Are we trying our hardest to give our children unconditional love?
“I had no idea she would be there." My apologies for her absence had been well-rehearsed.
When my high school home economics teacher announced that we would be having a formal mother-daughter tea, I felt certain I would not be serving my mother at this special event.
So I will never forget walking into the gaily decorated gym--and there she was! As I looked at her, sitting calmly and smiling, I imagined all the arrangements this remarkable woman must have had to make to be able to be with me for that one hour.
Who was looking after Granny? She was bedridden following a stroke, and Mom had to do everything for her. My three little sisters would be home from school before Mom got there. Who would greet them and look at their papers?
How did she get here? We didn’t own a car, and she couldn’t afford a taxi. It was a long walk to get the bus, plus at least five more blocks to the school. And the pretty dress she was wearing, red with tiny white flowers, was just right for the tea. It brought out the silver beginning to show in her dark hair. There was no money for extra clothes, and I knew she had gone into debt again at our coal company store to have it.
I was so proud! I served her tea with a happy, thankful heart, and introduced her boldly to the group when our turn came. I sat with my mother that day, just like the rest of the class, and that was very important to me. The look of love in her eyes told me she understood.
I have never forgotten. One of the promises I made to myself and to my children, as young mothers make promises, was that I would always be there for them. That promise is difficult to keep in today’s busy world. But I have an example before me that puts any lame excuses to rest. I just recall again when Mother came to tea.”
During our lifetime we make many commitments. We commit to being educated and to attend school. We commit our loyalty to friends. We commit to bank loan officers, employers and politicians. However, of all the commitments we make in life, commitment to our family is the most important.
What does being committed to our family mean? I believe it means that we give our hearts and our time to our family, no matter what the consequences may be. We commit to do whatever is necessary to ensure family happiness. There are countless ways to show our commitment to our family. Loving unconditionally is among the most important ways we can do this.
During the years I was a school teacher I taught over 3,000 students. Countless times children would struggle to achieve, fully believing that their parent’s love for them was conditional upon their success in school. At first I thought the students were mistaken. Surely parents wouldn’t withdraw their love if their child, in spite of his best efforts, did poorly in the classroom. Sadly, too often I was the one mistaken. There were many parents who saw their child’s performance at school as a reflection on them and treated the child unkindly when he didn’t meet their expectations. These parents gave love only when grades were high, contests were won, and rules were obeyed. That is conditional love.
The issue of conditional love applies to children as well. It is likely that children will be more cheerful, obedient and loving at home when they get things they want and life is “going their way.” However, when parents ask those same children to do chores, or give their time to the family when they’d rather be doing something else, how do they respond?
All of us can examine our actions to decide if we show conditional or unconditional love to family members. Unconditional love means that we love the members of our family no matter how they act. We may believe strongly that their actions are wrong, and as parents we should discipline our children for unacceptable behavior. However, unconditional love means that even when we disagree with a person’s actions, we still love him. We show that love through our kind (sometimes necessarily firm) tone of voice, and our kind words and actions, even when we are in disagreement.
Family members need to show one another that the basis of their relationship is unconditional love, no strings attached, no matter what. We need to look in our children’s, our parent’s, our brother’s and sister’s eyes and say, “I love you.” Often. Family members need to know that love for them does not depend on whether they win the game, drive a fancy car, earn a promotion at work, or anything else. We need to make it very clear to one another that there is nothing we must do to earn love. Nor is there anything we can ever do that will destroy our love for one another. This does not mean that we aren’t grieved when unwise decisions are made. We still need to constantly strive to be the best we can possibly be. But it does mean that we will love one another no matter what happens.
Dr. Paula Fellingham is the Founder and CEO of the Women’s Information Network (WIN), an educational and social network for women, and a global community of women. The WIN hosted the largest gathering of women in history for the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2011: 377 live events in 152 countries.
.Paula received her Bachelor of Arts in 1971, and her Doctorate in 2004. Dr. Gilbert Fellingham (University Professor of Statistics) and Paula are the parents of 8 children, and the grandparents of 24 grandchildren.
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