February 7, 2021 – Conditional Love

If you’ve ever had a child, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to relate to what I am going to discuss today. As a parent, you are supposed to love your children unconditionally. If you don’t, you are a ‘bad person’. You are expected to be ‘superhuman’ and love them through all of the joy and all of the pain. It doesn’t matter what you go through as a parent or how much you put yourself last, none of that can be factored into the equation. It is your obligation, your duty, to love your child or children without any conditions ‘for as long as you both shall live’. No matter what the transgression, you are supposed to forgive them. No matter how wonderful or awful they are, you are supposed to accept them. No matter how much or how little they love you, no matter whether they break your heart or fill it with joy, you are supposed to love them, no-strings-attached.

As infants, your child or children can wake you up multiple times, night after night for months on end, until you are so exhausted that you can no longer remember how to spell your own name. The reason they wake you up night after night? It doesn’t matter. They could be hungry or have a dirty diaper or a tummy ache or simply want to ‘hang out’ because they’re lonely. They don’t care how tired you are or if you’ve only slept a total of 8 hours during the last 3 nights (combined), you signed up for this so it is now your duty to ‘soldier on’. As toddlers, they can throw temper tantrums where they writhe around on the floor, their bodies contorted, their faces bright red and appearing near-demonic, and their screams so loud and shrill that other customers are convinced that you’re beating them to death. And why are they so upset? Because you didn’t let them pick out a candy bar in the checkout line at the grocery store.

Yep, you still have to love them even though you’d prefer to say, “That doesn’t belong to me, I’ve never seen it before,” and walk out of the store. As they get older, it doesn’t get any easier. Their needs and wants continue to grow, not just emotionally but financially, too. I thought babies were expensive until I had teenagers. Instead of a couple of Fisher Price toys and some Lego Duplos, you are now expected to pony up the money for cell phones and computers and cars. And as you stand at the counter in the Verizon Wireless store and listen to a sales associate try to upsell ‘the latest smartphone’, or peruse the Dell website for a laptop that will not go obsolete before your child graduates from high school, or drive across town long after the sun has set in order to meet up with a complete stranger and test drive their second-hand car (that was listed on Craigslist), you have to wonder.

Why would you have to wonder? Well, if you have or have had a teenager, you know that each morning when you wake up, you don’t know what you’re going to face. You don’t know whether your child is going to be happy-go-lucky and thanking their lucky stars because you’re the best parent in the world or whether they’re going to be angry and sullen and cursing you under their breath because you ‘suck’. You’d have better odds winning in Vegas than trying to guess what mood your teenager will be in from one day to the next. I can assure you, you can count on plenty of days/weeks/months that they will be downright ugly and hostile. It’s a natural part of their development. They are trying to make the transition from children to adults and there are numerous growing pains that both you and your child (or children) are going to experience.

Sorry, I still haven’t answered my own question. The reason you have to wonder is because as you so thoughtfully go to great lengths to ensure you children’s needs are met and that they’re ‘happy’, you know at some point, if they haven’t already, they are going to (figuratively) kick you in the groin or punch you in the stomach. They will definitely scream at you or just stop speaking to you altogether, but because you are bound by duty to love them unconditionally, you are supposed to keep a stiff upper lip, be the ‘adult’ in the relationship and carry on. Personally, I think the whole thing sucks. You give and give and give and make so many sacrifices, with the hope that someday your children will recognize all that you did for their benefit and come to appreciate you and love you unconditionally (as you did with them). And sometimes, it just doesn’t work out that way.

Sometimes, oftentimes, children love us ‘conditionally’. They aren’t held to the same standards as parents are. They can make demands and if we are unable or unwilling to meet them, they can withhold their love. With the flip of a switch, they can shut us out of their lives. In their minds, their actions are justified. I’ve done this very thing in relationships I’ve had throughout the years. I’ve met people that I’ve considered ‘friends’ or ‘acquaintances’ and I’ve shut things down and withheld my love when I felt the relationship wasn’t healthy or productive. And I’ve had people do the same thing to me. I’ve had people ‘flip the switch’ and shut me out of their lives, sometimes without explanation. This is a normal process, too. As we grow and develop and change, occasionally we have to let go of people in our lives because they no longer ‘fit’.

Having said that, I never imagined that one of my own children would ‘flip the switch’ on me. It is so ironic how children can simply withdraw and withhold their love no matter what, and as parents, through thick and thin, we’re supposed to love them unconditionally. I think it’s a total crock. I’m not sure who came up with this ‘set of guidelines’ but I think someone needs to rewrite the manual. I’ll be honest, I took a break from my own mother for a few months when I was younger but I never placed any expectations on her. I just had to come up for air because I felt like she was suffocating me. For some reason, whenever I brought up future plans, she seemed to think she was to be included. It didn’t matter if it was going to lunch with a girlfriend that I hadn’t seen in years or attending my best friend’s wedding on the other side of the state, she would find a way to insert herself.

The last straw was when I told her that I was asked to be the maid-of-honor at my best friend’s wedding. I had barely finished uttering the words when she came up with, “Hey! I know what we can do! How about you fly out here and then we can rent a car and drive out together?” Wait, what?! She wasn’t even invited but that minor detail didn’t seem to deter her. I was speechless and uncertain how to respond. I didn’t want her to go, it was supposed to be a time for me and my girlfriend to hang out, not me and my girlfriend and my mother. Anyway, I thought about it for a few days and then because I knew of no other way to ‘uninvite’ my mother without hurting her feelings, I declined my friend’s request. In the months that followed, my mom never failed to ask about the wedding and when it was to be held. Glumly, I would respond with, “I don’t know. I’m not going.” She usually would drop if after that.

Needless to say, I still love her. She drives me nuts but she is who she is. She’s nearly 92 and she isn’t going to change. I wish she didn’t talk over me or complain all the time or fart loudly in public but she’s the only mom I’ve got. I’ve had to accept that I got a ‘flawed’ model and make the best of the situation. Who isn’t flawed? If you aren’t flawed, could you please raise your hand? If your hand is raised, please lower it and immediately contact a therapist and schedule a session because you are delusional. Anyway, where was I? I was talking about parents and children and what each is expected to bring to the table and how it’s so lopsided. I guess my point, other than the fact that I think someone needs to rewrite the manual on parenting, is that this expectation or obligation or duty placed on parents to love their children ‘unconditionally’ despite how much or how often their children stomp on their hearts is, I’m going to use a term coined by one of my lovely readers, a ‘load of bollocks’.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! And, hey, if you want to help me rewrite the manual, let me know! I have quite a few clauses I’d like to add as well as remove. That manual is enormous and it’s going to require the input from quite a few folks in order to make a dent in it. If it only took parents from their child’s birth to when they reached ‘adulthood’, it wouldn’t be so bad but this sucker is voluminous. It stretches from birth all the way to when ‘children’ reach their 80s. Yes, there aren’t many, but every now and then, you’ll run into a man or woman that is 100 years old (or older) who is hanging out with one of their ‘kids’. Believe me, I’ve seen it with my own eyes! Thank you so much for stopping by. For the folks that are ‘following’ me, I am grateful for you and the continued interest you have in reading my blog. I love to infuse humor into everything I do and I hope I was able to make you smile. If all goes well and I haven’t run you off, I trust you will return tomorrow as will I.

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