There is a common idea that becoming a parent automatically provides you with the ability to unconditionally love another human being. My personal experience and the world as I grew to see it collide with it. I believe we human beings are programmed to need love, yet quite suck at loving people how they deserve to be loved.
Love and connection is why we walk this earth. Over centuries, there have been several experiments (some macabre, some scientific) to prove that affection and connection to other human beings are as essential for survival as food and water. Yet, what is love? And what does it mean to love someone? For creatures who need love so bad, you’d assume we would be able to precisely pinpoint a definition and that we as a specie had developed excellence at loving.
I have started to wonder what unconditional love was after I became a parent. After years of self-reflection, I realised there were several inconsistencies in the way I myself had been parented. My parents had regular behaviours which showed unconditional love, while others presented the exact opposite (“do as I say, or else…”). There I realised the difference between intention and effect. Our feelings are worth nothing if we are not able to properly deliver them to others. The capacity of coherently showing unconditional love is not a natural skill, but something we need to actively train.
Where to start? The first concept that came to my mind was acceptance. Am I able to accept my children as they are? I started to observe myself and my behaviours. Take the classic “If you had listened to me, you would have not hurt yourself” or “Next time do as I say, and this won’t happen”. Conditional statements. Gosh, I thought, this is gonna be hard. After some struggling and further remembering, I realised how these conditional sentences are constantly played in my head, directed to myself. There it was, another aha moment: how can I accept my children, if I haven’t even learned to accept myself?
Dammit, now I have to go all Eat-pray-love on this. Fine.
So I put my parenting “research” on hold and focused on myself. I committed to self-care and I had a goal in my head: I wanted to hear the thought in my mind, “I deserve this“, and believe it. I wanted to feel clean of guilt and self-blaming, even for a second. I wish to feel I was enough. I am proud to say that after months of work, I have hit that bell. And there also the door to understanding others opened a little bit.
They say you cannot be compassionate to others if you are not compassionate to yourself. I sign off to it. When I started to accept myself, truly feel I was doing my best and that had to be enough, I saw my children under a different light. I realised I was tiger-momming them here and there. Now, I am not saying the right way to parent is going in whatever-mode. We can and must have a role in encouraging our kids to thrive, explore, and feel successful. What I am saying, is that is the easy part and we as humans tend to slip into easy and comfortable. There’s another side, that is unconditional love. Truly accepting and loving our children even when they are not who we think they are or who we want them to be.
At the base of all this, lies another concept. Life is not a finite sequence, with a start and an end. Even when one learns acceptance, they are not done. A common pitfall in loving yourself, is thinking that if you’ll get to a certain state (goal weight / career / ability to parent), then boom, finally you will be happy, fulfilled, complete. You don’t win at life. There’s no list of items you need to check to say hey, I have lived well, good job me. Those bullet points are nothing but other conditions. We put conditions on ourselves to be worthy, good, suitable, and punish ourselves with guilt if we do not comply. Acceptance, compassion, and being capable of unconditional love are skills that need to be cultivated for a lifetime.