“Love is a commitment to a person, not to that person’s behavior.” – Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception
The most important thing you can ever do for your child is try to provide them with continual and unconditional love.
This is, by far, the best thing my parents have ever done for me. Nothing even comes close. As time passes, this becomes more and more apparent.
I know in my soul that my parents love me, but there were also times when they didn’t like me. When I was 10 or 11 years old, I was a brat. Rebellion was the theme, and Guns and Roses were playing on my Walk-man. My friends and I all took on the persona of GNR members and acted like it. I was disrespectful to my teachers, to the point where about half of my 4th grade year was spent sitting in the corner of the classroom by myself. Sorry, Mom.
But even during the rough parts of childhood, adulthood, and that troubling transition in between the two, I always knew they loved me. Always.
I remember two moments in my college years vividly that remind me of this often. Both were during that awkward transition to adulthood.
The first one was a phone call to my father when I did something dumb and got caught. I called him to confess and ask for help. I was 20. After I shared what happened with him, his calmness never wavered. He was able to sense in my tone of voice that my tail was already between my legs, and I didn’t need an additional verbal whipping. Instead, he very gently confirmed my mistake, and then offered to help. His ability to sense my own remorse and be willing to help communicated to me his unconditional love. Yes, I did something very dumb. He and I both knew it.
This moment with my father is burned in my memory forever, and I think of it often when my sons do their own foolish or immature things. I strive to have the ability to gently confirm that they made a mistake, remind them of the consequences of that mistake, let them know that everything is going to be okay, and let them know that I still love them anyway. I now can see my 4- year-old’s need for this affirmation in his eyes when he is caught doing something wrong. I proceed with my discipline and correction in a love-first mindset.
The other time was when I decided to drop out of college, move from Arizona to Montana, and not tell my parents before I did it. I sent them a letter on my way out of town and described the reasons why. This was a time before cell phones, so they received the letter and had no way to immediately get a hold of me. I called them from a pay phone in Idaho the day they received the letter. They had heavy hearts for the period that I was going through, but – again — love inspired their words and tone to me.
As my first major action in officially establishing myself as an independent adult, whether they agreed with my choices or not, they made sure I knew they loved me. Within a few days, they had travel plans to come visit me in Montana later in the summer and be present in my life as I went through this transition.
In hindsight, this was one of the most important moments in my early adulthood. It was a decision I made with tremendous personal burden and conflict and worried tremendously how my parents would react. Their unwavering love during such a vulnerable and challenging time in my life was one of the few fundamental things I could rely upon. Without it, that time in my life could have led me down a significantly different path.
My parents may not be terribly fond of these memories because of all of the fear and worry they experienced for their child. But they served as huge opportunities for their strength and love to fill me in times of need. From my perspective, they are tremendously powerful memories I have of my parents. Those were times of my life is when I learned that my parents’ love for me was truly unconditional.
It is easy to love your child when they are obedient, sweet, and love you back. It is challenging when they are disobedient, ungrateful, and embarrassing. But that is when your love matters most; it just might not be obvious at the time.
Unconditional love transcends action or character. It is unwavering.This love must remain even if your children fail at school, break the law, or maliciously hurt someone. My parents have chosen and worked really hard to love me regardless of my actions. In my moments of weakness and vulnerability,that love truly mattered. My parents have given me so much throughout the years, but this gift of love is set apart from the rest.
Now as a parent, I aim to lead with love, especially in the trying times.Love is what our children really need the most.