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Parenting styles: Unconditional love is bad?

An article in last month's Psychology Today by Jim Taylor PhD challenges the current theory in progressive parenting with the claim that unconditional love is bad. With all due respect to Dr. Taylor, his argument seems based on a conflicting sort of subjective opinions rather than a reliable set of facts and current science.

This could potentially mislead parents who are looking for new ways of interacting with their children.

The article views conditional love as the dominant parenting style in past decades and defines it as a "way to maintain control, foster conformity, and instill certain values and beliefs held by parents and society at large."

As a parent, is this your only goal for your child, obedience, conformity, control?

I think it is a misnomer to equate those ideals with raising disciplined, compassionate, creative individuals who respect others. For the many parents I meet and counsel each day, this is not what they are seeking.

Fear-based parenting promotes an antiquated view of children. We must recognize that change happens through relationship and parenting is about creating a relationship with a child.

Through consistent modeling of empathy and responsiveness - children will learn the values and qualities we hope they grow up to emulate. It does not happen through judgment, evaluation or consequences which only serve to foster more disconnection.

"If you look at unconditional love carefully you see why this grand experiment failed. By taking away conditional love, parents lost their ability to influence their children," says Taylor.

I have not yet seen a generation of children raised without violence let alone conditional love. Perhaps he is referring to a misguided movement of permissive parenting in which parents let their children grow without involvement, guidance or limits.

This is not a fair or accurate definition of unconditional parenting and neither is calling children "lazy, disinterested, and out of control" because they have parents who choose to value emotional connection over compliance.

Children will not trust you if they fear you.

Humans are social beings and we learn through our relationships with others. A child is more likely to be influenced by a parent or caregiver with whom she has an unbreakable bond, not one she fears will simply dole out consequences in order to change behaviors.

It is imperative that kids feel secure in knowing that they will not be judged solely on actions but acknowledged for their sincere desire to meet their needs with the best of intentions and gently guided toward making better choices through love, compassion and understanding.

Taylor speculates that parents "probably do not act lovingly when your children are disobedient, selfish, whiny, or are cruel to their siblings."

Parents may have [many] moments where they do not feel loving but once a parent is regulated, there is no need not to act lovingly even in those circumstances. This is when our kids need our love most.

A cornerstone of the conscious parenting model is the understanding that behavior is an act of communication and negative behavior is communication coming from a place of unmet needs, fear or stress.

How do you behave when you are stressed out or when your needs are unmet?

Does it help to have someone interrogate, analyze, judge, advise, fix or interpret your actions at that moment? No. What we seek in moments of disregulation is empathy and connection but traditional parenting does everything possible to make sure that doesn't happen.

As a parent, you are your child's wellspring of tranquility. Your touch can transform emotional turmoil like magic. To admonish behavior when empathy and compassion are needed is an outdated expression of parental authority.

Taylor remarks about conditional love, "your child's perception is that love has been temporarily suspended. To your child, it feels like, I did something wrong and my parents don't love me now" but he seems to absolve the incongruity of this by insinuating that telling a child, "I love you" after a time-out will allay any damage to the relationship.

This is exactly why conditional love is detrimental to the emotional intelligence of children, to their ability to form and maintain relationships with others, to maintain a sense of internal motivation to do things because they find them interesting and not to simply please others, and to know that they can successfully navigate the ups and downs of life.

Conditional love is ineffective to the long term emotional health of all families.

Supernanny might be the current fad in parenting and swallowed up by the TV masses but the research in child development and neuroscience overwhelmingly supports a new view of children and parenting.

Lori Petro is a Mom, Children's Advocate and Speaker. She is passionate about transforming our world through conscious parenting compassionate communication, and peaceful conflict resolution.

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