The first time I became a parent I had twins. It didn’t seem real when I was pregnant and looking at pictures of ultrasounds. I was confined to bed rest for 3 months and it didn’t seem real when I was hooked up to monitors twice a day to ensure that premature labor hadn’t started again. In fact, it didn’t seem real even after the delivery with two neonatologists, two neonatal nurses, my doctor, my nurse and an anesthesiologist all crowded into a room waiting for two little babies to come out of me.
It wasn’t real until my ex-husband was out getting the car, strapping in two car seats and I was sitting in the room staring down at two infants sleeping soundly on my bed. I had been a pediatric nurse for 10 years and as I stared down at them I had no idea what to do.
But I knew one thing. I knew with all my heart that I loved those two children. I knew then I would give my life for them in that moment. Despite my fear and my inability to conceptualize what the next day would look like, I knew that I loved these two little ones.
It was unconditional love because I didn’t know anything about them. I didn’t know my son would have colic for months. I didn’t know my daughter had low muscle tone. I didn’t know my son would grow up to have attention deficit disorder or that my daughter would have a beautiful voice. I didn’t know my son would have a heart he would give freely to anyone in need and I didn’t know my daughter had a heart for Jesus. I just knew they were 6 pounds, they were infants and they were mine.
As they grew I began to learn the difference between loving them unconditionally and accepting everything that came from them unconditionally. And in the process, I also learned that I could love my ex-husband unconditionally and not accept his behavior.
I think sometimes the idea of unconditional love gets confusing, especially for Christians. Women are held to a standard of the Proverbs 31 woman and marriages are held to 1Corinthians 13: 4-7. It’s a favorite Bible verse about love often quoted during marriage ceremonies, but it’s a definition of what we should aspire to, how God loves us and not where we exist today.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
In the search for a life partner, too often we look for a soulmate and unconditional love. And the expectation is will also find unconditional acceptance. We might yearn for unconditional love because we didn’t get it as children or because first, second and third relationships had failed. And too often, we are not taught as children how to give unconditional love, because in seeking it we must also be ready and willing to give it.
Unlike romantic love, unconditional love doesn’t seek gratification, pleasure or reward. It is the giving of yourself to someone else without the expectation of receiving anything in return. This kind of love transcends time and place and everyday concerns. This kind of love is not often found and even more rarely given. Ideally, unconditional love is an experience that unites two people. It means you give it as often as you get it – or more.
A long time ago, God brought someone into my life who loved me unconditionally and who I loved unconditionally. And as quickly as he came, he left to honor a commitment that had been broken 3 years before. He left because honor and ethics were what he lived and not just terms from the dictionary. And today, I still love him unconditionally.
But unconditional acceptance is something different. Unconditional acceptance means that you’ll accept what other people dish out without protecting yourself or them. Although God loves you unconditionally He does not unconditionally accept all your behavior, and neither should you unconditionally accept everyone’s behavior.
Natural consequences happen with each of the choices we make. If you forget your lunch at home, then you have to buy lunch or you have to go without until you get home for dinner. It’s the natural consequence for the behavior. And each decision we make, each behavior we have has a natural consequence. If you gossip about other people, the natural consequence is others don’t trust you because if you’ll gossip about others, then you’ll gossip about them.
I believe as parents, and especially single moms, it’s important that we love our children unconditionally because it gives us the opportunity to model for them how they should love others. But I also believe that we should not accept their behavior unconditionally. By accepting behavior unconditionally we give the other person the opportunity to treat us poorly and to walk over whatever boundaries we put up for ourselves.
Boundaries are what protect our emotional health and the emotional health of our children. When we model for them what unconditional love looks like without unconditional acceptance of someone’s poor behavior, we set up the next generation for greater success.