Parental love enhances the well-being and development of children. As such, “love” would be all that is nurturing and supportive of the evolution of a child’s unique personality. Conversely, it would be a distortion to define as “loving” those responses that are in any way detrimental to the child’s psychological growth, cause painful wounds to the child’s psyche, or predispose a lifetime of maladaptation and pain.

Parental love includes genuine expressions of warmth—a smile or friendly look that conveys empathy and good humour; physical affection; respectful, considerate treatment; tenderness; a willingness to be a real person with the child as opposed to acting the role of “mother” or “father”; and a sensitive atonement and responsiveness to the child.  Attuned parents have the ability to adjust the intensity and emotional tone of their responses to match their child’s feeling state and needs. During infancy, attuned interactions between a baby and its mother are especially important because they provide the baby with the environment necessary for learning how to regulate emotions and for developing empathy.

There are countless examples of well-meaning parents engaging in behaviour that is insensitive, mistuned, or harmful to their children, while earnestly believing that they love them and have their best interests at heart. These parents are telling the truth, although on a defensive level, when they tell their adult children who have been emotionally hurt that they loved them and did the best they could for them. It’s true: They did the best that they were capable of, but more often than not, they simply weren’t able to really see their child as a separate person and meet his or her needs. No matter how well-intentioned, many people are unfortunately not prepared for the task of raising children.

Almost all parents feel that they love their children. But what parents feel internally must have an external component in actions that are loving in order to have a positive effect on their children. Parents’ good intentions are not a substitute for nurturing love, which can only be provided by a psychologically healthy and independent adult. Both the intention and the capacity to love are necessary to sustain the small child in his or her growth toward maturity.

The assumption that parents, especially mothers, have a “natural” love for their child is a fundamental part of our belief system—and the core of family life and society. Very often this myth has an adverse effect, though, in that it leads to a failure to challenge negative behaviors within family life. It also intensifies parents’ guilt. These guilt feelings further contaminate the situation for those individuals who may be unable, because of their own upbringing, to provide their children with the necessary love and care they need.

Children do need and deserve love, and we must provide it or they will suffer emotional pain. Recent research in the neurosciences has shown that the way parents interact (or fail to interact) with children becomes hardwired in their children’s brains, often before they are capable of formulating words to describe what they are experiencing. As they grow older, children find numerous ways of defending themselves in order to relieve or numb their pain. In the process of dulling their pain, they close off many aspects of themselves and, to varying degrees, become emotionally deadened.

Indeed, it would be better for all concerned if the illusion of unconditional parental love were withdrawn from the child‑rearing scene. It serves no constructive purpose for parents to conceal their inadequacies from a child. An honest acceptance of their deficiencies would enable both parent and child to cope with reality devoid of additional defensive pressure. With a lessening of this pressure and the subsequent relaxation for both parent and child, they may even regain genuine loving feelings and regard for one another.

Lastly, children whose parents have, for the most part, resolved their issues of trauma and loss from the past have a better chance. Resources have described many parents who came to understand and feel for what had happened to them as children. As a result, they were able to develop more compassion for their past, and for their present-day limitations. Regaining feeling for themselves seemed to be the key element that enabled them to enjoy closer, more sensitively attuned interactions with their children and altered their child-rearing practices in a more loving, positive direction.

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