I met Linda while I was working at a local college, our paths crossed briefly. She had a large, delightfully bearded husband and two young daughters twenty months apart in age, gorgeous children with non-gender-specific names. We had our kids together for an afternoon of lunch and play at their country home.
Linda’s oldest daughter was banging repeatedly on a vintage piano, opening and shutting the cover for the keyboard. At least a dozen times Linda politely told her daughter to stop, but being a toddler, of course, her daughter didn’t stop. And the ending was predictable, the little girl slammed her fingers beneath the clunky keyboard lid.
Linda yelled at her crying daughter, “I told you not to do that! I told you that you were going to get hurt!” She scolded while she got the ice pack. She lectured while she blew her daughter’s tiny nose. Then she scooped her daughter up, grabbed a blanket and sat with her in an antique rocker.
In a very soft voice, Linda told her daughter she was sorry she got angry. She apologized for sounding so scary. “I wish you would have listened to me when I was telling you to stop slamming the piano key lid. I wish I would have taken you away from the piano and put you in the time out chair because then you would not have gotten hurt.”
And then she apologized. She said, “I was angry, but I had every right to be angry. I’m sorry I got mad and raised my voice, but you need to know that there are going to be times that you are going to make more mistakes. Bigger ones than this, mistakes where you will hurt yourself or someone you love. And it doesn’t matter how big the mistake is, I’m here. Don’t ever be afraid to come to me. And someday you’ll be too grown up to sit in my lap but we’ll just sit next to each other. Through thick and thin, I will always love you. Don’t ever be afraid to come to me. Mistakes and are mistakes, plain and simple. It is how we grow. Today you learned why you shouldn’t bang the keyboard cover. See, you’ve learned something today. And I had one more chance to tell you that I’ll always be there for you. No matter what.”
And for the first time, the very first time, at the age of thirty, I was able to fully understand unconditional love. Never in my life had a witnessed such an intimate parent/child moment. And I learned, as a parent, you really should talk to your children about unconditional love.
Even though you feel it, don’t assume they know about it.
Explain it, live it, repeat as often as necessary.