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Parental Love and a Nation of Wimps

Parents can foster courage and excellence with two forms of love.

What can parents do to avoid fostering fragility in their children? While there are of course factors beyond our control, we can avoid being a contributing factor in all of this.

As parents, we should offer our children "accepting love," as William May puts it. But we need to offer them "transforming love" as well, he argues. Accepting love affirms the child as she is. It is what we think of as unconditional love. Parents shouldn't love their child on certain conditions having to do with success, ability, or talent. Ideally, parents place no conditions on the love they have for their children. Transforming love, however, is different, and it is another type of love that parents also need to offer their children in order to help them become strong, courageous, and fulfilled human beings. Transforming love is the love which seeks the well-being, or flourishing, of the child. It holds them to standards of good and bad, right and wrong, and more generally, it fosters the child's pursuit of excellence.

Herein lies the problem. As May puts it, "Parents find it difficult to maintain an equilibrium between the two sides of love. Accepting love, without transforming love, slides into indulgence and finally neglect. Transforming love, without accepting love, badgers and finally rejects."

Perhaps in the past parents focused too much on transforming love, and the children of yesterday who are the parents of today have gone too far in the other direction in response to this. We don't keep score in youth sports contests, we hand out A's in school for merely showing up to class, and we make excuses for our kids instead of letting them take responsibility for their mistakes and failures. As May points out, parents need to strike a balance between accepting love and transforming love. We shouldn't abandon accepting love, because our children need and deserve that from us. But when we neglect transforming love, we do our kids a disservice in both the short and long run. Pain and adversity in the short run opens up the possibilities of perseverance, courage, and true fulfillment in the long run. These are goals worth having as a parent on behalf of your child.

The current trend of emphasizing accepting love while neglecting transforming love is helping to create a nation of wimps. A little transforming love can go a long way in encouraging excellence in our children.

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