1. To know they are loved unconditionally.
Years ago, a statement made by a radio host struck me. She said something to the effect of, “We all love our children. But the question is, do they feel loved?” She then described how various parental actions potentially impact our children. After listening to the program, I started regularly asking my daughter that same question. I followed this up with, “How have I hurt you this week.” In other words, I assumed I had done things that wounded her heart and inadvertently communicated lack of love.
I also began ending every corrective conversation with a reassurance of my love and commitment to the relationship. I wanted her to understand that, while I was displeased with her behavior, it hadn’t pushed me away. To the contrary; the challenge encouraged me to walk beside her even more closely in order to help her grow.
In order to thrive, our children need to know that we will remain by their side, even when they are at their worst. According to Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, author of Resilient Children and Teens, nothing matters to our kids more than our “unwavering presence.” The sense of security this brings enhances brain development, allows for healthier relationships throughout life, encourages our children to share their struggles and fears with us, enables the child to better manage stress, and even leads to an improved immune system.
Unconditional love says, through actions and words, “While I might not like your current behavior, I will always love you.” When a parent withdraws emotionally, their actions state, “I will only love you when you meet my expectations.” This causes our teenagers to self-protect, which hinders open and honest communication and distances them from us.
If we need space to effectively manage our emotions, we could state something to the effect of, “I’m frustrated right now and need time to process. Let’s talk more about this later.” This does a few things. First, it teaches our teens, through modeling, how to handle intense emotions in a healthy manner. It lets them know we’re stepping away, temporarily, from the situation, not from the relationship. And finally, it gives our teenager time and space to calm down and think rationally. By practicing these steps, parents can use their children’s poor decisions to strengthen bonds while training effective conflict-resolution skills.
We must also remember that love is a choice more than an emotion. As Scripture reminds us,
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV)
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