In his Weekly Address: Celebrating Fathers, President Obama spoke of the necessary building blocks of fatherhood, including quality time and structure. He also emphasized the importance of unconditional love. His message really got me thinking about parenting in general, and in particular, about the ‘unconditional love’ part that is required to raise well-adjusted children with a healthy sense of self-worth, discernment, and empathy in today’s environment. So, if the paragraphs below appear heavier (or longer) than normal, it’s because they are from deeply rooted personal truths that even I didn’t know existed, ones that clearly needed to be “loosed”.
Hence, the title of this post went through much iteration, to say the least. I settled on “Loosing and Finding Love…Unconditional” because I believe that it represents the process as well as the spectrum of transformation that is required to be effective at identifying love in order to receive it, and then to be authentic in giving love. Better said, it is the current that undergirds and characterizes my journey as a mother, and a citizen of this larger human circle. Parenting not only requires that we manage the layers of distractions to deliver focused messages to our children, but that we deconstruct and deal with issues of the self on an ongoing basis. It’s no wonder that I find myself constantly sorting through the tapes of my upbringing to understand how they inform me as a person, and by extension, examining whether their impact limits or empowers me to be an even better parent.
As a child, my family’s opinion was my primary filter. My parents and grandparents made choices that they believed to be in my best interest, while not sacrificing their own. What they said and did (or didn’t) mattered heavily to me, almost to a fault. So naturally, when they were less than affirming or validating, it mattered. I wanted to know that they would love me no matter what. I wanted them to embrace me no matter what or who I became and even when my opinions or actions fell outside their views or expectations. When the goal of their instruction was to make me more independent or build a thick skin, it only resulted in a greater emotional distance that became more difficult to close. Furthermore, when the exchanges lacked the intimacy that I needed to feel valued, it also mattered…a lot. Though the dysfunction of these truths didn’t register with me until later in life, I now realize that I struggled with my sense of belonging and self-worth as a child, and with what it meant to give and receive unconditional love well into my adult life. There, I said it!
As I continue to work through these truths in my daily living and learning, I have to consciously work to bridge those gaps because ultimately I want to be closer and more accessible to my own children. That isn’t easy. I’ve come to learn that before I can impart unconditional love to my children, I first have to release those truths because they prevent me from fully loving or receiving love. Though undoubtedly necessary, unpacking my emotional baggage is painful; however, it is also amazingly cathartic. In so doing, I’m learning that parenting is not a perfect science that can be mastered. Rather, it is a “responsible” art, which outcome depends on the many variables put into it and the techniques used…one learned by doing and even un-learning…repeatedly. This is a significant part of living Life As an Art Form.
I believe that the only way to make sure that we’re on the right track as parents and/or surrogate caretakers of children, is to uncover that which holds us bound or captive to painful pasts or vicious cycles, for they limit us; then finally, we must release, or “loose” it from those places so that they may forever lose their power which keeps us from receiving and giving unconditional love. Don’t be fooled; this is not a one-time assignment, but rather, it is an ongoing process that requires lots of forgiveness…and controlled breathing. Relax, Relate, Release! (Where are my Whitley admirers?) It isn’t until then that we can name and model the behaviors that we seek in ourselves, let alone children. Then, and only then, will we have authentic relationship with our children. Once I’ve identified the problem and put it in its proper perspective and place, I’m learning that it’s really okay to open up. In fact, children want that! Giving them structure and boundaries doesn’t require us to be authoritative or infallible. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and human because we want them to, in turn, open up and trust us, is paramount. Giving ourselves permission to not be so thick-skinned that we come across as unaffected is a healthy and human thing. It is that which connects us with them.
So, I’m learning to love without condition; to give my children my love simply because I’ve been blessed with their life, and because they need it to evolve as self-confident, empathetic beings. I’m learning to give them my presence by engaging the many questions of their seeking. After all, I have been entrusted as their guide. I’m learning to give them my love; and as their maturity allows, I hope to continue to foster my healing as I share with them the most inconvenient truths of my own BE-coming. I believe that it is in so doing that our children will understand more about Life itself. We’ve got to make sure that they know we love and value them through intimate time spent together, exchanges, and other small acts of love…even when we disagree and they leave us scratching our head. In the end, it won’t be about whether we’ve molded perfection, but whether we have helped to shape and nurture the minds and hearts of those who we ultimately release into the world, regardless of who or what they become. After all, at the end of the day, it’s all about the what? The love…love unconditional!
“Unconditional Love” Music Video, Donna Summer feat. Musical Youth
“Send One Your Love” Music Video, Stevie Wonder (it doesn’t get any love-lier!)
Giving Unconditional Love Even When It’s Not Easy (psychologytoday.com)
Obama: Mother gave me the strength of ‘unconditional love’ – USA Today (news.google.com)