Everyone desires to be loved unconditionally. We are insecure beings and long to be affirmed. We desire to feel loved, regardless of our shortcomings.
Children especially—even adult children making poor choices--want to know that they are loved and accepted by their parents. How do we children find that love? How do we parents show appropriate affirmation?
First, it’s important to remember that the only parent that will always give us genuine unconditional love is our Heavenly Father. For while we were still screwed up and sinful, Christ loved us enough to die in our place. No one can love us like that!
Second, though we wish for this same holy, unconditional love from our human parents, we need to check our expectations. Truth is, both we and our parents are flawed people. Our expectations may not be realistic, and even if they are, parents will fall short because they’re only human.
Different parents demonstrate love differently, sometimes in ways we want, and sometimes in ways we’re not looking for. Sometimes we may expect more from parents than they are capable of giving. Parents and children alike may be sensitive to criticism and perceive correction as a lack of caring.
For all these reasons, parents and children fail to love each other perfectly. Yet children crave regular affirmation. We all like reminders that we matter to someone, that we’ve not been forgotten. We want acceptance, affirmation, and appreciation in our life’s choices. We want to believe that we have value just for who we are.
We feel unloved in a perceived atmosphere of criticism and negativity. If everyone seems working to change us, if our beliefs and behaviors are skeptically received, we feel unaccepted. No one wants to feel like a failure. Ironically, out of our own insecurities, we not only want to be measured but also expect not to quite measure up. We expect others are getting more attention and affirmation, whether they are or not. Again, this may be more about our unrealistic expectations than reality. It may well be more a rehearsal of a self-narrative of not being good enough rather than genuine disapproval.
It is rare for parents to actually not love their children. It's less rare for parents to struggle to show that love well and consistently. And it is not rare for a child to fear rejection. It is a sign of maturity for a child to see a parent as a person rather than a role. Can you see your parents as people with their own stories, hopes, dreams, flaws, and fears? As people who love you the best they can?
As parents of adult children, we can get so focused on correcting the negative that we miss out on opportunities to affirm and reinforce good behavior. So how do we balance affirming our adult children even when we do not agree with their choices?
It is important to remember the parental role shifts from giving direction to offering advice (when asked) as our children mature. Giving direction in fact can become a way for parents to maintain control and restrict the growth of their children. You have to allow them to make choices and even fail.
Moreover, we parents must learn how to express love for our children even if we do not like the choices that they are making, and even if that behavior never changes. If we choose to constantly point out their shortcomings and to challenge their point of view, we will only find ourselves removed from being in their sphere of influence. We will need to refrain from giving constant advice, work to maintain the relationship, and keep the lines of communication open.
We can be affirming to them personally, even when we cannot affirm their choices. This is not an easy road, but it is worth the investment. Follow Christ’s example of loving sinners and spending time caring for them and investing in their lives. Do more listening than speaking. Desire what is best for them and pray for God to work in their hearts. God is the one with the power to change hearts, so pray for his intervention and keep on loving them.