Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013: The original version of this column failed to cite properly a passage by Alfie Kohn in the New York Times about the effects of conditional parental love. Kohn's column was, however, directly referenced and hyperlinked in the original version. It has been edited to correct this error. A version of this column appeared in the May 1, 2013, print edition of the Deseret News on page C1 under the headline "'All you need is (unconditional) love' in a family."
Our family mission statement is two simple words: “Love more.”
While many sayings and cliches are oversimplified, the one that may be truest of all is: “All you need is love.”
That is not only our favorite Beatles song, but also a pretty good way to look at the world — and at the family.
Real, deep love reaches levels in families that it can reach in no other way and in no other setting. Marriage is the cradle and the commitment of romantic love, and the overwhelming, irrational love we feel for our children, even when they are so tiny and helpless that they can do nothing for themselves or for us, takes the meaning of love to its highest, most unconditional levels.
And “unconditional” is the operative word.
In a 2009 article in The New York Times, writer Alfie Kohn spoke of the dangers of giving conditional love to our kids — pointing to research that asked "more than 100 college students whether the love they had received from their parents had seemed to depend on whether they had succeeded in school, practiced hard for sports, been considerate toward others or suppressed emotions like anger and fear."
Kohn continued: "It turned out that children who received conditional approval were indeed somewhat more likely to act as the parent wanted. But compliance came at a steep price. First, these children tended to resent and dislike their parents. Second, they were apt to say that the way they acted was often due more to a ‘strong internal pressure’ than to ‘a real sense of choice.’ Moreover, their happiness after succeeding at something was usually short-lived, and they often felt guilty or ashamed."
The study also showed that the version of negative conditional parenting known as “timeout” can cause “deep feelings of anxiety. ”
This got our attention, because we have recognized timeouts for years as a solid and dependable means of discipline. In fact, one of our most talked-about parenting techniques, the “repenting bench,” is essentially a double timeout where two kids who have been fighting go to the bench until they can each tell you what they did wrong and ask forgiveness of the other child.
The message is that whenever we use timeout, we should be sure the child or children understand that we love them unconditionally, but that we do not love what they just did and that it is because of our love for them that we want them to do better and thus to go to timeout.
Bottom line: Just do everything that you do with love — particularly in your family. Make sure your love is genuine and sincere and avoid false praise or flattery.
And remember a favorite quote of ours by Richard A. Swenson:
“Love is the only thing that will exit out the other side. It will stand alone, vindicated. It will finally and clearly be seen for the dominant, unbeatable, infinite, glorified force it has always been, just obscured for millennia by layers of fallen clutter.”
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at www.EyresFreeBooks.com or www.valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."
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