My mom realized her five-year-old was missing unconditional love the day she asked her, “Mommy, will you still love me if I go to prison?
Energetic, enthusiastic, full-volume—my little sister had a knack for getting herself into trouble. Sometimes she may have deserved it. But generally she simply had more energy or volume than adults wanted her to have. Her misdemeanors left her with the feeling of missing unconditional love.
Vases may have gotten in the way of her energetic movements. Adults may have stopped napping at the sound of her arrival in the house. Things may have fallen over during her exciting games. Adults may have said their ears were hurting from her excited yelling about whatever she was doing.
But at first my mom failed to see that my sister was assuming her frequent punishments and reproofs proved she was a bad person.
Probably many of us do that as parents. I know I did—and only realized it much later.
Fortunately, my mom’s wake-up call allowed her to change her mode of parenting my sister.
—”Mommy, will you still love me if I have to go to prison?”
—“What do you mean? You’re not going to prison.”
—”But what if I do? Will you still love me then?”
—”No, Honey, you will never go to prison.”
—”But what if I do?”
—“You won’t ever go to prison, but I will still love you if you do.”
—“Honey, I will never stop loving you. If you ever go to prison, I will visit you all the time. I promise.”
That day my sister felt better, feeling unconditionally loved, while my mom felt terrible. My mom realized she needed to completely change the way she responded to my sister when upset. In those moments, she needed to talk about the problems of my sister’s behavior in ways that focused on the behavior rather than on her person.
Mom began to talk about how Jesus loves people in prison and loves all of us, regardless of our behavior.
She also noticed two poison words she had been using a lot with my sister: “always” and “never.”
I wish I could have learned that lesson then for all my future relationships. Unfortunately, I needed to learn the same thing the hard way. Though I never had children assume they would go to prison, I’m sure I sometimes made mine feel that they were worthless.
What Mom needed to focus on with my sister—and I needed to with my daughters—is how much God loves us. No matter what.
Anyone who knows my sister now would have a hard time believing this story. Yet if my mom had allowed my sister to grow up feeling worthless, I’m sure she would never have become the powerful Christian she is today.
Even when we mess up as parents, God forgives us and can bring our children to forgive us too.