I once (twice, but who’s counting?) had a boyfriend in what was, to make a long story short, a long distance relationship. Once during Christmas while I was visiting I received a beautiful gift from his parents. It was a glass, Tiffany-style pineapple shaped tealight candle holder. Given that I love pineapples it was a wonderful gift. I loved it. It was beautiful, and the tealights smelled wonderful.
Since my life was in a slightly different place with different plans at the time, when it was time for me to fly back home to Hawai’i I decided that it was best to leave the candle holder there rather than risk it getting broken in my luggage or carry on on the flight. It was no big deal. I left some heavier clothes in the closet, and some other personal items in the master bathroom. At the time it was likely that I would eventually be living at his apartment full time, so my leaving things there was not an issue for either of us.
Not long later the relationship ended. Among the things that I got back the candle holder was not one of them. The sweaters, my Red Wings hockey jersey, my House, M.D. DVDs…all back, but not my candle holder. Every time I asked about it the subject was changed. In the end, it seems that the gift was conditional upon my relationship. I think that might have been the first time I was ever given a gift with conditions. I guess it might be different if the gift had been from that boyfriend…I can understand how when relationships dissolve things are returned…but I certainly didn’t expect reclamation of a gift from an outside party. I was completely disappointed, and to tell the truth it took me a little long than I am proud of to get over the fact that I wouldn’t have it any more.
The love a parent gives a child should not be like that pineapple candle holder. There should not be conditions or strings attached. The love I give The Kid has no strings. There is not an act she could perform that would cause me to stop loving her, or to do something that might cause her to believe that I do. Sure, there could be things that she could do that would make me angry or that could even hurt me. She might even (hopefully not) someday do something illegal or unthinkable, and you can believe that I would cry and bargain with unseen deities and be the first one to call the cops…but I would still love her. When she is away I call her. When I am sick I still make time for her. I make time daily for her alone, whether it is one on one cooking time, time for her to read to me, a walk and talk, a window shopping trip there is always time set aside just for her. I try to make sure that there are little things to reassure her that she is loved.
When she misbehaves we go to extra lengths to make sure that she knows that it is the behavior that we object to and not her. We separate the behavior from the person, and make sure that she knows that. It takes longer, than say, a slap or a spanking (and we all know how I feel about spanking), sure, but in the end, her having the security of the certainty of our love helps her to get through the moment, move past it, learn from her mistake, accept her punishment, and to continue on.
Children need to know that the gift of parental love is unconditional, because parental love is their first and best example of it, and the first source from which they will learn what it will mean to them. As parents we need to make sure that we demonstrate that to them, and constantly reassure them of that fact. It is absolutely vital to their self confidence, to their trust, and to making sure that they learn for themselves what unconditional love really is all about.