Unconditional love is easy when things are going as planned, but it can become difficult when things are not going as expected.
Let’s say you are an outgoing and social mom married to an outgoing and social dad, and your first child is equally comfortable in social settings. Your second child comes along and is very slow to warm-up, has difficulty speaking to others and you think “painfully shy.” This child clings to the wall, calling for you at swim lessons and cries often at birthday parties. This is not what you expected, and is such a different experience from raising your first child. You often find yourself feeling embarrassed and wanting to apologize for your child’s awkward behaviors. You catch yourself pushing hard to make them more social and cringing at the thought of starting new camps and classes. Unconditional love says stop pushing and cringing, and stop thinking of your child as “painfully shy.” Think of them as observant, and as needing a bit of time or reassurance to warm up. It requires that you stop comparing your child to their sibling and recognize them for who they are. It’s fine to positively coach social skills, role play how to start conversations and give them opportunities and support to be social. Love them for who they are now while moving forward.
Another example: your eight-year-old is being diagnosed with a learning disability. School came easy to you. You were a bookworm as a child and love reading for pleasure now. Your child has struggled with reading all along and seems disinterested in even listening to you read stories. You were devastated when their teacher suggested they might have a learning disability and now, at the eligibility meeting, you just can’t get a hold of how upset you are. You think this is the worst thing that’s ever happened, and know they won’t go to a good college. Yes, I get there is a grieving process here, but move through it so you can help your child to transition. Unconditional love says recognize this new information for the gift it is. Your child was already struggling, and you now have the benefit of knowing exactly how they are struggling, so you can better make decisions about and support their education. The assessment and results don’t change your child in anyway. Your child has the same potential now that they did before the evaluation. They are the same person, you are just more well informed. Believe in them, advocate for them and aim high.
Your 13-year-old tells you they are gay. You had no idea. You cry and tell them this isn’t something they should let anyone else know. You talk to them about how so many people don’t really know who they are at thirteen, and how, over time, they may change their mind. Unconditional love says recognize how brave they were to tell you and how much trust they have in your relationship to be able to share that. For the benefit of your child and your relationship, stay open to what they are telling you. Love them every bit as much, and in the same way, after this news as you did before.
When love becomes conditional, the disconnect is between what you think should be happening versus what is actually happening. It can be difficult to be supportive given the difference, and this is a time when your support is important. Your child needs you. Unconditional love says step up to the now to love and support your child regardless of your “should.”