Parenting Unconsciously and Conditionally

I believe that most of us have been parenting unconsciously. That is to say, beyond some general ideas (like don’t starve the kid, get them into a good university, and have them grow up to be positive contributing members of society), we don’t really think about what we are doing mindfully in a situation-to-situation kind of way that leads to longer term consequences.

We think we are doings rationally and logically, but a lot of our interactions with our children are completely based on how we feel at the moment. And… how we feel at the moment can be completely different based on our lived experiences from our childhood (emotional flashbacks) or what happened at work earlier that day (repressed feelings).

Admit it. The exact scenario can play out with our kids and the range of our reactions can be as good as a patient, even funny, response all the way to rage at having been ignored yet again. Our brain tries to make sense of it and we rationalize that difference, like, “Well, I asked nicely five times, but you still refused, so now I’m going to yell. You are training me to yell at you in order to get you to do the behaviour I want you to do.” 

So what happens is we unconsciously parent depending on how we are feeling that day and the conversations we have in our heads. The other thing we do is that we show approval only for the things we think are right. From a kid’s point of view, that feels a lot like conditional love. “I’m only loved when I’m pleasing my mom.” Now that could completely help you have a well-behaved kid whom you can show off to your friends and family, but some of the long terms affects of that are not that pleasant, including a child who grows up with the need to please everyone around them. Even some of the short-term effects might not be great: your teenager may really not want to tell you anything because they are never sure how you are going to react. They are pretty sure they know you well enough to know that you are not going to welcome their latest thoughts with open arms. (I have this weird Mommy face I make when I’m disapproving and sometimes my kids have to ask me to not make that face so that they can tell me something they are pretty sure I’m not going to like.)

Now combine 1) we parent unconsciously AND 2) love them conditionally. How confusing that can be for a child who is trying to make sense of the world!

If this sounds familiar and you want to change, what can you do?

Start with Love

Start with remembering that you love your child and that you want your child to feel loved. When they feel loved and safe, they are able to make mistakes and make mistakes. When they know you have their backs unconditionally, they are willing to share their thoughts or be themselves with you.

Develop Emotional Intelligence

Be curious about your child’s perspective and the impact of your behaviour on them. Learn to regulate your own emotions before trying to regulate theirs. Children’s behaviours always reflect their underlying unmet needs and they require our help (role modeling) to learn how best to response to a difficult situation.

Set Up Routines

Many challenges in life can be easier to deal with if we have some patience, do some planning, let go of our expectations, and learn from each situation. That is to say, focus on process and not the result. We then learn to set up the environment to get us closer to our goals rather than get upset about the outcome.

At the core of all this is a desire to consciously and unconditionally love our children so that they can grow up to be resilient adults!

Published by Sherry Yuan Hunter

Sherry Yuan Hunter is a certified trauma recovery coach and certified parenting coach. Taiwan-born American-Canadian Chinese, married, working mother of two, Sherry identifies as a Sandwich Parent, Third Culture Kid, an untigering Mom, and Recovering Shouldaholic. Based in Toronto, Canada, Sherry has been working in student success programs at University of Toronto for 20 years, supporting students, young professionals, new managers, working moms, and new immigrants to success.

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