This is the third part in a series excerpted from my book God’s Design for the Highly Healthy Teen.
The “B” of the “ABCD’s” of raising highly healthy children and nurturing highly healthy teens is “Blameless” or “Unconditional Love.” Do you love your child blamelessly, unconditionally? Or is your love conditional, as in “I love you because of … ” or “I love you if … ”?
Loving your child or teen because he gets good grades is conditional; loving your teen if she makes the swim team is provisional love – it’s conditional love.
Here’s a great test of unconditional love. Imagine what you’d say to your teen daughter if she and I had this conversation in my examination room:
Me: How can I help you today?
Her: Uh, I think I need a test.
Me: What kind of test?
Her: A pregnancy test.
Me: And why do you think you need this test?
Her (turning red): Because I’ve been having sex with my boyfriend, and I’ve missed a period.
I’ve delivered the life-changing news “the test results say you’re pregnant” too many times to unwed teens in my medical career. Fifty percent of the time one or both parents are in the room when I make this pronouncement.
There have been times when I’ve felt all the oxygen sucked out of the room. The news almost always crushes the parents. In a few moments, their reactions run the gamut—from disbelief to anger to, finally, a grudging acceptance.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Will the parents love the child even at a moment like this? Is their love really unconditional — blameless?
Or did their love change because their high school daughter got pregnant out of wedlock?
I’m happy to report that most parents—I’d say around 80 percent—do love their daughter unconditionally during tough moments like this.
This is the time to draw close, not walk away. A time to hug, not abandon. A time to say, “I still love you,” not “You stupid jerk! How could you do something like that?”
I know this is a worst-case scenario for any parent, but you have to mentally prepare yourself to love your teens unconditionally, to practice blameless, unconditional love early and often.
Your foundation of parental love and support enables them to step out and grow to become the young men and women God created them to be.
Love is the most basic of all emotional needs.
I believe God designed each of us to desire and seek out this unconditional, blameless love. Thankfully, it’s the type of love he extends to us.
When you love children and teens in a healthy way, they feel as though they belong to something greater than themselves. They feel they have value and significance. Their feelings, thoughts, and opinions matter.
Children and teens who know that God and their parents love them are more likely to become highly healthy.
Be careful, however. All love is not equal. Parents can choose between two kinds of love—conditional, blaming love, which is highly unhealthy, and unconditional or blameless love, which is highly healthy.
Most parents—myself included—have used both kinds of love at one time or another, but the average parent leans toward expressing one.
Wise parents are aware that they need to demonstrate unconditional love as often as they can.
Conditional (blaming) love requires a certain behavior or performance from children or teens in order to trigger the expression of love. They have to do something or be something in order to earn your love.
One form of conditional love is “love if.” If you’re only expressing your love after your son catches a touchdown pass or your daughter gets a prime role in the school musical, they’ll quickly pick up what pushes your “love if” button.
Or there’s the “love because” form of conditional love. If you only express your love if your son wears his hair a certain length or if your daughter is thin, they’ll soon pick up that they are only worthy of your love because of something they are or are not. In essence, you blame them for not earning or deserving your love.
The alternative is unconditional or blameless love, which means you love your teen “in spite of”—even when he drops the game-winning pass in the end zone; you love your daughter even when she finds herself on the stage crew and not in the cast.
It’s putting an arm around a shoulder and saying, “Hey, you did your best. I’m so proud of the way you tried.”
Blameless love says to your teen, “There is nothing you can do to make me love you more. You will never lose my love.”
Here are some things that say “unconditional love” to your teen:
❖ Touch them. You can touch your teen’s heart through appropriate touch—a friendly pat on the shoulder, a toss of her hair, warm hugs, a nonsexual massage. Some parents think teens outgrow touch or can’t bring themselves to make physical contact, but it’s important to their emotional health. Touch says, “You are important to me and worthy of my interest and my time.”
❖ Find your teen’s uniqueness. Has your teen become good at something? Tennis? Basketball? Piano? Scottish dancing? Drama? Most likely, your teen has developed some sort of skill that sets him or her apart from peers.
❖ If your teen doesn’t have some special skill, don’t sweat it. It just means your teen hasn’t yet discovered his or her special gift or talent, which is a gift from the Creator.
Remember how delighted you were when you counted ten fingers and ten toes in the delivery room? Your child was normal. That’s who he or she is.
Love that special person like a special person, pointing out the pleasing character traits you see. As you do, you’ll begin to see more and more clearly his or her incredible uniqueness.
To learn more, you can read these other posts:
- The ABCD’s of Parenting – Part 1
- The ABCD’s of Parenting – Part 2
- The ABCD’s of Parenting – Part 3
- The ABCD’s of Parenting – Part 4
- The ABCD’s of Parenting – Part 5
- The ABCD’s of Parenting – Part 6
- The ABCD’s of Parenting – Part 7
Here are three other posts that may be helpful in nurturing highly, healthy teens: