Love is unconditional, according to the Bhagavad Gita. So why do many of us look outside of ourselves for love? We seek recognition from higher authority or demand attention from people we are about. We think this is love, and we are often disappointed.
This behavior got me thinking – did we not learn how to love ourselves?
I look to my own childhood experiences and recall plenty of loving-without-expectations moments. But there were also plenty of give-and-take moments. “If you do this, I’ll give you that” (implicitly saying, “On this condition, I will reward you the love and recognition I think you deserve.”) This is what I learned, so of course, I found myself doing the same thing. “I planned for us to go to the carousel but only after you put away your toys.”
It only seems natural to negotiate. After all, it’s a daily stress for us parents to get our kids to “follow the rules” and behave in ways that are appropriate and acceptable to us and society.
So how do we show unconditional love and affection while setting and enforcing structure and boundaries for our children’s well-being as well as our own? Tips and strategies are welcome!!! Please share your experiences – good, bad, ugly, funny. All are accepted and welcome. Let’s co-create!
In the book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem, Nathaniel Brandon wrote, “There is…no factor more decisive in (a man’s) psychological development and motivation – than the estimate he passes on himself… The nature of his self-evaluation has profound effects in a man’s thinking process, emotions, desires, values, and goals. It is the single most significant key to his behavior.”
So how can we teach our children to appropriately see themselves as worthy of love? How can we foster a positive and realistic self-image?
One method I’ve found useful is descriptive praise (instead of evaluating). From the book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish suggest we:
1/ Describe what we see. “Aarav, I see your books placed neatly on the bookshelf.”
2/Describe how we feel. “Arjun, it feels good to spend time in this tidy room.”
3/ Sum up our children’s praiseworthy behavior with a word. “Boys – you ate all of your carrots, peas, chicken, and rice! That’s what I call healthy.”
I’ve found that it also works as encouragement in their moments of struggle. When my older son got frustrated with a task a couple of days ago, I said, “I see this is challenging for you. It can be really tricky. Try it this way. Or that way. I know you can do it; you work hard and you persevere.” The next time he met an obstacle (after whining for a second), he furrowed his eyebrows in determination and worked until he completed his task, victoriously exclaiming, “I did it! I persevered!”
I don’t believe in perfect parenting or perfect people. I believe in humanity, good intentions, and right action – at least more times than not. Mistakes are inevitable in parenting, but every time we fall, we can offer that up to the universe and rise again, in love.