The parental litmus test

Your children should be able to take your unconditional love and acceptance for granted. Are you up to it?

boy with his father sitting on a sea shore

The relationship between parents and children has become so warped, that both parties are struggling to find a truly healthy balance in their relating.

This relationship is rife with anger, resentment, guilt, anxiety, sorrow and manipulation instead of being a source of joy, trust, warmth, safety, fairness, relaxation, love and acceptance.

Instead of being on the same side, parents and children are on opposite sides, constantly on guard against each other, both feeling a sense of betrayal, hurt and distrust. What makes this most intimate relationship go wrong?

When a child is born, it is dependent on the parents for its physical survival. It expects emotional nurturing from them as well. Unfortunately, this is where things start to go wrong.

Being able to reproduce, and provide for the child’s physical needs till she is dependent on you, does not qualify as parenting. Even animals reproduce biologically and feed their little ones.

Human beings are capable of much more than just being biological parents like animals, and human children need much more than just physical nurturing. We are capable of love, forgiveness, wisdom and justice—the qualities of a true parent. But this does not always happen.

Most children grow up feeling physically nurtured but emotionally deprived, because their biological parents, whom they rely on for emotional fulfilment, are themselves emotionally empty.

Sandhya’s 5-year-old son was constantly cranky and was socially inept. Sandhya herself had been a depressive for several years. She was always around for her son for all his physical needs but was unable to give of herself emotionally as she found herself in an emotional ‘black hole’. She was caught up in her own issues with her parents.

Sandhya’s mother believed that sacrifice and martyrdom were the highest virtues, and she resented Sandhya’s zest for the good life. When Sandhya opted to join a dance troupe and travel the world, her mother was aghast and turned away from her.

Her father was too meek to stand up in support of his daughter. Sandhya felt unloved, unaccepted, hurt, and angry, and remained locked in pain. The result was that her pain got transferred to her son, and the emotional ‘pain chain’ continued.

Parents are supposed to be emotionally nurturing, unconditionally loving and accepting of their children. Children naturally tend to take this love for granted. There is nothing abnormal or wrong about it. However, some parents fall short in fulfilling this expectation, and children are devastated.

Lack of love

The evidence of the crippling effects of a loveless life is found in the offices of psychiatrists, which are filled with children and adults who have no awareness of their own worth and no sense of identity.

They are filled with hatred and fear, and tortured by anxieties. Only because the parental love that they should have been able to take for granted was simply not available.

Viktor Frankl writes in Man’s Search for Meaning: “The salvation of man is through love and in love”. Psychotherapist Alfred Adler has said: “All human failures are the result of a lack of love.” Today, psychotherapists are unanimous in the praise of love and love relationships as the chief source of human maturation.

Only recently have the behavioural sciences reached the point of enlightenment to show us that unconditional love is the only soil in which the seed of a person can grow. Someone must empower the child to believe in himself, and only someone who loves him unconditionally can do this.

The question then is: Should children take their parents’ love for granted? The answer is a yes. However, since such love is not always forthcoming, children need to be helped in their inner healing.

They need to be assisted in coming to terms with the fact that their biological parents might not be emotionally equipped to provide that love. Psychotherapists have to help such loveless children parent themselves, and to find the source of reliable, dependable and authentic love and empowerment within themselves.

Material dependency

Another question is: How much should the child take for granted? What is normal and natural, valid and justified?

If you have observed a bird with her fledglings in her nest, you will see that till the fledglings do not have the strength in their wings, the mother feeds them with great care. As soon as the little birds start to flit around, the mother bird uses her beak to poke at them till they are out; she watches them fly away to their destinies.

It is normal for a human child to seek physical and material nurturing till it reaches physical maturity. But after that, children need to fend for themselves and seek their own destinies.

However, parents who are unable to emotionally nurture their children, provide for them materially even beyond the age of physical maturity. The disastrous result of this lopsided nurturing is in the form of emotionally stunted and materially ill-equipped biological adults like Rohit.

Rohit was the only son of a workaholic father and a fanatically religious mother. While Rohit was growing up, his father was busy expanding his business. Rohit’s mother too was busy earning a name and position for herself in the religious cult she was associated with. Rohit was provided for materially by his parents even in adulthood.

His father gave him money to compensate for the lack of love from his side, and the mother gave her full support saying, being born in a rich family was Rohit’s karma and therefore he needn’t labour for money.

When the business suffered a major setback, the father had a heart attack. Rohit was devastated. He was suddenly faced with cutting back his expenses and having to work to sustain his lavish lifestyle.

He was neither equipped to fend for himself nor could he postpone material gratification. At the same time, he had low self-worth and feelings of being unloved because of the emotional deprivation from the parents. All this led to Rohit having anxiety attacks and depression.

So his parents took him to a psychiatrist. But they were unable to see the role they had played in Rohit’s condition. Rohit refused to take charge of his life, his father continued to work and his mother had to sell her jewellery.

The verdict

As seen in Rohit’s case, when children take their parents for granted to provide materially for them for the rest of their lives, it is almost always a result of lopsided upbringing.

It is parents who create dependent individuals with low self-worth, who have valid emotional needs but invalid material needs.

Children should be able to take their parents’ unconditional love and acceptance for granted, as it is only unconditional love that can assure a child’s growth to his full and total potential. We can be confident that a child will be correctly disciplined and will grow into a mature, balanced and confident adult only if our primary relationship with him is one of unconditional love.

But are parents capable of being taken for granted by their children? Perhaps not!

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Minnu Bhonsle
Dr Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.
Rajan Bhonsle
Dr Rajan Bhonsle, MD, is a consultant in sexual medicine and counsellor. Along with his wife Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, who is a consulting psychotherapist and counsellor, he runs a unique therapy centre


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