How do you love your child unconditionally if you are disappointed in them? It is not unusual to have expectations and aspirations for your child. It is healthy that you want them to succeed. We want our children to ‘Not just survive, but thrive.’ You may aspire for the child to become a writer and go on to win prizes in literature. Maybe your family has a long line of football players, so you look forward to watching your child being a part of that tradition. Perhaps you have a love a music and dream of spending afternoons listening and playing together. Sometimes your expectations come in other ways, like wanting your child to go to university or stay in the family business.
No matter how small and how much we don’t want it to, it doesn’t stop parents from feeling disappointed when a child chooses an entirely different path. Or worse, seemingly to be on no path at all. Accepting your child for who they are sounds like a no-brainer until you find yourself struggling to come to terms with the fact that it’s not up to you to determine who your child will become. The unconditional love must be genuine, it can’t be faked. However it does not mean that they can’t succeed, or you support them. It is just that you can not worry about the things you can’t control. If your child is does not want to be an Olympic swimmer, they are not going to be.
We don’t choose our child the same way you do a friend or a partner. Certain qualities endear you to a friend, and when those qualities dissipate, you can choose to walk away. Children are also individuals, and while there’s a role nurture plays in who we become, there are simply unique aspects that cannot be forced. Does this mean you can’t shape your child? Of course not. You can support your child’s behavior, academic performance, and hobbies while also validating and nurturing what makes them unique. But you can make a child who hates competitive sports into an Olympian. The drive that is required comes from within.
Why Is Parental Acceptance So Important?
How do you want your children to feel about you? If you struggle do you want them to offer help? When upset, do you want them to ask why? If you aren’t interested in soccer although it is their passion, do you want them to think less of you? What you talk to them do you want them to look up from their screen? Children does want the same.
Child acceptance is at the very core of parenting. Accepting your child for who they are will enable you to be the best parent that you can. You attune yourself to the child’s uniqueness and their basic nature so that you can parent them in the best possible way that meets their needs. When working with high school-aged children, I often talk about three stages. They need to KNOW who they are, LIKE who they are, and then BE GOOD at being themselves. Children do not really know who they are till puberty. They will often not be comfortable with the person they perceive in the mirror. Which of us is? They, like anyone, need reassurance. They want to know that your acceptance and love for them as a child is unconditional. .
It is not to mean that we don’t question laziness or bad manners. Instead, they need the security of knowing that their parents will love them as a lover of rock music, just as much as if they were captain of a school team. In other words that you love them unconditionally. That you are invested in listening and responding in effective and meaningful ways. This is the basis for your child’s growth and development, curiosity and exploration, communication, and good behavior reinforcement. Acceptance naturally manifests in physical, emotional, and verbal expressions like hugging, kissing, caressing, smiling, and complementing. Parents still struggling to accept their child may find this difficult, and they are hard to fake. According to Dr. Nazim Imam, a research scholar at Ranchi University, children who feel rejected show lower confidence, self-adequacy, and self-esteem than accepted children. In contrast, children who feel valued and accepted have a heightened sense of family and fewer psychological issues.
Why Does My Child Not Like the Activities That I Want Them To?
“I am convinced I could have been a professional sportsman if only I were given more support and encouragement. As I am a great dad, I’m going to make sure that I will make sure it is not the same for my child”.
You see this as loving your child unconditionally as you will help them achieve what you wished you had. It could be exam grades, music, or dance. But if we are honest, we didn’t ‘make it’ because we didn’t want it enough. Anyone who has been genuinely elite at anything will tell you it comes from inside. A burning desire to make sacrifices to succeed as you want it that much. That child stood shivering on the pitch as the others charge around him is not getting anything positive. No matter what boots you buy him or how long you take him to the park at night, he is not interested. Children need to find their passions.
Of course, they should not give up everything when it gets tricky, but you know your child better than anyone. Why are they doing that activity? Is it because of them or you? Are you trying to undo the injustices that you felt were given to you? Or are you trying to live the life you didn’t fight for through them? As a coach, I was once told that often the parents are more disappointed than their son when they are left out of a team. I realized this to be true. They had a circle of ‘A-team’ parents, but now they had to stand with the other parents with the ‘B-team’. Their child was happier playing at the right level for them and succeeding. The parents took it as a personal slight and embarrassment.
Playing sports or performing are excellent ways to be active, socialize and have enormous benefits for well-being. It also can give us, as parents, a source of pride when our child excels. We don’t have to feel guilty about that. Being proud of your child is a fantastic thing. But the other side of this is we can feel frustrated if we feel they have let us down. Some parents might try to force the issue without understanding why their child doesn’t like the activity that they are doing. My son went to rugby on a Sunday morning because I did, and his friends did. It became clear he didn’t enjoy it as a sport, and I let him choose a different sport to try, and now he goes to hockey. I have no idea about hockey, but he is happy and enjoys all the positives that team sports give. I have no aspirations for him to play for his country. However, I will happily drive him to where ever he needs to go to have two hours every weekend running around with friends. There could be a range of reasons why your child is not thriving as you would wish.
- Difficulty learning. Sports and music may be fun, but they are not always easy to learn. Most sports have complicated techniques and rules. So your child might have given up on sports because they’ve struggled to be good at it, especially if it is exceedingly physical. Is the instructor/coach too strict, not strict enough?
- They haven’t found the right activity yet. The right activity needs to provoke enthusiasm. It is possible that your child just hasn’t seen that activity that generates anything close to enthusiasm. Sports also have a lot to do with personality and physicality. Understanding your child’s nature can help you expose them to the right kind of sports. A loner might not like team sports, and a laid-back child might not enjoy overly physical games. If your child belongs in this category, it will do them much good to expose them to more activities to see if they might like something else. Perhaps they might enjoy something less competitive. Your son might like to dance, your daughter box? It could also be that they don’t like the environment. Here we look at range of alternative sports.
- A bad sports experience. Your child might have had a bad sports experience. Maybe they felt inadequate in a team where all their peers seem very sure of what they were doing. Or it could be that it wasn’t as fun as it was made out to be. Or they hate the feeling that comes with losing games. Or they don’t like getting yelled at or making mistakes that derail the team. All these scenarios can kill your child’s enthusiasm for sports.
- They just don’t like sports. Sometimes your child just doesn’t enjoy the activity you do, and you have to come to terms with that. It takes nothing away from who they are. Don’t try to force it. Maybe as your child ages, something might catch their fancy. Or not. It would help if, in the meantime, you look at any other extracurricular activities your child is interested in and provide encouragement. Remember, it’s about your child, not about you.
How to Love Your Child Unconditionally
Research conducted by ARK in partnership with the University of Texas School of Public Health revealed that healthy self-esteem is primarily generated by a child receiving unconditional love from an adult who’s a mainstay in the child’s life. Self-esteem is the most crucial aspect of a child’s concept of self. This goes to show just how important showing your child unconditional love is.
Unconditional love is generally perceived as a soft and sentimental approach. But it is more intentional than soft. Unconditionally love is to always respond in a way that separates the person from the behavior. Whether it be a partner or a child, wouldn’t we all love to know that we accepted and loved for ourselves? Here are some practical ways to show your child unconditional love:
- See the child you have, not the one you want. Seeing the child in front of you instead of the one you wish to helps you adapt your parenting approach. Total acceptance brings out the delightful parent in you, and the child can see your pride in them. Secretly wishing that your child is different is likely to show in your treatment of the child. You don’t want your child to carry the feeling of not being enough. Such feelings of inadequacy are extremely difficult to shake off.
- Grieve for what will not be. If the child you got is different from the one you wanted, it’s important to take the time to grieve. It could be that your child has special needs that make parenting extra difficult. Don’t try to bury it or live in denial because it might come to hit you at unexpected times. Take some time to make peace with this. It can help you accept the child wholeheartedly. Please do not feel guilty about these feelings, but rather learn to accept them.
- Make a habit of separating the child from the behavior. Children can be difficult and adorable in equal measure. Separating the child from the behavior in moments of anger can be tough. Try to look at what’s behind the behavior instead of merely reacting to it. Typically, children misbehave to release emotional pain or communicate an unmet need. If they feel unappreciated, not valued, or misunderstood, they will push back as any person would.
- Connect instead of making them feel that they have disappointed you. When you, the person who your child wants a relationship with more than anyone, that they have let you down, they don’t feel loved at that moment. Disappointment can send the message that your love is dependent on their achievements. On meeting your aspirations, even if they do not share them. However, this doesn’t mean letting your child not have standards, but they might decide on the fields they want them to be in. Communication is essential in any relationship. Instead of punishments like sending your child away from you, or chastising them in public, find a way to connect with them and help them calm down. Then when things are calmer, talk their behavior out with them. This way, your child knows that they have your love even when they least expect it.
- Verbal affirmation, physical touch, and attention. Take every opportunity you can to affirm your child verbally. Statements like “I’m proud to call you my child” or “I’m proud of you” communicate your pride and help your child build confidence. In the same vein, giving your child your undivided attention sends the message that you value them. Physical touch is also as important as what you say. A pat on the back, a hug, or a kiss on the forehead is an affirmation of your love. Even if they are a teenager, they do appreciate a touch on the elbow and meaningful eye contact as they go into or out of an exam can mean the world to them and deeper that connection.
Final Thoughts on Loving Your Child Unconditionally
All any person wants to feel in life is valued and respected. Your child is no different. As long as they are trying at things this is who they are. We have a duty as parents to instill certain behaviors in them. They will make mistakes an do things wrong. We also have a duty to let them be who they are. Rather than basing your love on them doing what you want, just accept them for who they are and support them all you can.