What Unconditional Love Does Not Mean

love respect parenting quote

If we are to love our kids unconditionally — regardless of their disobedience — it means we must come to grips with who we are as parents, independent of our children. As I mentioned, this family-of-origin stuff is very real for me. There were moments when I could feel it surging in me, just as I had seen it surge in my father. But I refused to let myself lose control. I slowed myself down, knowing my kids were just being kids even when appearing disrespectful. I knew the kids were not causing my sinful anger, any more than I caused my dad’s sinful anger. That was my dad’s issue, and if I had similar feelings, though far less intense and frequent, this was my issue.

Our kids do not cause us to sin but reveal our sinful choices.

Unconditional love means there is no condition (circumstance or characteristic) that forces us to be harsh, even hateful, toward our children. Jesus taught: “For from within, out of the heart” come our sinful choices, which He lists in great number (Mark 7:21). Our children’s disobedience or disrespect does not cause us to react in unloving ways. Our reaction comes from within.

The truth is, I choose harshness. My child does not choose harshness for me. But what about “firmness”? And where is the fine line between harsh and firm? Unconditional love does not mean I give my children license to disobey. I do not foolishly proclaim, “Go ahead and do whatever you want so that I can show you that I love you so much it makes no difference to me what you do.” Unconditional love means that I lovingly confront their disrespectful and annoying behavior. I am loving even if they are rude and aggravating. Because they fail to be who they are supposed to be does not justify my failing to be who I’m supposed to be. I do not turn a blind eye to their wrongdoing, but I do not use their wrongdoing to justify being unloving.

Also, unconditional love does not equal unconditional trust.

A mother loves her toddler no matter what, but she does not trust him to cross the street. The mother loves unconditionally, but she does not remove all conditions. Trusting the toddler to cross the street would be unloving.

Toward teens, we say, “I love you no matter what. Nothing you do, even lying, can ever make me stop loving you. My love is unconditional, but after you lie to me, I will not automatically trust you. If I trusted you blindly after you lied, I would not be very loving.”

Use G-U-I-D-E-S to Love Your Kids Unconditionally

G-U-I-D-E-S is all about how to love our children unconditionally.

As the Lord loves us regardless of our behavior, we use G-U-I-D-E-S to love them regardless of their behavior. But how do we follow G-U-I-D-E-S while maintaining a proper balance between loving unconditionally and allowing for teachable consequences?

Here are some ideas:

Giving: we give to our kids because Christ is generous to us. We give (within reason) regardless of our child’s gratefulness for our benevolence. When we withhold giving, we do so not because we are selfish but to prevent our child from being selfish.

Understanding: we understand our kids because Christ empathizes with us. We seek to understand our children regardless of their appreciation of our empathy. When we withhold sympathy, it is because we discern that our children are indulging in excessive self-pity. We care too much to celebrate their pity parties.

Instructing: we instruct our children because Christ imparts knowledge and wisdom to us. We instruct regardless of their receptivity. When we withhold information, we do so to allow them to learn through trial and error, not because we wish to sabotage their success.

Disciplining: we discipline our children because Christ confronts, corrects, and disciplines us. When necessary we enact consequences. When we withhold consequences, we do so as an act of mercy and grace, not because we fear the child’s defiance and intimidation.

Encouraging: we encourage our children to make a difference in their world because Christ calls us as adults to make a difference in our world. We cheer our children on even though they lack the social confidence and skill to defeat all foes. When we withhold affirming words, we do so to help them learn to stand strong on their own.

Supplicating: we supplicate for our kids because Christ intercedes for us. We pray for our children regardless of their spiritual interest or response. When we withhold prayer, we do so because it is time to step out in obedience, not to wait in faith.

G-U-I-D-E-S gives us the confidence to parent, knowing that what the kids do or do not do is secondary. This is about who we are, not about who our child fails to be. Regardless of our child’s behavior, we will apply G-U-I-D-E-S. We will be who we have to be.

As a loving parent I can say without hesitation, “I will be a giving person even though my child takes that for granted. I will be an understanding parent regardless of my child’s warmth toward me. I will be an instructive parent even when my child listens to the wrong voices. I will discipline even though I am told that I am the worst parent on the planet. I will be an encouraging parent even though my child does not seem to receive my affirmation and comfort. And I will be a supplicating parent even though God seems silent and distant from me and my child.”

G-U-I-D-E-S, in a nutshell, says: I have made a decision to be a loving parent, no matter what. Why? Because the Lord loves me no matter what.

praise your kids when they are good

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Your Turn

Have you ever blamed your kids for times that as a parent you’ve behaved inappropriately? Have you experienced realizing your family of origin negatively affects your parenting choices? These are tough questions for all of us! How has this post challenged you? We’d love to hear your feedback! Come join the conversation on our blog! ~ Devotionals Daily

Dr. Emerson Eggerichs

Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, an internationally known expert on male-female relationships, presents the Love & Respect conference with his wife, Sarah, both live and by video to more than 50,000 people each year, including groups such as the NFL, PGA, and members of congress. With degrees from Wheaton College and Dubuque Seminary and a PhD from Michigan State, Emerson pastored Trinity Church in Lansing for 19 years. He and Sarah have been married since 1973 and have three children.

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