Ok, so this blog is a haven for recycled pieces of mine. But that’s because I don’t think a lot of people read them in the first place. This one (slightly revised here to include the word ‘wanker’) appeared on Web Child about a year or so ago, but the mysteries of unconditional love still continue to puzzle and confound me.
You Love Me How Much?
I have long been a naysayer, disbeliever and hardened cynic when it comes to the theory of unconditional love. I have protested belligerently when the topic comes up in conversation – as it is wont to do quite often when parenting is discussed. I have been known to lament the fact that parents are inclined to – and I quote (myself) – ‘worship at the altar of unconditional love’.
I promise I am not being purposefully antagonistic when I take up this particular cause. Instead I like to believe that it is with a sense of philosophical purpose and the pursuit of that most wobbly of abstract nouns – ‘the truth’ – that I push so fiercely against this idea (although perhaps I’m just being a wanker).
But has this week seen the conversion of the most skeptical of skeptics?
I have often wondered if I have been too strict in my definition of unconditional love. I have taken it to mean that you love (or indeed are loved by) another until the end of your days regardless of anything they do, are, think and say. It sounds impossible and unrealistic.
As a parent unconditional love would mean loving your child if they turn out to be a serial killer, violent paedophile or mass murderer. Could you still love Adolf Hitler if he was your son? What about Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy? What about the Australian woman who killed her lover and boiled his head – would you still love her if she was your daughter? Recently, the media has reported that Martin Bryant – Australia’s worst mass murderer – is visited in prison by one person – his mother. Such stories seemingly play into the mythology of unconditional maternal love. I am left to wonder if Martin’s mum’s prison visits are really about love or, rather, a sense of duty, pity, guilt or even regret. Of course I hope to never know or understand.
The other side of unconditional love in the parental relationship is the love which is directed at you from your offspring. I have heard many a mum or dad wax lyrical about the sense of being loved unconditionally by their child – particularly when they are babies and toddlers.
Granted, toddlers do have a tendency to run ecstatically towards you when you have been separated from them for a period of time. But then again they also have the tendency to kick their legs, stamp their feet and even head-butt you in the nose if you refuse them any of their fickle desires. Unconditional? I think not.
And then, as kids get older, the battle-weary (i.e. other parents) have tales about nine-year-old daughters screaming, ‘I hate you’ or teenage boys causing the kind of heartache and anguish you would not inflict on a person if your intention was to love unconditionally. With all of these things in mind perhaps you can see why I have been unable to wholeheartedly embrace this particular parenting religion.
I’m sure that I should offer a disclaimer here: so let it be known that I have adored my kids since their conception and can’t imagine life without them.
And I guess I *have* known that they love me back, but I don’t think I have ever felt that they loved me unconditionally (according to my definition). I admit that when they were much younger I definitely felt unconditionally needed – after all, for ten months I was almost exclusively their source of nourishment. And I have also felt unconditionally wanted – the separation anxiety both kids felt when they started childcare was evidence of that. But unconditional love? I don’t think so. At least not until now.
It went like this: Last weekend I had arranged a session with a photographer so that we could get family photos taken. I don’t like to have my photo taken but we have barely a handful of photos of the four of us together so I had to bite the bullet. The day before the photo shoot I bought a new item of make-up. That night, as Indy and I cuddled up to watch a movie she looked at me and said, “Mummy, why do you have so much make-up?”
“Well sweetheart,” I replied – a lifetime of insecurity and issues about my appearance coupled with my simultaneous rage against society’s cult of beauty and my desire not to pass any of that to her, jostled for attention – “Sometimes I just want to look nice.”
With an expression of unguarded honesty Indy looked at me and said, “Mummy, you always look beautiful – even without make-up.” At this stage the cockles of my heart were warmed but my inner cynic was still scoffing. However, the defining moment was yet to come.
Indy continued, “But,” she said as she snuggled in closer , “Maybe you should wear some make-up for the photos – other people mightn’t see you the way I see you.”
With that one sentence I became a believer.
Do you believe in unconditional love?