Recently I came across a New York Times article titled “When a Parent’s ‘I Love You’ Means ‘Do as I Say‘. The title itself intrigued me for three reasons:
1. This summer I lived with a close friend and his family. He and his wife have three kids – ages 6, 4, and 1. Getting to be a part of their family for 2 months was awesome. I learned a lot from watching the marriage relationship, but more in the interaction between the parents and children.
2. Since coming to college, I’ve realized the significance my parents and my relationships with my parents have had on me. Continually, I’m learning more about myself by looking at them and how I interact with them.
3. Our relationships with our parents are foundational to our relationships with God. How they raise us and what they teach us are the building blocks leading to how we will begin to view God and what we’ll believe about Him.
The article states that most parents today practice conditional parenting. When a child is good, the parent increases their affection. When a child is bad, the parent withholds their affection. Essentially, children are receiving a message that they must earn their parents’ love. The negative consequences of this are becoming evident. Often children with parents who display conditional love experience strong negative emotions, resent and dislike their parents, and feel compulsive internal pressure.
In response, Alfie Kohn references psychologist Carl Rogers who “suggested that simply loving our children wasn’t enough. We have to love them unconditionally, he said – for who they are, not for what they do.”
It caught me off guard how similar Rogers’ suggestion is to the Gospel message. The Gospel tells us that through Christ’s work on the Cross, “I am accepted, therefore I obey.” Without belief in God’s grace, we turn to “I obey, therefore I am accepted.” Yet, our obedience can never earn God’s acceptance and love. It is God’s grace and unconditional love that allows us and motivates us to be obedient.
Interestingly, in the article, “Albert Bandura, the father of the branch of psychology known as social learning theory, declared that unconditional love ‘would make children directionless and quite unlovable’ — an assertion entirely unsupported by empirical studies.”
This sounds very similar to Martin Luther’s critics as the Reformation was picking up momentum. They argued “if you tell people about this idea of grace, they will abuse it and sin more than ever.” They couldn’t have been more wrong. Luther knew that it is only by this grace that any desire to turn from sin can be present.
Thank God for the cross and his grace. Let us pray for belief and rest in our Father’s unconditional love.