Unconditional Love

September 15, 2009


How were you raised? Did your parents set high expectations which you worked to live up to in order to gain their affection? Were you punished, given time-out’s or did they withhold their love from you if you had a failure? How has that translated into your parenting? In an article in the NYTimes , Alfie Kohn explores some child-raising theories and notes a few recent studies with interesting and not so surprising results.

Kohn opens his piece speaking about Carl Rogers, child psychologist, who, more than 50 years ago, supported the idea that children must be loved unconditionally.

Kohn later writes about forms of conditional love that are being promoted more and more lately:

“Some people who wouldn’t dream of spanking choose instead to discipline their young children by forcibly isolating them, a tactic we prefer to call “time out.” Conversely, “positive reinforcement” teaches children that they are loved, and lovable, only when they do whatever we decide is a “good job.”

…the problem with praise isn’t that it is done the wrong way — or handed out too easily, as social conservatives insist. Rather, it might be just another method of control, analogous to punishment. The primary message of all types of conditional parenting is that children must earn a parent’s love. A steady diet of that, Rogers warned, and children might eventually need a therapist to provide the unconditional acceptance they didn’t get when it counted.”

The various studies looked at college students, mothers of grown children with very interesting results. The findings were that both positive and negative conditional parenting were harmful!  “Internal compulsion” was a result of the positive reinforcement and  negative conditional parenting didn’t even work and created negativity towards the parents. That makes sense to me.

I am interested to know how you, the reader, were parented and how you think that has affected you. How do you parent your children?

I remember when I was in high school some of my friends lived in terror of getting a bad grade because of the punishment and verbal abuse that would accompany what their parents considered a failure. And in my own life, although I don’t remember my parents telling I should do well in school or sports I somehow picked up that was what was wanted.

I found it impossible to give my children time-outs. It was barbaric to me and as my kids got older they simply wouldn’t do it anyway. I didn’t see a reason to be angry with them for failures, although I did positively reinforcement their successes. I very much watned my children to grow into who they were as individuals and my husband and I realized that each child needed something different, as they were 3 very different individuals.

I agree with Kohn that we have to look at the results through the eyes of the children, not how the parents think they “did”. I hope I get good marks from my children….