Parent Trap: Sending a message of Conditional Love

Photo by nenetus

Photo by nenetus

When we talk about homeschool successes and failures, or the quality of our parenting skills, we tend to measure things that aren't accurate indications of a child’s current and future well-being;

usually because we are caught up in society's definitions of happiness. And when we do this, we aren't thinking through the underlying messages we receive and send to our families, and how we affect our homeschooled children.

Have we communicated to our children that their physical appearance, number of friends, test scores, marketable talents, athletic prowess, and academic accomplishments are what make them valuable as a human being?

When they don't meet our expectations, do we withdraw our approval - sometimes even our affection? Are we robbing them of confidence and motivation? 

The message we are sending is one of conditional love

Our fear of failure as a parent has us comparing our children to other kids their age, as if those children are more worthy of respect and blessings. If we can be honest with ourselves for just a moment, we'd see how often we are caught up in pride and the desire to be considered a successful parent. We've imagined a path for our kids we are comfortable with, that would bring us pleasure and satisfaction, and the admiration of others.  

Sounds rather self-centered, doesn't it? 

All of this at its heart denies a view of our children as unique individuals with needs, interests, and desires of their own, nor does it grant children the liberty and autonomy they need to become independent responsible adults able fulfill God's purpose for their lives.  

Most parents truly want their child to be: 

  • responsible, kind, courageous, generous, and compassionate
  • curious about the world, and have a desire to learn how things work
  • a creative problem solver and enthusiastic collaborator
  • in control of their emotions and actions, to manage their time, money, and priorities, and develop foresight
  • proficient at the core skills of critical thinking, reading, writing, speaking, and math
  • in healthy relationships
  • able to meet the needs of others, involved in the community, and volunteer for charitable organizations
  • loved for who they are. 

But we sometimes don't realize how little we model these characteristics and behaviors for our children.

We don't know how to balance teaching and guiding our children towards these ends with how to let go enough so they can explore their interests, make discoveries, and experience the consequences of their actions.

We try to control the process of learning, thinking that we will have control over the outcomes.

We've tied our child's progress to our own sense of self-worth, and in so doing, taught our children that our love and support for them is conditioned upon meeting our expectations so we can feel good about ourselves.  

Yuck. 

Photo by photostock

Photo by photostock

Don't get me wrong - we want good things for our kids. We sacrifice and labor to see that they have advantages and opportunities. But our underlying motives color our actions. When we examine our hearts, it can be hard to realize through all your parenting efforts that you've been placing the burden of your self esteem and happiness on your children.

Before you start beating yourself up over this, you need to know many parents fall into this trap. You are deeply invested in the well-being of your child, and some transference is almost inevitable. There are days when you don't know where you end and your child begins. But that doesn't mean that we don't need to stand back and see what is going on, and do something about it.

To let go of this kind of thinking requires some reprogramming of your heart and mind. This takes time and conscious effort – but you can do this.

  • You can look at your children and see them clearly for who they are and who they can become -
  • You can separate your needs from theirs -
  • You can let go of harmful ideas and actions so your children can realize their true potential.

What's most important - you can learn to love your children without reservation, shame, or limits. 

Do you have trouble with this parent trap? Share them in the comments below -