Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Unconditional Love: How Hard Can It Be?

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Continuing with the theme about the impact of advertising, I set out trying to find an explanation about why advertising works so well on the American people. What I found was a book that could have a profound impact on how we parent. "Real Love," by Greg Baer (2003) suggests that we are all lacking "unconditional love," so we seek out experiences (and products) that give us feelings of power, pleasure, praise, and safety, which are "imitation love," and leave us feeling empty and miserable. Using example after example, from his own life, and the lives of others, Dr. Baer points out that people who do not feel unconditionally loved will do anything to eliminate the pain of their emptiness, making us vulnerable to advertising and manipulation by others.

Here is the sad part: it is our parenting that creates humans with this vacuum, so happily filled by advertising and consumer goods, and leading to unfulfilling intimate relationships in which people trade "imitation love." Seeking power, pleasure, praise and safety, goes hand in hand with not accepting responsibility for our mistakes, chasing praise, and feeling disappointed and angry that there "is never enough." Dr. Baer suggests that being ungrateful is a natural result of having expectations, which we set up to fill our sense of "emptiness," and "fear that we will be alone. If we expect anything from other people, we will always be disappointed instead of grateful.

Dr. Baer suggests that without meaning to do it, we convey to our children that we accept them only when they do what we want. When we are disappointed in them, our sighs, frowns, and even words tell them that at that moment we love them less, they are unacceptable, and even defective. Feeling this way, children learn to protect themselves with lies, anger, acting like a victim, and running away, and look for something to make themselves feel better. Here is a tough concept: If we love someone and genuinely accept them, we never feel disappointment or anger.

Good parenting is not a technique, nor is it an opportunity to manipulate children to behave in ways that are convenient for us. Families should provide a place where children feel unconditional love and learn to love others. However, a child cannot feel that unconditional love or happiness while carrying the burden of making his or her parents happy. "No parent ever has the right to expect love from a child. It is the responsibility of the parents to teach and love their children, not the other way around."

It may not be a popular answer, but according to this book, we cannot blame our children's problems on them, their peers, the school, television, advertising, video games, or anything else... we own the problems of our children. Luckily for us, he is not mean about this - as he provides unconditional love to all of us - and suggests it is never too late to provide happiness to ourselves and our children. By finding unconditional love ourselves, we can help our children be happy, too.

This does not mean that there is no discipline, it just means there is no disappointment and anger when we provide that discipline, or correction. To eliminate feelings of disappointment and anger, he suggests five steps, and describes how to use them:
  • Be quiet
  • Be wrong
  • Feel loved
  • Get loved
  • Be loving
I do not know about you, but a little unconditional love sounds like just what the doctor ordered - healing old wounds and creating a generation of people who are truly happy and therefore have no need to drink, smoke, have indiscriminate sex, yell at anyone, fight with their siblings, act out in school, or use extreme forms of entertainment to "feel good" sounds like a noble goal worth trying. Of course, he has a newer book (2005) which about parenting, so stay tuned for another review.

Happy parenting!

Photo credit: ajusticenetwork
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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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