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.”