Some parents worry that if they love their child unconditionally, it means that the child can “get away with anything.” Not true! You can still have expectations for your child AND love him/her unconditionally. Unconditional love means – “I will love you no matter what you do or how you behave. I will never remove my love or relationship from you.” There are no “love withdrawals or relationship withdrawals” that take place with unconditional love. Yet, you can still have expectations for behavior and consider natural consequences for inappropriate or unhealthy choices. Let me give you a few examples…
Your 2 year old spreads toys all over the living room.
Natural consequence: “It looks like we need to clean up the living room before we can _____ (watch your show, play outside, read books, etc.) Versus – “You have toys everywhere, we’re not going to the park together.”
Your 10 year old refuses to complete homework.
Natural consequence: “Homework is a priority in our family. We have to make time for it. So, it’s my job to remove any other obstacle, including your ______ (video games, time with friends, basketball practice). Until homework is done, you can’t do those other things.” Versus – “What’s the matter with you? You can stay in your room away from us and go without dinner until your homework is done.”
Do you see how one approach portrays a conditional, removable, relationship and love while the other is more objective?
Last example: Your teen gets caught cheating on a test.
Natural consequence – “It looks like you need to go in and talk to your teacher. You can offer to take another test, write a letter of apology, or take a failing grade on that exam. But, you must have accountability.” Versus – “No child of mine would ever do such a thing,” followed by stonewalling or giving your child a cold shoulder to prove how disappointed you are with him/her.
I see it time and time again with children – if you have natural consequences for your child, you can still have high expectations, yet not remove your love or relationship from him/her. In fact, children will RISE UP to our expectations when they feel safe in relationship with us!