Do kids need both conditional and unconditional love?

Image: Mayur Gala

I wrote yesterday about how grateful I am for the gift of unconditional love I received – and continue to receive – from my father. Then, in my inbox this morning, my daily meditation from Friar Richard Rohr showed up with this:

Eric Fromm, in his classic book The Art of Loving, states that the healthiest people he has known are those who received from their two parents and early authority figures a combination of unconditional love and conditional love. This does seem to be true of so many effective and influential people, like St. Francis, John Muir, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mother Teresa. I know my siblings and I received conditional love from our mother and unconditional love from our father. We all admit now that Mom’s demanding love served us very well later in life, although we sure fought her when we were young. And we were glad Daddy was there to balance her out. (Emphasis mine.)

What an intriguing and challenging thought. I don’t even know what I think about this. I experienced unconditional love from both my parents growing up and so I can’t even imagine what conditional love would feel like.

At the same time, I wonder how much of my personality has been shaped by growing up in an environment of such unconditional love. I’m a very laid back person. I’m not driven by an endless need to succeed. My identity isn’t wrapped up in what I do or don’t accomplish in life.

At the same time, I sometimes wish I was a little more driven. I sometimes wish I wasn’t so passive and that I pursued goals with more motivation.

If there was some more conditional love as I was growing up, would that have pushed me harder and made me more driven? And to what extent would that have been a good thing?

It’s impossible to answer these questions, of course. But it’s interesting to ponder. And, as a father, it makes me think about how I parent my girls. I can’t even fathom showing my girls anything other than unconditional love, but I also want to create an environment where they are pushed enough to become all they can be.

Rohr talks about his father offering unconditional love and his mother’s love being conditional. What if it didn’t have to be a parenting split? What if there was a way to bring together elements of both? I want my girls to know they will always be welcome and accepted, but I want to push them enough – in appropriate and healthy ways – to maximise their talents and abilities.

I’m even not sure, though, that amounts to what could truly be called conditional love. And as I write this, I realise I fundamentally struggle with the idea of my girls ever feeling that my love would be withheld if they didn’t meet certain conditions of behavior or accomplishment.

As you can tell, my thoughts on this are far from complete! It’s good though to be prompted to think more deeply about questions like this.

I would love to hear your insights and experiences on this too. So feel free to respond below and help me to keep exploring this issue.

Letting go of cynicism

A father’s love