Marina focuses on trans-generational trauma and mental health education for working parents.
All parents want their children to feel loved. This is one of the main messages around parenting well: once you have children, you’ll understand unconditional love.
But what does it mean and how do we, as parents, ensure that our children feel that they are loved and accepted?
What happens with parents who themselves haven’t received unconditional love in their own childhood? Who were conditioned to believe that they aren’t enough, that they need to be or feel a certain way to be noticed, acknowledged, and ultimately loved?
If your own childhood was filled with validation, gentle care, loving touch, empathy, nurturing, acceptance and understanding – some of the elements of unconditional love – you are going to pass on all of that naturally.
"If you were loved unconditionally as a child – you're going to pass on all of that naturally."
But those of us who didn’t have our emotional needs met in our own childhood might not know how to love unconditionally. How can we recognise the needs of our children if our own needs were unrecognised or dismissed?
It starts with understanding that all people have basic relational needs - once these are met we feel loved, and can grow and thrive throughout our lifetime.
Recognising these needs is crucial, especially in an infant's early years. The extent to which they are met shapes our confidence and emotions and provides a template for all future relationships.
Luckily, researchers (Erskine, 2023) have identified a model of 8 clear needs. As parents, we don’t need to satisfy these all the time, but we do need to enough of the time:
1) Emotional Security: Kids need a carer who isn’t going to put them down or belittle them. Someone to whom they can show their real self without fear of losing their affection.
2) To be valued: Children need someone who shows they understand and value who they are, how they feel, and why they do what they do.
3) To be accepted: by someone wiser and stronger, who can show children ways to be.
4) Confirmation of the child's experience: when a parent can relate to what the child is experiencing and show they know what it feels like.
5) Self-definition: celebrating, not restricting, a child's uniqueness.
6) To make an impact: a child needs to know it can affect the people around them, create an emotional response, communicate their wishes and receive acknowledgement.
7) To have the other initiate contact: if exchanges in a relationship are lopsided it will eventually become painful for the child.
8) To express love: otherwise the child learns to deny and hold back their emotions (note this need is about expressing - feeling loved is the result of all these needs being met)
Most importantly, we must have these 8 needs met ourselves – through our adult relationships – as only what we receive can we give. And that's lucky, as this way, unconditional love is something we can all learn.