No job in the world is more important than being a parent, but where do we get the training?
Studio 5 Contributor Liz Hale breaks down a parenting philosophy that gets at the heart of what the child/parent relationship is all about – real love.
Real Love is, “I care how YOU feel.” Conditional love is, “I care about how you make ME feel.” We give our children real love when we care about their happiness without any concern for what we want. It’s unconditional love when children are ungrateful, disobedient and inconvenient, and even make us look bad, yet we’re not disappointed, hurt or angry because our concern is for loving and teaching THEM!
“Real Love in Parenting,” by Greg Baer, MD, is the best insight I’ve come across in my 22 years as a therapist. It’s revolutionizing parenting across the globe and the results are astounding. No job in the world is more important than being a parent, but where do we get the training? A father that I’m working with has been learning these new parenting principles by listening to the audio version of this book. One day his little five-year-old daughter came running up to her mother saying, “Mommy! Daddy is listening to a song on the computer that is helping him be a better Daddy…and it’s working! He let us play in the bathtub and he didn’t even get mad!!”
When we unconditionally care about our children’s happiness they feel a powerful connection to us. They feel included in our lives. They feel whole, safe and not alone. Each moment of unconditional acceptance creates a living thread between us and our children; these threads weave a powerful bond that fills them with a genuine and lasting happiness. With real love, nothing else matters; without it, nothing else is enough. It’s that simple!
PRINCIPLE #1: More than anything, my child needs to feel loved.
It takes courage to honestly examine the extent of our unconditionally loving behavior. When children are clean and quiet, and when they get good grades, express their gratitude, give hugs and kisses, say the love us, clean their rooms, get along, and do other things we like, we smile, pat them on the head, hug them, speak in kind tones, and tell them we’re proud of them. Our children interpret those behaviors as love!
But how do we respond to our children when they whine, fight, break things, fight with siblings, or are noisy, messy, ungrateful, irresponsible and disobedient? Without even thinking about it, we frown, roll our eyes, sigh with disappointment, and speak to them with an impatient tone of voice. When they don’t do what we want, we become irritated! Our children interpret that as if their parents were saying only four words, “I don’t love you!” Anger and disappointment are feelings we experience only when the primary concern is for ourselves….and our children feel it.
The one true measure of love for our children is demonstrated by how we react to them when they behave “badly.” There are indeed times when we’re unconditionally loving toward our children, and yet other occasions when irritation and impatience trump! The latter causes overwhelming fear and pain.
Let’s say that when you and I meet for the first time, we have ten minutes together. For the first nine minutes, our conversation is warm and friendly, and you feel a true warmth of acceptance from me. During the last minute, however, I scream and chase you around the room with a butcher knife. What’s the effect of the 9:1 ratio? The moments when we’re angry at our children, and the times we’re otherwise conditionally loving, leave a very deep and lasting impression.
PRINCIPLE #2: My child misbehaves when he/she doesn’t feel loved.
In the absence of unconditional love, children feel empty and afraid, and in order to eliminate those intolerably painful conditions they use whatever makes them feel better: anger, disobedience, whining approval of peers, sex, alcohol, drugs and violence. All of these things temporarily and artificially fill their emptiness or protect them from their fears, giving a pale imitation of the genuine happiness that can be produced from Real Love. When we understand that our children are reacting to not feeling loved, we are less puzzled and frustrated!
Only Real Love can create the connection to other people that makes us genuinely happy. One mother called recently beside herself because her 11-year old son was had become angry, defiant, and uncooperative. After some humble reflection on her own angry, short behavior she took her son aside that very night and said, “I have been an unloving jerk and I have hurt you, the most important person in my world. I want a do-over.” He nearly melted in her arms. Now, every night, they lay under his covers with a flashlight and they read the parenting book together. What a complete turn-around!
Only when our children are behaving badly can we demonstrate the true nature of our love for them.
PRINCIPLE #3: When I’m angry, I’m wrong.
Because of their age, children are naturally inconvenient in many ways. They spill milk, fall down, make messes, make noises, can’t express their needs, are insistent and demanding, have no patience and cost allot of money!
We get angry because it’s rather effective in the short-term. One day, my dearest friend was driving along and was starting to get frustrated with her three-year-old son in the back seat, and suddenly she caught herself and quietly said, “Why am I getting angry with you…your’e only three!” And he piped up and said, “Yeah Mom, I’m only 3!”
Yes, we get a child’s attention initially by yelling. But anger never works in the long-run. The effects of anger are overwhelming negative. Children cannot feel loved. The act out even more because they don’t feel loved. They can’t learn from the situation. Neither child or parent is happy.
When a child makes a mistake, and we become inpatient or irritated, the child learns this:
* When I make mistakes, my parents love me less.
* Therefore, I am flawed and less worthwhile.
* The world is a harsh, judgmental and unloving place.
I cannot emphasize enough the destructive impact of these lessons on a child.
PRINCIPLE #4: I can’t give love I don’t have.
When you are angry at a child there is no possible way your child has the courage or insight to say, “Dad/Mom, I see that you’re angry. You must be feeling unloved. Even though you’re expressing your anger at me, I know you’re just reacting to a lifetime of not feeling loved, not primarily to something I did in this moment. Is there something I can help you do to feel more loved?” A child can only conclude that your anger is all about him or her.
The only reason we fail to love our children unconditionally is that we were not unconditionally loved ourselves. We can’t give what we don’t have. Most of us demonstrate ample evidence of not feeling loved:
· Often argue with a spouse.
· Withdraw from stressful conversations and relationships.
· Become easily angry at other drivers in traffic.
· Often insist on being right in an argument.
· Make excuses and blame others when confronted about mistakes.
· Fish for compliments about looks or accomplishments.
We talk to people all the time, but we tend to talk about the weather, shopping, cars, sports, money and our virtues. Make a commitment to try something new with a friend; take a chance and allow that friend to see who you really are.
Find loving people who will change your life. They are all around us – friends, co-workers, relatives, and spouses….we need only to tell the truth about ourselves. An example you might say is, “For a long time my daughter has had a terrible attitude about school, chores, and our family. I’ve been really leaning on her to shape up – getting mad, yelling, swearing at and restricting her. Now I’m beginning to see that her attitude is really a reaction to me. All she’s ever wanted was for me to love her, no matter what she did, and I haven’t done that very well. When she messes up, I get irritated and she can see that I don’t love her unconditionally. I didn’t understand how much that has hurt her; I thought I had been a better Mother/Father.”
Or, simply saying something like, “Ive been reading this book on love and parenting, and it says that when people get angry, they’re just protecting themselves. I’ve been thinking about that because I’ve always blamed somebody else for making me angry, and that has never made me happy or helped my relationships. I’m realizing just how much I have to learn about becoming more unconditionally loving in my relationships.”
My clients often write the following 5 steps on a 3×5 card to help them remember to more effectively respond to anger:
PRINCIPLE #5: My child needs to be loved and taught…again and again.
Make a conscious effort to love your children. Listen to them; look them in the eye; touch them; talk to them; spend time with them; and never, never speak to them in anger.
We tend to focus on the details of events that involve our children, thereby missing opportunities to help them feel loved and guided. One day, six-year old Christopher pushed his little sister down and this mother’s old way would have been to lecture him; “Haven’t I told you before not to push your sister? Don’t you see how much bigger you are and that you could hurt her?” She also used to hear his accusations that his sister, Heather, took his favorite toy car. Wisely, she did something completely different – she told the single most important truth to Christopher – that he wasn’t being loving – and then she loved him and loved him, and helped him to see how he could make wiser choices in the future.
Correcting children effectively can be very simple:
· Love them.
· Teach them.
· Have faith.
· Impose natural consequences.
Tell the truth to your children about your own unloving behavior and you’ll teach them to be responsible for theirs.