you are a bad mom. They are indicators that you are human. Persevere, loving mother, and see that your children don’t reap the benefits throughout the rest of their lives!
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