“The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well” — Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
We all know that children require unconditional love to thrive. But how many of us feel capable of giving it? We can’t, quite simply, give something we don’t have inside. For, my friend, loving our children always starts with loving ourselves.
If we don’t have it in us, we can always grow emotionally, to become more loving to ourselves and others. Anyway, parenting is not a process where we are bestowed with enlightenment, out of the blue!
It takes work, but the good news is that as our hearts get bigger, we’re not just better parents. We’re happier people. Healing your ability to love takes daily attention and commitment, but it’s quite do-able. Here’s how.
1. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Unconditional love means dropping that list of ways you need to be different before you’re good enough in your own eyes. Perfection is the lowest standard anyone can have. We aren’t going for perfect. We’re going for love! Start by changing how you talk to yourself. Every time you notice self-criticism, remind yourself that your goal isn’t perfection. Your goal is loving yourself and others.
2. Unconditional love is like a muscle. It needs a daily workout. Enough said, I guess. Commit to treating yourself and everyone around you with compassion. Every time you notice harshness creeping in, toward yourself, your child, or anyone else, stop and find something to appreciate about that person. No exceptions. If you could choose compassion in every interaction with everyone, including yourself, you’d be enlightened by the end of the month.
3. Want to wake up jazzed about the day ahead? Commit to radical self-care. We all know that when we can stay connected to our internal fountain of well-being, it overflows onto our children and we’re more patient, loving, joyful parents. To love our children unconditionally, we need to keep our own pitchers full so we aren’t running on empty.
4. Heal your childhood. When you get triggered with your child, do you ever wonder when those triggers were built into your psyche? That’s right — during your own childhood. If you want to liberate your heart, you have to heal your old wounds. Maybe you got the message that you were too needy, too angry, too selfish, too lazy, too careless…too childish? Our parents, however well-intentioned, were products of their time, and most of us didn’t get the message that we were wholly loved, human imperfections and all. It’s time to heal those old triggers. Letting your childhood family determine your happiness level is like letting the waiter eat your dinner.
6. How to love unconditionally when you’re angry. It’s easy to love unconditionally when our child is being delightful and we feel good. But how many of us can stay lovingly connected to our child while we set limits on behavior? How many of us can resist the temptation to lash out at our child when we feel justifiably angry? A teachable moment is always when both people are receptive and positive. Anger and punishment are never based in love. Maybe it’s time to move your game up a notch and commit to parenting from love, not from anger. Notice I didn’t say this would be easy. But every time you manage your anger instead of spilling it onto your child, it gets easier. Within a few months, you’ll realize you don’t lose your temper anymore. And that your relationship with your child has completely transformed as a result.
7. Take the High Road. You know what the high road is. When you’re feeling really good, nothing fazes you. You respond to your child’s foibles with patience, understanding, and a sense of humor. You know what the low road is, too. It’s when you’re stressed, exhausted, resentful. When you insist on having it your way or proving you were right. Choose wisely, and be more aware of your reactions.
8. What if you’ve made mistakes as a parent? Join the club. They aren’t mistakes if you use them to guide you toward a better way in the future. You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to fix your child or the situation. All you have to do is stay present and choose love instead of fear. And we are there to help you all along, anyway.
9. Secrets to Love Your Child Unconditionally. Unconditional love isn’t just what we feel. It’s what the object of our love feels: love without strings attached. That means our child doesn’t have to be, or do, anything in particular to earn our love. We love her exactly as she is. A tall order, at least when our child is misbehaving. The trick is to commit to seeing things from your child’s point of view.
10. Practice Makes Perfect. Research shows that repeated experience actually rewires our brains. Healing our ability to love unconditionally requires daily practice as we catch the curve balls of life. Nothing has to be different for you to love yourself exactly as you are. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. But it is entirely possible to be a better parent every day.
At first, it seems impossible. But it’s like playing the piano. In the beginning, scales are a challenge. But if you practice, in a year you can play a sonata. Just keep practicing, bringing awareness to every interaction and your own reaction. The miracle of one foot in front of the other, in the right direction, is that one day you look around, and all the scenery is different.
Finally, repeat daily. Enjoy the journey. Watch your life transform.