I love you even when you drive me crazy
It’s my best friend’s birthday today and she mentioned that the Baby Concierge was on vacation so here I am with a post 🙂
I love my children. Even when my 3 year old is having a full blown tantrum and I want to be anywhere besides there, I still love him. Very much. But does he know that?
Do my children know that my love for them is unconditional?
Alfie Kohn wrote a book, Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason, in it he says that one basic need all children have, is to be loved unconditionally, to know that they will be accepted even if they screw up or fall short.
When you respond to a child with anger by yelling, they can easily interpret that as, “I was bad so my parents don’t love me right now.”
I need to make a conscious effort to show my children that my love for them isn’t on condition of their behavior. Or perhaps even more important, of their achievements and accomplishments.
I don’t love you more because you got an A on the test and I don’t love you less because you didn’t make the basketball team. I don’t love you more because you have a solo in the choir and I don’t love you less because you hid your face and didn’t perform. (Or turned around and stared at the elevator instead of the audience 🙂 )
I can go on and on but I think you get it. Now, I know all of that, but does my child? Does my child know that their successes, achievements, mistakes, and failures don’t have any role in my love for them? Many experts say, No. Children don’t know that love is unconditional and there can be many scenarios where they feel that if they fail at something, they may be disappointed but even more upsetting for them is a fear that it affects your love for them.
So how do we do it? How do we show love when your threenager is having another tantrum? How do we show love when you know your child isn’t putting in their best effort?
We separate our unconditional love with the moment. We don’t talk generally, rather we talk with specifics.
To the tantrumimg toddler, “I love you and I love spending time with you. I would really love to play with you right now but it’s not enjoyable for me to be with you when you are having a tantrum. I am going to go in the other room (if you can. Or open a book and busy yourself in the same room) and when you’re ready to finish let me know.”
This separated your love for them with their current behavior. I love you, not your current behavior.
A different scenario – your child studied really hard for a test and didn’t do well. They come home upset and show you their test. “I know you’re upset and I understand, you really put in a lot of effort. Let’s talk and come up with some strategies.” (The discussion can lead to maybe they need a tutor, or maybe they didn’t understand the concepts, etc,)
Okay that’s easy because he/she worked really hard and failed, but what about when they don’t work? They blew off studying and then didn’t do well. How do you react when they come home upset? You can actually say the same thing but obviously leave out the part that they put in a lot of effort. “I see you are really upset and I understand. Let’s talk about some strategies for next time.” (Lead to a discussion together about setting aside time for studying and maybe some ways of how to do that). IF the child blew off the test and then doesn’t care about the natural consequence (failing) then that is a whole separate scenario that needs to be dealt with differently.
These are specific scenarios where you can separate the act from loving the child. But there is an important thing we can do starting from when the baby is born. Always be loving and encouraging. Don’t praise the child when they achieve. When your baby stands for the first time – there are two responses you can have.
1) “Yay!! Alex – YOU are amazing!! You are such a good boy! You are standing! Good boy!!”
2) “Yay!! Alex – you are standing!! This is so exciting!”
The act of him standing is exciting, it doesn’t mean he is a good boy at that moment, or it doesn’t mean you love him more, focus on the act not the person.
If you start this from when they are very young and continue being conscious of it – it will become a part of them to know your love isn’t conditional.
We shouldn’t always be telling them “YOU are a GOOD boy/girl.” They pay attention to when we say it. They start to associate when you say that it’s absolute. So when you don’t say it – they are BAD. Kids will start saying, “I was bad, do you love me?” If we are conscious with our word choice we can help them see that they aren’t “good” because they did something good. They are “good” because they should ALWAYS be good. Yes, it’s great when you succeed, or when your child who hates to share finally shares his toys without tears. However they aren’t only a “good boy/girl” now that they did the right thing. By nature we should want our children to always be good, and if they do ‘good’ and ‘bad’ things it doesn’t change that they are a good person. I find it’s just much easier to remove the term “good boy!” “good girl!” from my vocabulary. It helps me make sure I am encouraging the act and not describing the person.
For example, my son really isn’t a great sharer. We work on it but it’s not one of his strengths. When he shares well, I make sure to point it out.
I don’t say, “You were such a good boy today!! You shared so nicely”
Instead I say, “It looked like you had a really good time with your friends today! I saw you shared your toys so nicely, great job!”
Great job vs good boy. Job highlights the act, boy associates the act with the person you are. You aren’t a bad boy because you don’t like to share, you have many strengths and weaknesses just like everyone else. We will love and encourage you just because for being you!
Another thing we do is OVER-praise.
They come home from school with a painting, two responses:
1) “Wow!! YOU are an amazing painter. This is the best picture ever.”
2)” I love how you mixed the blue and yellow colors – it really gives the painting a happy feeling.”
Our kid’s scribbles on a paper is not the best picture ever. We can’t continue telling our kids they are the best in everything they do. If we do that, we are setting them up for major disappointment.
This is a loaded topic and there’s a lot more to say. Just a friendly reminder before I sign off for now:
1) There are SO many ways to parent. Yes I share this blog and I am really honored if you read it, but PLEASE don’t assume that if you don’t do the things I write about, or if you do the things I say not to do, that I judge you for it. I promise I don’t judge you and I totally get that there are opposite views to every single thing I write.
If you call your child, “good boy/girl” and I am around, please don’t feel like you can’t in front of me, or feel like I am judging you. Everyone needs to do what works for them and I totally respect that.
2) This is really a personal hobby and I enjoy writing it for myself so if you don’t agree don’t worry!
3) I know none of this is easy. Being a parent is just a really hard job.
When your kid does something that makes you really angry, count to 10, give yourself time to breathe before you respond. What you say to them matters so it’s best to just give yourself time to cool off before you say something you’ll regret.
Truth is, that advice isn’t just for your kids. Parenting in anger is never a good idea but neither is doing business while angry, having a relationship and friendship while angry etc. take your time to cool off and regroup. It’s pretty amazing how at night you can be SOOO angry and upset over something and then the next morning you wake up and somehow it’s not the biggest deal anymore. Give yourself that time before you react, you won’t regret it.