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Last week we joined friends as they welcomed their new grandson, their first grandchild.
It was heartwarming to stand back and watch the unconditional love a baby engenders.
It’s a love that comes just because the baby exists; not for its behaviours, not because of its cleverness, but just because it is.
And, amazingly, this love is reciprocated. Our baby instinctively loves and trusts us unconditionally.
Our love might be sorely tested by sleepless nights but it’s the crying we don’t like, not the baby.
It’s a distinction we sometimes lose sight of as the months and years pass by; the distinction between our love for our child and our dislike of their behaviour.
It’s easy to love them when they do something that makes us proud but not so easy when the school calls us in, or they’ve broken a window again, or have bloodied their brother’s nose.
Our likes and dislikes of their behaviour can be conditional, but our love shouldn’t be, especially at the times when it can seem hardest to give.
This isn’t a "my child can do no wrong" approach that I’m talking about. We may have to discipline severely and let them suffer natural consequences, but we must also continually demonstrate to them that we still love and respect them as a person.
It’s this unconditional love that allows them to flourish, to feel good about themselves, to feel that they are worthwhile people and, when times are tough, to keep going.
The sight of one our own sitting morosely in the police station might elicit every feeling except love. And yet that’s one of the times when the need for unconditional love is greatest.
We don’t condone the crime, we don’t try to rescue or make excuses, but we are there for them and will make sure everything is done correctly, that they understand what’s happening and going to happen and that we’ll get them home safely.
We may have some heart-to-hearts ahead of us, maybe a trial. We’ll let them know in no uncertain terms that we don’t approve of their actions, but we will also let them know that we love them.
Conditional love, on the other hand, leaves youngsters in a vacuum. They’re always trying to do the right thing to get love but can never quite make it. They believe there must be something wrong with them. In the end they’ll accept whatever love they can get from whoever will give it, often at a terrible cost to themselves.
Do your youngsters know you love them? Have you told them? Often? Make it a daily gift totally unrelated to anything that’s happened. It’s just because they exist.