Conditional Parenting, Conditional Love

Conditional love is like the word LOVE with the word IF stuffed into it.  Lifove.  If you do this, I'll love you. Lifove feels bad.  I guess I can sort of see how it makes sense in theory, sort of, but my head and heart know it as wrong in practice.  The word conditional and the word love just don't belong connected to each other.  Love, plain and simple.  

Last week you might have seen this article by Alfie Kohn in The New York Times:  When a Parent's 'I Love You' means 'Do As I Say.'  The article talks about how some parents use techniques for punishing their children that send the message that love comes only when the child is "good," not always.  (I don't think such parents intend to be mean, they are likely doing what they think is best–and, I suspect, not trusting themselves to rely on their own natural instincts about what works/doesn't.)

This won't shock you guys:  but, children who grow up raised with conditional love are…not better for it; nope, they become anxious, self-doubting people and come to believe that only when they're being "good" (achieving things or behaving the "right" way (their parents' way)), that that's when they're loved.  Because their parents cut them off in some way (i.e., a time out) when they didn't behave how mom or dad wanted them to, they became super-focused on What Mom and Dad Wants Me To Do.  They tuned out their own voice as a consequence of desperately tuning-in their parents' needs.   This is the kind of child that dreads calling their parents with bad news later in life, when it should be their parents they can go to…with any kind of news.  Even as adults they fear disappointing their parents, or being rejected (having a 'time out'), again. 

I know a different type of conditional parenting, one that sent the message, If you make me feel whole, I'll protect you.  If you're what I want, you're good.  If you pretend, you'll be safe.  It was much more fundamental, not based on actions, but on emotions.  It was more raw, a less conscious conditional type of parenting. 

It's tough to shake that loose, that inheritance, and just when I think I'm "well," I catch myself thinking that I have to be "good" (have a certain disposition) in order to keep everyone else in a good mood…but I don't, do I? 

The article is food for thought.  The author of it also wrote a great parenting book, about unconditional parenting, Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason.  I wish he'd write a book about re-parenting one's self! 



  1. Tlmarshall65 says:

    I just found your site today and I can’t even begin to tell you how helpful it has been…

  2. amy eden says:

    Yeay, glad you found GWNI! No conditional affection here, just the real deal. :-)
    There’s more of us out there than any of us ever assumed there were…!

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  4. Kate says:

    It’s unbelievable to realize how I survived the toxic, conditional environment,I was raised in. Your article resounded for me in that I am a product of conditional love. For 40 years I have tried to GIVE things in order to be loved. If I had nothing to give, I was not worthy of love. And I wondered why………

    • Amy Eden says:

      Yes, yes, exactly!

      The trick now in adulthood is to be sure you love yourself differently than they did – that you love yourself unconditionally, accept yourself deeply as you are. There’s so much healing in that.

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