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Go live with a car battery…

I love you...I love you not.

My husband is moody. This bothers me a great deal; especially because his darker moods are the ones that often accompany him home after a hard day of pleasantries and professionalism. But I’ve realized something huge about this. You see, my husband was raised in a loving, nurturing environment. His parents loved him unconditionally. But this, I’ve come to realize, is the crux of the problem.

You see, unconditional love is a crock of shit, and I want to officially declare: it doesn’t work. In fact, it accomplishes the exact opposite of what it promises to deliver. Which poses a substantial problem for those of us raising little ones today.

Think about this: my son is loved unconditionally by me and his father. We love him when he’s kind. We love him when he’s cruel. We love every inch of him, even when he’s at his worst. If he grows up believing that he is, and always will be, 100% lovable, how, I ask you, is he going to treat the people who are unlucky enough to end up living with him?

Unconditional love is the culprit of all rotten behavior. Do you think your husband would yell at you for spending too much money if he thought you might just pack a bag and exit the premises the next time his voice raised to a certain decibel? Would he really forget to bring you flowers on Valentine’s day if the possibility existed that he’d be spending all future cherub-related holidays on his own, taking care of the kids, or nursing a Stella all by his lonesome self on a bar stool in a smokey gin joint? Of course not.

But instead we parents lavish our children with so much unconditional love it’s like a recipe for future marital disaster. We’re practically asking our kids to treat the people they love with disdain. The message is crystal. No matter how thoughtless, insensitive, moody or just plain mean you are, those closest to you will love you unconditionally so don’t bother putting any effort at all into those relationships.

Sure people get divorced. But most marrieds don’t walk around thinking that each day may be the last day of blissful couplehood. However, if they did, they might end up treating each other a whole lot better. Husbands might choose not to expend an audible sigh coupled with that ever annoying eye roll when asked to take out the garbage, for instance. Wives might decide that continued nagging over the unseparated whites and colors might not be worth spending eternity with a naked ring finger and sole custody of three hormonal teenagers.

The truth is, we need to impart a bit of fear and insecurity into the hearts of our children. “No, Johnny, mommy might not love you if you don’t eat all your vegetables.” Keep them on their toes. Reward good behavior with overflowing amounts of love, warmth and admiration. But we must stop reinforcing their vicious tantrums, irrational melt-downs and mean-spirited remarks with the promise to love them, warts and all, for all eternity.

Only by refusing to love without question will we raise children who can be civil to their spouses, gentle with their own children and careful with all the people in their lives. So I urge you to stop loving your kids absolutely. Instead, teach them to treat those around them with kindness, honor and respect by instilling a sense of insecurity and fearfulness. If they are not loving, you may not stick around. That’s the message you want to impart. It may sound cruel, but it’s really the best way to prepare them for a happy, fulfilling life with a partner. Just like the wise and thoughtful Erma Bombeck once said, “Marriage has no guarantees. If that’s what you’re looking for, go live with a car battery.”

About gettrich

Debra Rich Gettleman is a professional actor, playwright and journalist living in Oklahoma City with her husband Mark and two amazing boys, Levi and Eli.

12 responses to “Go live with a car battery…

  1. Sara Keet ⋅

    Dear Debra,
    As always I enjoyed reading your funny, witty, insightful blog. However, I do have a solution for giving unconditional love to a child and still having him/her treat others kindly. Whenever the child treats another cruelly or has vicious tantrums or mean spirited meltdowns, etc, show that child that his/her behavior is not acceptable by locking them in an empty room and feeding them bread and water for several days. I guarantee, from experience, that this is a full proof method of changing their behavior … of course, I cannot promise that the behavior will change for the better!

    Keep on writing as I look forward to your insightful stories.

    Sara Keet


  2. bqeman ⋅

    I’m beginning to feel like my life is your fodder!. I’ll be expecting a byline in the future, or at least a dedication 🙂


  3. beanzer80

    I don’t think that unconditional love is the culprit, i thinks its what we think love is, is the problem. For example, you might think love means when the child does something wrong to not get angry and not punish the child telling him that you love him, there is a proverb about this:
    [24] Whoever spares the rod hates his son,
    but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.
    (Proverbs 13:24 ESV)
    Its not love thats the problem but using love as an excuse to spare the rod is.
    Please don’t use taking your love away as means of punishment, this just comes across as manipulative, and your son will probably use that on his wife in the future, imagine him telling his wife if you don’t do this for me I won’t love you! or I don’t love your right now because you upset me. Children learn from the example their parents set.
    Teach them to teach others with respect, honor and respect while loving them unconditionally and being an example to them. Encouraging them when they do something right and discipline them when they do wrong.


  4. Incognito

    It’s like you just took a page out of my book of life and put it on your blog…!
    I don’t think it is the fact that they’re loved unconditionally…it’s more so that they’re not told they can be wrong. My ex (ex as in ex-husband…!) was never told to his face in his ADULT life he was ever wrong…he was told off many times as a child…but never in his adult life…(by adult i mean from 21 onwards).
    Along came me 9 years later and he was so adamant that he could never be wrong he ended up treating his family, and me, like absolute…ehm…and yet his family would still not say he was ever wrong…

    In the end for my own sanity I had to walk away…but I have to say…it wasn’t love that made him this way it was thinking he could never do wrong…!


  5. KitKat ⋅

    I thoroughly enjoyed this entry. Just curious, is your husband the youngest like mine? It seems like the youngest and only children grow up being the moodiest ones.


  6. I think it comes down to respect. I hate treating my spouse like a child, and I hate the temper tantrums that come when i have no other choice. When i stop to think about it, if he just asked nicely or we had a discussion where openess and honesty were encouraged, it would be all good. Maybe that’s manipulative though. hmmm.


  7. Skydancer (Guardian Angel) ⋅

    You’re very confused.

    It’s not unconditional love that’s the problem, it’s praise that’s based on “who” you are rather than “what” you do that’s the problem. Studies have shown that if you tell a child they’re smart for having accomplished a particular goal, then they’ll become afraid to challenge that and try again because the next time they might not do as well which would damage the claim that they’re smart. But if you praise them for how hard they tried, then the next time they’ll try even harder and they’ll gain “self esteem” from whatever they did manage to accomplish.

    It’s complicated.

    But you’re very confused.

    Sorry to say that! But you are.


  8. Audrey ⋅

    “No, Johnny, mommy might not love you if you don’t eat all your vegetables.”


    This is a very ugly post and far too shallow to hold any water.

    I agree with the above poster. Sorry bout that, but I hope you rethink.


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