Article contributed by Ranjani Seetharaman
I believe that the presence of unconditional love in childhood is what shapes an individual’s future. It is key to the development of a healthy sense of self which includes self-confidence, self-respect and self-worth. I can go as far as to say that it is the right of every child to receive unconditional love. Unconditional love simply refers to having no conditions to be loved, accepted and respected. It is essentially separating the child from what he/she does.
Conditional love or acceptance eventually conveys the message that “you are not enough the way you are”. Unconditional love on the other hand is a constant reminder to the child he/she is good enough and is deserving of all the opportunities that life may offer. A child should feel loved and accepted just for who he/she is.
We tend to convey messages to the child, sometimes even without our awareness that she/he is not good enough. In other words, we fail to respect children for who they are and instead see them as insignificant living things. It is not uncommon to see adults damage the being of the child by saying “you are dull/slow” because of academic failures. The child forgets that he/she is beyond academic or social failures. The label never gets erased.
When I was young, my mother trusted me to take new gold earrings to the temple nearby, about 50 yards from home. The trust in me made me feel that I am worthy of the job. Since I was a responsible child, it seemed like a very simple task. Blinded by my overconfidence, I skipped happily and excitedly towards the temple. But on the way, I dropped the box and the earrings fell out. I couldn’t find one of the earrings and my heart sank. I felt like a loser, a betrayer of trust. All I could do was go back home with shame and disappointment in myself. My mother listened to me and while I was preparing myself for some scolding, she instead said that it’s OK and that mistakes happen. What I did was not OK but it did not make me a bad person. It did not make me a betrayer, rather the action that I chose to do was irresponsible. Constant communication that reinforces the fact that “you are OK” is the key to providing unconditional love.
It is sad that spaces that are supposed to nurture and support the growth of the children ironically are where they are demotivated and disrespected. Corporal punishment, verbal abuse, neglect, ignoring voices that want to speak, differential treatment and comparing achievements are activities that reinforce the idea, “I am not good enough”. They break down a child’s identity along with the ability to respect the self and others. The damage caused leaves a permanent scar. As adults, in any field of work, it is our duty to make sure we convey the right messages to the child. The curious, active, kind and joyful nature of children is most important to be preserved. Many of us might not have received unconditional love, but I believe that that is no reason to deprive the younger generation of their right. Let us explore our natural capacity to generate and give unconditional love.