"Perfect love cast out fear."
- 1 John 4:18
Raising a child with unconditional love means that no fear is created in parent-child interactions. To love unconditionally simply means that parents accept their children completely and without restrictions or stipulations. There is no spoken (or unspoken) message causing the child to think he has to be something other than what he is in order to be loved. The need for unconditional love begins at conception.
The child needs to experience total acceptance from both parents, but primarily from the mother. This means that all physical features are accepted "as is". Unfortunately, this is not always what happens. There can be something about their child that does not meet parents' expectations, such as a funny-looking nose or ears, or unattractive teeth. In these cases, the parents' uneasiness may trigger "innocent" remarks about a child's features, causing the child to realize that his or her acceptance is conditional. Since the child can do little about his body, he experiences the fear of rejection. The basis of this conditional acceptance is perhaps due to the fact that the parents were not accepted unconditionally in their own childhood, which causes their fear to surface in interactions with their children.
Not only should the physical nature of the child be totally accepted, but what the child says, thinks, dreams or feels must be heard, honored and respected. The old philosophy that a child should be "seen but not heard" gave some parents the illusion that children would then develop respect for their parents. But this approach does not help a child to integrate his fear. Only an approach that provides unconditional love will garner respect for the parents! Therefore, if the parents want the child's respect, the child must be the recipient of respect1. It is the same principle with adults - if we want a friend, we have to be a friend. And if we want respect, we must respect others. This process begins with a deep appreciation of the inner workings of a child's mind. When the child's thoughts and feelings are heard and acknowledged by adults, he will feel respected and accepted, and experience peace of mind. Having received this type of treatment, it is easy for the child to learn to respect others.
Forbidden self-expression, due to fear of rejection or ridicule, causes the child to feel unaccepted. This creates fear, and under these circumstances, the fear will not be integrated. This child will then harbor resentment instead of respect. With the child's fully developed limbic system combined with a prefrontal cortex that lags behind in development, actions that cause the child to feel rejection are not likely to be processed by the child's mind as they are by the adult mind. When a person (child or adult) feels fear, he must emerge from the situation feeling safe and knowing that he can protect himself should he encounter a similar situation. This is not likely to happen if the parents themselves are the source of the fear.
Greatly enabling the parent to love the child unconditionally is the realization that the development of their child's limbic system is years ahead of his prefrontal cortex. This simply means that he is not an adult! Armed with this knowledge, it is easier to appreciate why children may at times appear irresponsible, selfish, impulsive, immature and inconsiderate. The fact that puppies act like puppies and not like grown dogs is readily accepted. Yet parents have trouble accepting normalcy in their own child! This is more than likely due to the fact that the parent's own normal, childish behavior was not accepted unconditionally in their childhood.
Reprinted and adapted by permission of the author from The Fear Factor: The Core of a Desperate Society, I Corinthians XIII Publishers, Wimberley, Texas, chapter 14.
© Barry Philipp, 1998. All rights reserved.
1 Miller, Alice. For Your Own Good. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990, page xviii.