Love and Other Parenting Challenges

by Lisa Miller

When we take a moment to think about the big picture of parenting--our hopes and dreams for our children--most of us will have one or more of the following on our list:

  • I want my kids to feel loved.

  • I want my kids to be good people.

  • I want my kids to be happy.

  • I want my kids to be productive members of society.

We may not take the time to parse out the love we want our kids to feel. 

Conditional love: I love you, as long as you follow my rules and ascribe to my values.

Unconditional love: I love you, even if I have to visit you in prison.

The love we give is based in part on our own experiences with parental love, as well as our relationship with self-love.

Loving our kids (conditionally or unconditionally) means different things to different people. However, there is one universal truth: kids feel loved when they feel safe. And, they feel safe when there are appropriate boundaries and when someone (other than them) is in charge of enforcing those boundaries. 

Despite what they might say (or scream), they don't actually want to be captain of the ship. That's our job. We need to love them enough to steer the ship, even when the waters are rough and we feel seasick, or when we feel like abandoning the ship altogether. That's what we signed up for.

When we give in to our children or let them do whatever they want, the subtext is, "you're not worth the effort." 

When we give them too much freedom and let them make decisions they aren't mature enough to handle, the underlying message is, "I can't be bothered to do the hard work of parenting...because you're not worth the effort."

When we don't hold the line on drugs, alcohol, vaping, screen time, bedtime, etc., we are essentially saying, "I am not invested in your safety/well-being...because you're not worth the effort."

The short-term respite from the fighting we need can result in long-term struggles for our kid, beginning with low self-esteem and perhaps even leading to self-destructive behavior. When our kids hear from us, "you're not worth it," what reason do they have to value themselves?

This may feel like a harsh indictment of us parents. Instead, try to see it is a rallying cry! You’ve got this! Ask your kid, in a calm moment, how they really feel when you set and enforce rules. Do they feel loved?

If you are struggling to hold the line with your kids, please know you are not alone. All parents feel that way at times. Seek out supportive resources (friends, therapy, support groups, parenting books and blogs, etc.) so you can show your kids the love they need and deserve!