Caregiving Is Not Conditional
I was at the park recently and I overheard a child crying and refusing to leave. The response was, "Fine, I'm going to leave you here then. Bye." I've heard it so many times, and I'm certain I will hear it again. The problem is when we do this, we are threatening to take away things our children are entitled to: care, attention, safety, and understanding. They should not be earning these things based on good behavior, they should be given generously and freely.
Many of us were parented with threats, shame, and manipulation. It's no wonder I hear these types of strategies still being used, it's hard to break the habit. The culture of control and power over children is pervasive and prevalent. I want to point out one way we perpetuate this cycle. I call it conditional caregiving.
What is conditional Caregiving?
Conditional caregiving is when we remove or threaten to remove care from our children to control their behavior. The care they receive is based on the condition that they behave how we want them to behave. It sounds like this, "I don't want to be around you when you talk mean to me." "I will bite/hit you back", "If you don't stop, I'm going to leave you." "No, you don't deserve a hug." "Why do I even cook for you if you won't eat what I make?" "If you don't stop, we won't go to the park."
Children are entitled to care
The thing is, children are entitled to kind, respectful care, they do not need to earn it. They are entitled to it because they are helpless and vulnerable without us, they didn't ask to be here, and if they could care for themselves independently, they would. They are entitled because the future of our world depends on these people receiving kind, respectful, compassionate care. When this happens, they are free to continue to exist as kind, respectful, compassionate beings.
What to do instead of taking away care
Rather than seeing the child as undeserving, see them as needing something different. Maybe they need cuddles and assurance more than they need to run around and play at the park. Maybe they need to leave the chaotic birthday party more than they need to learn how to act in a group.
Every time we remove or threaten to remove our care we erode our child's trust. They need connection and a bonded relationship to feel seen and understood. When this happens they believe in themselves as worthy of respect and joy. They also believe in the world as a safe place where they are free to create, connect, live, and love. I want to live in a world with a generation of children who believe this about themselves and the world.