Sometimes out of a sense of wanting what’s best for our children, we set unrealistically high expectations. In so doing, we may unwittingly create a family atmosphere where the way our children perform seems to count for more than who they are. Our children may then start to feel they’re not measuring up — no matter how hard they try, it will never be good enough for us.
Conditioning love on performance
Love becomes elusive for these precious little people, perhaps even remaining unexpressed inside the family. Love, to these children, begins to feel conditioned on performance. When our children do not experience our verbal approval and appreciation of who they are, and not simply our approval of what they do, it becomes hard for them to become strong and confident adults. Instead, they often grow up seeking for the outside validation that they never got at home.
Turning mistakes into fatal flaws
Our children may also come to believe that making mistakes is never an option, instead of realizing that making mistakes and learning from those mistakes, is a normal and natural part of everyone’s experience. Our children also need to hear compliments from us when they’ve done a good job with no conditional strings attached. Don't add a lecture on how what they’ve done, could have been done better.
In an article titled, “Raising a Human Being, Not a Human Doing," published in Psychology Today, Dr. Jim Taylor observed, “Children who base their self-esteem on what they do rather than on who they are place themselves in a desperate and untenable position ... they feel worthless and undeserving of love ... they feel as if they must be successful to be happy, yet, paradoxically, even when they are successful, they are not happy.”
Trying to use criticism to motivate
It gets even worse when we as parents become excessively critical and even resort to labeling or name calling, in a misguided effort to motivate our children to do better: “You are lazy, you are spoiled, you are selfish, you are fat.” Children may even begin to believe that they are at the heart of family problems. "This is your fault. You caused our problems."
When parental love turns to parental blame, and becomes conditional and difficult to come by, it produces in our children a sense of emotional emptiness. They become detached and distant, with a high need for approval from others, instead of feeling confident both in who they are and what they can do. They may become unable to effectively experience or express their feelings and opinions, which produces in them a sense of loneliness and isolation from others.
Our goal as parents is to raise our children to value who they are, not just to value what they do. We want them to care about being honest, kind and responsible human beings who love and connect with others, along with finding satisfaction in their achievements. We want them to learn to be persistent, to be problem solvers, to understand and accept that a certain amount of failure is expected, in order for them to learn and grow into successful adults.
Loving our children unconditionally produces happy adults
Most of all, we want our children to know that when things go wrong, we will be there, waiting for them, to listen and to help them sort it all out. We want them to know that we are interested in what they are interested in, that we care about what they care about. We want them to feel that our love for them is deep and abiding. We should not assume that our children will know that we love them, whether we express it to them or not. We need to tell them we love them, and tell them often. We need to allow them to change, progress and grow, and not pigeon hole them in events and acts of the past.
Loving our children unconditionally does not mean that we don't want our children to do their best. Of course we do. We want them to achieve, to reach their goals, and we also want them to become caring, ethical and happy human beings.