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It has taken me a number of years to be able to say, without question, that the idea that I, as a parent, have to earn the love of my child is false. It is a lie.
If you, like me, experienced adversity in childhood and share this belief, I hope this article will lead you to begin to consider a different conviction: "Only because of what I experienced in childhood am I able to uniquely and effortlessly feel the abundance of love my child naturally has for me."
If you grew up facing adversity in childhood, odds are, this negative belief holds you back. Not sure if you experienced adversity in childhood? Take a look at this post. If you did face adversity growing up, I cannot tell you how many people I have met, who have written to me, and who I have interviewed, who tell me the same thing: "I'm worried I am not a good parent and, deep down, I don't think my kids love me. I'm afraid when I am older, I will be irrelevant in their lives." This is encoded in us from childhood. Here are three key reasons why:
1. You didn't get the love you craved from one or both of your parents. You are still trying to earn it.
No, we never earned it; we were never enough in our own mind. In many instances, we feel we still haven't earned it. So, if we aren't worthy of love from our own parents or parent, then how could we possibly be worthy of our children's love? We have this doubt and then we find evidence that proves its true, because ...
2. Try as we may, we question whether we are good parents, both in action and in thought.
How could we not question our parenting—who did we learn it from? If you grew up facing adversity in childhood, like for instance growing up in a home with domestic violence, just as my mother did, just as I did, who were our role models? Who showed us what parents should be? A fictional family on television? What you perceive happens inside the house of your neighbor? This doubt makes us constantly question what action to take, what not to take and destroys peace of mind even when we are not acting.
3. You aren't WORTHY of love unless you EARN it. Do something to deserve it.
I tried to earn it when I was little and I was still trying to earn it as an adult. How else does it work? Of course you have to earn it. If I believe deep down, "I truly am not worthy of feeling love,” how else could I possibly behave?
And if you are divorced, this negative belief is massively magnified.
This is self-evident for those of you, like me, who are divorced. Here I am, having faced adversity in childhood, and now I am putting my children through one of the same adversities I faced. I MUST have to make it up to them. I must earn back the love lost from the damage I have inflicted.
The negative belief that I have to earn my children's love came flooding back to me recently. But then, I was reminded of the truth, the one truth that I have found to be absolute: "Only because of what I experienced in childhood am I able to uniquely and effortlessly feel the abundance of love my child naturally has for me."
Why? As an adult who has faced adversity in childhood, our great gift through our children is that we get to experience that love that we were never able to feel from others, because we didn't have the fully developed brain to understand it. Now we do. Now we can choose.
Children are the world's greatest gift to those of us who grew up facing adversity in childhood. You simply have to remember this: Teenagers and young adults who have experienced unspeakable violence in their homes while growing up, who faced shocking adversity, will still privately tell me, "I just want my parents to tell me they love me, to act that way. That's all I want." So, no matter the past, their love is waiting for you. All you have to do is remind yourself of this, internalize it, understand it, and reciprocate by sharing your love with them.
Editor's Note: Brian F. Martin, is the Founder and CEO of the Childhood Domestic Violence Association and author of Invincible: The 10 Lies You Learn Growing Up With Domestic Violence and the Truths to Set You Free.
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