Does Unconditional Love Create Entitled Princesses?

I’m a daddy, and I wrote a letter to my little girl. I wanted my daughter to know she is always worthy of interest, because the best way to be interesting is to simply be herself. I was angry when I wrote it, and a bunch of people—mostly men—got angry when they read it. They said loving girls unconditionally is a recipe for a world of entitled princesses, spoiled brats, and selfish women…

entitlement and unconditional love

Photo Credit: bespoke via Compfight cc

The letter had been circulating for about a month when I found myself sitting in the soft, green grass of May, watching my son’s soccer practice. My daughter—my little bundle of heart and soul and vibrating life—was sitting on my lap.

I nestled my chin into the crown of her head, and my mind wandered to the angry comments from a world of wounded, angry men.

And it made me angry all over again. Not angry at the men, but angry at the idea with which they have been wounded.

Has Love Really Failed?

I sat next to a soccer field, and I got angry at the belief that unconditional love is bad for people. I got angry at the idea that every bit of goodness and kindness we receive from others must be earned. I got angry at the idea that our most sacred relationships should be treated like a transaction: you do this for me and I will give you love and attention and belonging. I got angry at the idea that anyone should be expected to trade anything for a sense of worth.

But mostly, I got angry at the bogus assertion that we’ve collectively tried unconditional love and it has produced a generation of entitled princesses.

Really, men? You think we’ve tried unconditional love? You think we’ve been overflowing with grace and mercy and charity and the big love experiment has failed?

Really?

Because I look around the world and I see conditions for love in every nook and cranny of this crumbling planet. Conditions everywhere:

You’ll be good enough when.

You’ll be worthy of love if.

You’ll belong to me under this or that condition.

Women, you’ll be good enough when you get your make-up just right or hit a particular number on the scale or figure out just the right time to bring us a beer. The world of a woman is ripe with subtext: I will love you on the condition that you find just the right ways to stroke my ego, just the right moves to make me feel like I’m good enough.

But I’m not just picking on men, because men don’t have it any easier. Job, money, achievement, strength, dependability, purpose, power, unflappability. The implicit conditions of worthiness for men are completely unachievable. No wonder men are so pissed off.

We need to call this idea that the unconditional love experiment has been tried and failed exactly what it is: a bogus lie.

And then maybe we can get clear about something, okay? Selfishness and entitlement aren’t created by unconditional love and an abiding interest.

The reality is, selfishness is actually created by a latent sense of worthlessness.

People who have a deep and unwavering sense of their worthiness—the very sense of worthiness that comes from being loved unconditionally—are free from all of the ego needs that produce entitlement, selfishness, and narcissism. Children who have been mirrored well and affirmed of their worthiness are far more likely to spend their lives caring for others than obsessively caring for themselves, because they have already been cared for well.

And adults who receive that kind of love for the first time actually have a chance of being transformed by it.

Princess, Monster, or Sister?

As my internal tirade calmed down, I realized, like most anger, it was defending something much more vulnerable. I realized I had doubts myself. As I hugged my daughter close and gazed out upon the field of shin-guarded kindergartners, I thought, “I’m putting all my eggs in this basket, and what if I’m wrong?”

What if I’m loving my daughter right into becoming a monster?

What if my interest in her turns her into a princess and she treats the world like her kingdom and she expects worship everywhere she goes?

What if? What if? What if?

In an attempt to get unstuck from the swirl of thoughts, I leaned over and I asked my little one, “Do you want to go to the playground now?”

She didn’t take her eyes off the field, but she responded quickly and assuredly, and her answer did more to restore my faith in love than could any philosophy.

She said, “No, Daddy, I want to watch my brudder. Because he is an awesome boy.”

I’m Betting on Love

I’m going all-in on unconditional love.

I’m betting on the power of attentiveness.

I’m betting on the power of empathy.

I’m betting on the scandal of grace.

I’m betting on a world held in the unconditionally gentle hands of love.

I’m betting when we see the reflection of our beauty in the eyes of love, we will be delivered into a deep, steadfast sense of worthiness. And I’m betting when that happens, we will want to become mirrors for every man, woman, and child within reach—reflections of the beauty we witness in everyone around us.

I’m betting on it.

I’ll be honest, though: I’m not living it. None of us are. We’re all falling short of a radical love. But that doesn’t mean we can’t chase after it like a dream upon waking. That doesn’t mean we can’t dig for it like buried treasure. That doesn’t mean we can’t have faith in it and live our way into it.

One day at a time.

One child at a time.

One lover at a time.

One world at a time.

Question: Are you betting on unconditional love? How are you living your way into it? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

———

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Preview: Next Wednesday’s post is tentatively entitled, “Why Would Anyone Get Married and Have Poopy Kids?”

Disclaimer: This post is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Diana

    Very well said. But I think that some of us are living it (what you call radical love). AndI don’t speak about myself necessarily.
    I also think that those girls who take advantage of the unconditionnal love they are being offered and become princesses, well, these are the ones who have their reservoire empty and they are not believing in true love, they still need some healing (a healed person could never turn unconditionnal love in less than that and the reaction to this love could never be the arrogant and full of herself attitude). Only a man with pure unconditionnal love will transform this. I consider that David Deida explains really well what women are (really) looking for in a relationship in his book “Dear Lover”. And I also think that Ekchart Tolle makes a very good point in his book “The Power of Now” in the chapter enlightened relationships (the idea that for a relationship to be healthy, none of the two has to lean on the other to have the needs met – this is not true love, this is another way of associating ourselves to the ego. So, he says, first get rid of the ego, find the love source and spring into your soul and then you are ready for a true love relationship).

    I really like your Wednesday posts. Keep it going. I am happy you stepped out of your comfort zone when you decided to go public with your thoughts. and I also appreicate that you write from your soul.

    Diana

    • drkellyflanagan

      Diana, As always, I’m grateful for your reflections around the ego and the soul and the contributions of Tolle in this regard. And I sure do appreciate your encouragement.

  • Janet Trapp

    Another awesome article that speaks to my heart! Thank you so much!~God bless you and give you the continued strength to make a difference in other people’s lives!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Janet, and you’re welcome!

  • 62denise

    One of my favorite sayings is “If I love you with all my heart, she said, what will you give me? & then she stopped & said I didn’t have to answer that because she was going to do it anyway”

  • Sheryl

    I read your original article on the advice of a friend, from that article I started to follow you. Its absolutely imperative that we love unconditionally. I am a teacher of students with special needs in special education in the public school system. The children that I work with who have not had that unconditional
    love always struggle more on top of their disabilities. The children who have been loved, nurtured, and paid attention to thrive. And when that trust and acceptance has been established for the other children, that is the context within they flourish as well.

    I have a six y/o daughter whose father is a struggling to recover addict. As a single mom I worry that her relationships with men as she becomes a woman will suffer as result of her circumstances. It’s articles like yours that remind me that it is possible that she will find the kind of love that she deservpes…without her working so hard to attain it. Thanks and keep up the great work! (I sound like a teacher don’t I? Lol)

    • drkellyflanagan

      Sheryl, We all need teachers in our lives, no matter how old we get. Thanks for being the encouraging voice of a teacher here in the comments. And, yes, have hope for your daughter’s bright future!

  • Ashley

    I absolutely loved both of these posts. I find them inspiring and 100% dead on. I must not have read many of the angry comments on the last post but they definitely had to have come from a place of hurt, fear, and a misunderstanding of what love looks likes and the characteristics they develope. I think that most “princesses” develop under conditions and they learn how to work those conditions to their benefit. Unconditional love developes a confidence and peace within a person, not the fake confidence that we often see in the world today by people who are manipulative and afraid.
    Again, I absolutely love these two posts…and most of what you have to say really. I’ve have learned a lot and as a pregnant woman, I hope to put these writings into practice.
    Thanks you!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Ashley, congratulations! I hope this note finds you and the baby feeling well!

  • Jennifer Gan

    Love the post, Kelly. In the middle of reading it, I went and gave my boys an extra goodnight hug and kiss. Thanks, as always, for your wholehearted message.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Jennifer, After reading your comment, I just did the same. Thanks for the encouragement. : )

  • MofE

    Wonderful, thank you.

  • Gayla

    Great response Kelly. I wonder if some are confusing indulgence and lack of boundaries for unconditional love. These are very different from each other and the impact on a child is different.

  • Colleen Shields

    AMEN!! to:

    “The reality is, selfishness is actually created by a latent sense of worthlessness.

    People who have a deep and unwavering sense of their worthiness—the
    very sense of worthiness that comes from being loved unconditionally—are
    free from all of the ego needs that produce entitlement, selfishness,
    and narcissism. Children who have been mirrored well and affirmed of
    their worthiness are far more likely to spend their lives caring for
    others than obsessively caring for themselves, because they have already
    been cared for well.

    And adults who receive that kind of love for the first time actually have a chance of being transformed by it”.

    As always, LOVE conquers all.

    • shablee

      and if you didnt receive all that early on?–and feel like youve spent your whole adult life trying to get it…but have failed at that…..then what?…how do you find peace?

      • Colleen Shields

        I hear your pain, Shablee; we all have wounds, as most of us never got the kind of unconditional, mirroring love that we so craved, and needed, when we were young. I, too, ‘didn’t receive [it] early on’, so, out of my resultant frustration, got help (therapy) to find out how to get it in a ‘healthy’, non-dysfunctional way. (I tried many other dysfunctional ways first, which, of course always backfired and never worked).

        Genuinely caring therapists helped guide me to the ‘Healer’ part of me, who was my most resourceful ally and had my ultimate best interest in mind. ‘She’ helped me not only identify my lack of love; but shared creative, healing ways to fill that lack, and assuage the subsequent years of pain caused by it.

        Believe it, or not, but you probably have a ‘Healer’ inside of you, too; she’s just waiting to offer the ‘little girl’ part of you all the love you’ve ever wanted or needed (and THEN some!). It may sound hokey, but all the parts we need in order to emotionally survive this life, we carry within outSelves. Some have been relegated to the background, due to negative experiences in life, so they need to be dusted off and brought back to the forefront. Your own best ‘cheerleader’, and advocate, resides in YOU – she’s just waiting to love you and cheer you on.

        I sincerely wish you luck on your journey to wholeness and emotional fulfillment.

        Colleen

  • Peggy Flanagan

    I’m all in with you! Thank You! Peggy Flanagan

  • Jennifer Koski

    I echo what Gayla said. I think we need to define more precisely what “love” is and what it isn’t. I absolutely believe in unconditional love – loving no matter what. But…

    “Love is not indulgence. It has nothing to do with indulgence. It is not soft. It is not saccharin. It expects the very best of people and it does what will benefit the other person even if
    the other person perceives it to be hard or even cruel. That is what love is. Love isn’t appealing. Love is acting on behalf of the other person. It is putting yourself in the place of the other person…substituting yourself for the other person.”

    I think people mistake sentimentality and ‘giving in’ for love. I used to totally believe this myself. But I’ve changed my mind and I like what C.S. Lewis said, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”

    People who have a different definition of ‘love’ (that it means acquiescence and indulgence) & who might take issue with your words might be thinking “You are asking me to be a doormat or a punching bag. You are asking me to be a softy toward everybody and not expect things of people.” That is a misconception of what love is, in my opinion.
    (Phrases in quotations are words & ideas from others that I’ve transferred here, taken from discussions we’ve had about this same topic elsewhere.)

    • drkellyflanagan

      Jen, Thanks for the great quotes! Couldn’t agree more. See my response to Kevin.

    • Risé Brown

      I love that C.S. Lewis quote! 🙂

  • Sarah

    Yes, there was a huge confusion between worth and ego-trip. When one knows it’s own worth, you don’t have to keep feeding or having your ego fed. Knowing your own worth does not make you have a huge ego, or a sense of entitlement. On the contrary, it makes you not dependent on how is everyone and yourself treating your ego. Entitled princesses and princes, queens and kings have been having their egos fed, not being able to differentiate themselves from ego and not realizing that their worth is independent of the ego. Egos block criticism and the chance to grow with other people’s feedback. A sense of worth allows you to take in criticism and get the best out of it (As Dr. Flanagan showed us so well, by example, while answering the critics at the first post). A sense of worth, in the long run, makes you capable of seeing the difference between someone’s ego and someone’s self and recognize someone’s worth indifferent of where this person’s ego is at. And thus, your capacity of empathy and compassion broadens -towards yourself and others. And the first post said ” If you can remember that everyone else is worthy of interest also, the battle of your life will be mostly won. ” and that answers most of the critics that were addressed to that post.

    I agree that we are still far away from unconditional love and until we get there, we can’t say it’s not “worth it”. ; )

    • drkellyflanagan

      Sarah, you and Diana (see her comment) are speaking the same language, and I have to say, it resonates with me. I think the language of false self (ego) and true self helps to clarify a lot of confusion about worthiness and entitlement. Please continue to chime in with your thoughts as we move forward here on the blog!

  • Cynthia

    YOU are awesome…I am Always so moved by your blog! Right On!

  • Confused by this

    As I opened this article, I reminded myself to stay open. The reason is that when I read many of these, I usually come away with the feeling there is always more of a negative spin than reality and/or positiveness. Here’s an example and maybe I’m missing “it.” I don’t understand this: “I’m a daddy, and I wrote a letter to my little girl. I wanted my daughter to know she is always worthy of interest, because the best way to be interesting is simply to be herself. I was angry when I wrote it….” If you were angry when you wrote a letter to your little girl, isn’t that what you are going to convey – your own anger; not her value?

    I did like the part about:

    “The reality is, selfishness is actually created by a latent sense of worthlessness.

    People who have a deep and unwavering sense of their worthiness—the
    very sense of worthiness that comes from being loved unconditionally—are
    free from all of the ego needs that produce entitlement, selfishness,
    and narcissism. Children who have been mirrored well and affirmed of
    their worthiness are far more likely to spend their lives caring for
    others than obsessively caring for themselves, because they have already
    been cared for well.
    How can you affirm your child’s worthiness when you are writing in anger?

    And adults who receive that kind of love for the first time actually have a chance of being transformed by it”.

  • Risé Brown

    I loved this post. Growing up, I believed that love had to be earned – trouble was, I could never do enough, earn it enough, to actually receive it. The first real unconditional love I ever experienced is from the man who is my husband. This is when my journey started. Having children made me realize how much I wasn’t loved – it also made me realize what love is and what it clearly isn’t. I wanted something different for my kids – even took a Christian parenting course when my oldest was just a toddler which really helped me. Unconditional love doesn’t mean you give them everything they want. Unconditional love means you respect the person – no matter how small they are. It means you create boundaries, explaining to them that these boundaries are not designed to ‘take away their fun’ but are put in place for their protection. Unconditional love means showing your kids the value of ‘things’ and ‘people.’ It’s teaching them the difference about ‘needs’ and ‘wants.’ Unconditional love is not giving in to whatever your children want, it is not buying them every trinket and tech object there is … unconditional love should instil in our kids a sense of worth. My husband and I even included giving our kids a voice – meaning they can disagree with us or challenge us on things – but it must be done in a respectful manner and vice versa. My kids are in their teens now … and so far, its all good. And I pray that it keeps going in this direction. We have pretty open communication. We talk about lots of things, address many teen/world issues. Another aspect of unconditional love is not saying, ‘this is the rule – don’t do it.’ We’ve gone so far as to explain all the whys (pros & cons) as to not do something (i.e. drugs, sex) – we cover everything and then hope like crazy that you’ve given them enough information for them to exercise wisdom in their choices. (They’ve also been taught to consider the consequences of their actions on a macro level.) This is love to me. Love is not setting your child up for failure.

    I did not know what unconditional love was as a child – it made me selfish in that I didn’t want to give of myself or my abilities unless I could get something out of it for myself. This was my ‘normal’ growing up. Kids are conditioned by the way the parents do things. (Thank God, He changed that very early in my walk with Him.)

    Children do what they see and experience. Give them love – the love the Bible describes in 1 Corinthians 13:4-6. Give them respect. Give them kindness. Give them a sense of worth. Give them encouragement. Build them up. Where they are weak, help make them strong. Give a child these things and they will love you back – and they will know how to love others. They will know gratitude. They will know respect, for themselves and others. As I’ve shared, all three of my kids are in their teens now – and so far, its a delight!! …

    I am not a perfect mom – there are times I feel I fail terribly … but they say ‘love covers over a multitude of sins’ … I hope, that through it all, I have loved them enough for them to know that they were and are deeply loved. no. matter. what.

    Dr. Kelly – I so concur, unconditional love does not produce selfish, self-centered and entitled kids. Not loving your kids, not providing for their needs (that’s needs, not wants), not respecting them (age-appropriately of course), not building them up – these are things that more likely produce the undesirable. Great post.

    • Morielle

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. It was very encouraging to me. My mom was angry at her upbringing, and she wanted to communicate unconditional love to us. Unfortunately, my brother and I definitely grew up thinking the affections of our parents had to be earned – and that there was no way we could measure up. But since we’ve both found Christ, our lives and relationships to our parents have completely transformed! Your testimony gives me hope that if I ever become a parent, He will help me be a more loving one than I could ever be on my own, and (as He did for my mom) make up for my parenting failures.

      • Risé Brown

        Thank you so much for your reply, Morielle (that’s such a pretty name!)

        It’s amazing how the Lord can transform lives! With my own mother, I fear that any reconciliation is impossible, sadly. I am glad to hear that your relationships with your parents transformed – so wonderful to hear. I know that if God had not stepped in and that my husband had not pointed out undesirable behaviour on my part, I know that I would have done my children a disservice (to put it lightly.) It was the Lord’s way of showing me that the way I was raised was toxic, and thus unhealthy. He showed me how to love (and it wasn’t always easy) … but if you love right, it will all work out. Love really does cover a multitude of sins. 🙂

    • drkellyflanagan

      Wow. Rise, I’m blown away by this and I just want to refer everyone to this comment and let it be the foundation of the discussion moving forward. So much wisdom here, and clearly hard-fought wisdom. Thank you for risking and sharing.

      • Risé Brown

        Thank you. Wow! I’m blown away that you’re blown away. 🙂 It was hard-fought wisdom – it was a lot of ‘reprogramming’ and relearning, there was a lot of undoing … a lot of striving forward – there was also a lot of healing needed for me to be a healthier mom for my kids. And you know, it was all worth it. Thank you, so much.

        • drkellyflanagan

          You’re welcome, Rise. Both you and Morielle have learned much in your healing, you’re both always welcome to share the fruits of your labor and we’ll all benefit from it. : )

          • Risé Brown

            Thank you.

  • Ash

    I am betting on unconditional love. I was not loved unconditionally as a child, but I forgave my parents and love them unconditionally anyhow. They did the best they knew how. No lover of mine has ever loved me unconditionally, but I chose unhappy and insecure men, because I too, was unhappy and insecure. But after therapy, and embarking on a journey to love myself, I’ve become more discerning. My last relationship ended recently and it hasn’t rattled me. I believe that is because I have realized my own self worth. I have decided to love myself unconditionally. Sometimes the thought of being alone is daunting, but in the end, I would rather wait something worthwhile.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Ash, Your story fills me with hope for all of us. Continue to know your worth and to find strength and patience in that knowledge!

  • Jennifer Newell

    Kelly

    I am all-in on unconditional love. I am blessed my husband is all-in as well. And although we all fall short of being as attentive as we should, our hearts are in the right place. I don’t think our kids or our spouse ever have enough empathy or grace. It is when we open ourselves to forgiveness and love through the grace we show each other that we give and experience unconditional love.

    I know what living and growing up in a conditional world feels like and I strive each day truly one day at a time to love my kids and spouse with that second chance, give it another try kind of love. I strive to always be there to love them in spite of their mistakes or bad choices. I see them as lovable. Although sometimes I really wish they might have rethought some of their choices.

    I think it is hard in the world we are in because so many people are battered and bruised by the trouble and struggles that have come their way. It is only through faith that we can walk the journey and as a result, know ourselves and better love those around us.

    Thanks

    Jenn

  • Craig

    KF, a wise old man used to say to me that love ain’t 50/50 boy, its 1000-0. When I remember that I realize I’ve never really unconditionally loved anything or anyone – but it sure is a great ideal to aim for. And knowing that I don’t do this and never have gives me hope and encourages me to keep moving. I’m betting it all on love. 🙂 I love you. CD

    • drkellyflanagan

      Hey, buddy, thanks for this reflection. I’m glad to be in the game with you, betting on the same horse. : )

    • Risé Brown

      This reminds me of how I was taught that love was 50/50 … trouble is, one person’s 50% can be way different than another person’s 50% – the reality of this 50/50 could actually be 30/70 – and that would suck. I learned from my husband when we were still dating, love is 100% &100% (100/100) – it’s both people giving their absolute all – its loving each other with reckless abandon – both people pouring their all into it. And it works … we are celebrating 20 years of marriage next week. We still love each other’s company more than anyone else – we still have lots of laughs and a lot of fun. My husband’s version of love is way better than the version I was introduced to. 🙂

  • Kevin

    Let me say upfront that I have not read the original article, nor any of the accompanying discussion. However, I think that many people confuse “love” with “permissiveness.” You can love a child unconditionally without spoiling him or her. Loving a child unconditionally means you will always love them, not that you will always approve of any- and everything they do, or give them whatever they want. My guess is that those men who angrily denounced the original post were wounded by women who were raised with an inflated sense of entitlement — spoiled girls who grew up to be spoiled women. I love my boys unconditionally, absolutely. That doesn’t mean I won’t bring the hammer down when they do bad things. I also don’t give them whatever they want, nor tell them that worst of lies — “You can do or be anything you want, if you just put your mind to it.” Instead, I tell them that they will always have value, that they will never be outside the reach of my love or God’s love. Telling someone that they will always have your love is not the same as telling them they deserve whatever they want and can do whatever they want. I think many people have that confused.

    • Anna

      you’re right Kevin!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Kevin, Gayla, and Jen (it’s too bad your comments aren’t threaded!),
      I think you are all right on and have identified another important dimension of this conversation. It IS possible to be unconditionally loving and deeply interested and attentive, while still setting good limits and boundaries, and while not indulging or being overly permissive. It is an incredibly difficult balance to maintain, but in doing so, we give our children an incredible gift. Kevin, want to be my kids’ godparent? : )

      • Vic Woodward

        This is an awesome post and most of the comments do a beautiful job of expounding on unconditional love…soo good. I would add that unconditional love is a love that heals us. When we faiter, fail, become discouraged, disillusioned and want to give up, unconditional love is the gift that lifts us up….keeps us moving forward, gives us a reason to press on in life. Kelly, I have lost my copy of the Marriage Manifesto. How can I get another Pdf. file copy? Thanks you all! I love this blog.

        • drkellyflanagan

          Hey Vic, Thanks for the great feedback. I think the “love that heals” qualifier for unconditional love is an excellent one. Vic, your question about the Marriage Manifesto makes me think it may be time to send out another email with a link to a copy of the book. Thanks for the prompting!

    • vivian

      thanks for that, very insightful !

  • Justin

    Hey Anne,

    Funny that he was so affected by all the men’s comments. I almost felt like he was responding to me. However, in this piece, he replaces his original term “worthy of interest” with “self-worth.” Also, he keeps talking about “unconditional love,” in this one. In the first, it was unconditional “interest.” I don’t really think these expressions are equivalent. But, now I see how he meant his first piece. Unfortunately, from theory to practice, implementation is difficult. And that difficulty is reflected in the discrepancy between his original work and what he say here–what he meant to say. It begs the question, “what is love?–what is loving someone?” And, “what does it mean to love someone unconditionally?” I think he would be well served to read Scott Peck’s, ‘The road less traveled.’ Did you ever get around to that one? Peck says, “Love is any action in the best interests of your own or someone else’s emotional or spiritual growth.” Showing unconditional interest is not in the best interests of someone’s growth, as it does not prepare someone for the real world or promote their self-reflection and continuous self-improvement. Perhaps loving someone is actually helping them self-improve–helping them know how a society full of conditions might judge them and ingraining an unconditional sense of self-worth, while equipping them with the skills and abilities to navigate less forgiving social contexts.

    And, what’s his deal with getting someone a beer?! Honestly? It can be very sweet to bring someone a beverage. As I said last time, he shouldn’t teach his daughter to have disdain for the notion of bringing someone a drink; he should teach her that that’s a sweet thing to do, while also teaching her that someone who loves her will feel compelled to be reciprocal, in return. This isn’t because people trade good deeds, but rather, because people who love each other show it in the little things, all the time.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing.

    Justin

    • drkellyflanagan

      Hi Justin,
      I’m thrilled that you hung around here after the last post and got to read this one! Clearly some of the comments from the previous post did affect me, but I wanted to assure you I wasn’t thinking of yours when I wrote this post. Although you disagreed with me, I didn’t think your previous comments were angry or out of line. I love Scott Peck’s book, by the way. And I like the way you simply ask the question, “What does it mean to love someone unconditionally?” You seem to be concerned that doing so will leave them unprepared for the real word, but I’d love to see an ongoing discussion about that here. Perhaps I could organize some kind of forum in the future? Your observation about the beer thing is interesting. Maybe I do have some kind of issue with that! I remain a mystery unto myself. Keep hanging with us, Justin, your thoughts are valued here.
      Best,
      Kelly

      • Justin

        Thanks Kelly!

  • Anna

    Like Kevin said, most people confuse unconditional love with spoiling a kid rotten. They are not the same thing at all! In fact if you truly love a child you will NOT give them everything they want and give in to their demands because you realize you are setting them up for failure and misery if you do! Unconditional love and steadfast guidance… that’s the key.

  • D

    While I agree, I find this comment very unusual: “Let me say upfront that I have not read the original article, nor any of the accompanying discussion.” Why miss out? The aforementioned article is beautifully written and is in line with that you are saying.

  • drkellyflanagan

    Wow, so many good thoughts, stories, and reactions! Getting to be a part of a conversation like this has truly been one of the great, unexpected blessings of this blog. I will respond to some comments but will likely not have time to responsd to all. Just know, I’m grateful for you.

  • Kurt Andersen

    A lot of your observations resonate along with those from the team at Ransomed Heart. _Captivating_ lines up well into the unconditional love camp too.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks for the heads-up, Kurt, I’ll check it out!

  • Just Thinkin’

    Kelly, thanks again. Unconditional love is a true gift, and not an easy one. Like you, I am trying. I also think that unconditional love is not without boundaries, and discipline, and correction, and guidance. It is not a whimsical “leave it all to the Universe and only see the good in people”.. I believe that unconditional love has a consistent and sustained desire for the best of another person potential, and the fullness of their beauty, and it is about doing what we honestly believe will nurture that excellence and beauty in someone else.
    Like you, I fear that my ignorance combined with my inexperience will make a mockery of my efforts, but I have to trust that this is best. Every other way imprisons, in some way or another.
    Thank you for your encouragement.

    • drkellyflanagan

      “Every other way imprisons.” That just about sums it up, Vaughan. Speaking of encouragement, thank YOU for the “Overcomers” post. Anyone reading this, go on over to Vaughan’s blog and find encouragement there.

      http://notesfromtheroadside.com/2013/09/27/overcomers

  • Roger Backes

    Kelly,

    Thank you for your writing about your love for your daughter, and for
    gently responding to some negativity about “spoiling” your
    daughter with “unconditional love.” I note that in some of
    your comments you suggest that most of the hurtful feedback was from
    men.

    I have several reactions, but first, I am proud to say my older
    daughter sent me to this discussion because she said it reminded her
    of me. I took this to mean she thought I have values similar to
    yours, and if so, I am profoundly pleased.

    My reactions include the belief that “unconditional love” is
    the only kind of true love. It makes no sense that love would be
    conditional. While I believe that love (read unconditional love) is
    the basis of joy for all of us, it is essential for children to
    develop a strong sense of self worth and self confidence. I believe
    that it is just as essential for boys as it is for girls.

    The fact that it was mostly men who responded negatively to your loving
    message speaks to the urgency to teach boys how to love and be loved.
    If you haven’t noticed, boys are in big trouble in our society. I
    believe that is because society demands manliness, and sadly,
    contemporary concepts of manliness still include the “strong and
    silent” types like John Wayne and other tough “big boys don’t
    cry” males.

    In fact, such socialization results in emotionally
    stilted men, that is, men raised with low “EQ” (emotional
    quotient) reflective of low emotional competence. Boys don’t just
    learn not to cry, we learned all emotions except for anger are
    unmanly at best and effeminate at worst.

    I believe that is why so many of us men have such trouble with empathy, with love,
    with self-love, with relationships, and with happiness. That you are
    able to love your daughter so powerfully suggests that you were loved
    unconditionally as a boy.

    I hope my writing helps some fathers and mothers teach their boys and girls that
    emotionality is necessary, because it is the essence of what it is to
    be human. Without it, we are condemned to lots of relationship
    misery, for ourselves and for those around us.

    Thank you for your courage in expressing your love “like a man.”

    • drkellyflanagan

      Roger, I can’t thank you enough for this. I can see why your daughter wanted you to read these posts. Your thoughts about the socialization of boys with regard to emotion are, I think, right on. As you say, our emotions are essential to our humanity and to be disconnected from them does, indeed, rob us of some of our humanity. Again, Roger, good to meet you hear, “man to man.” : )

  • Valerie

    Such a great article/way to introduce others to your writing (recent Reader’s Digest). To my spouse, I said outloud “That’s my guy.” Of course that’s a pretty silly thing to say, but yours is the only blog I happen to view thus have told people about. (I got hooked on “marriage is for losers.” :)) I agree with below – confusion about “love.” – is not grabbing & holding on tight to people, stopping them from moving in a direction they are truly inspired to go… We start with ourselves and pass to children. I find it easy to become stuck in this “box” that’s my mind. It reminds me of when Robin Williams as a Genie talked about the downsides of genie-ness, saying “tiny living space.” Yep, that’s my head stuck on “self.” I wish you well.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Valerie, Thank you for speaking up. It’s fun to hear from someone who has been around since Marriage is for Losers but I haven’t had a chance to connect with. “We start with ourselves and pass to our children.” You make a point that is totally right on and, now that you mention it, I’ve got that, “This has to be a blog post” kind of feeling. The ceiling on our ability to love others is, indeed, our capacity for authentic love of ourselves. It’s counter-intuitive in some ways, but so important to understand. Thank you again, Valerie, for hanging around here at UnTangled and for chiming in!

  • Kathy lee

    Those men that were wounded by the article haven’t experienced unconditional love. Unconditional love does exist. Growing up my dad always showed me unconditional love. He was and still is a father and mother figure to me. In my opinion he did a fantastic job. Not only did he raise me to be a strong minded and independent woman but he showed me the value of family, love and everything else that most children lack of now a days. Unconditional love to me is loving myself first and foremost because if I don’t respect myself how can I love or respect someone else. Giving myself the value that I am. My father work so hard and still does but without that man I wouldn’t be able to be the person I am today. Society now a days has a way of confusing independence and strong minded for a brat or a princess, if that’s the case than so be it.

    I loved your original post. Every father should write a letter to their princess for when they find their prince.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Kathy, Thank you for telling us about your father. It’s an encouragement to us all that we should keep betting on leave and keep seeking it. You were a blessed daughter, and it sounds to me like he was a blessed father!

  • Sandra Labbé

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I have read both your letter to your daughter and this one and they brought tears to my eyes. Don’t be angry, those who got angry when they read your post are just blind and don’t want to see how wonderful and powerful unconditional love is. They are also to afraid to even try. As yourself, I’m not always succefull at providing unconditional love but I try every day of my life. Thanks again for sharing this wonderful message of hope.

  • Holly Cumming

    Okay, that post really struck me square in the heart. I cried all the way through it. Good job.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Holly, I’m glad it resonated!

  • Llew30

    Sorry I’m late. Found this after reading another article I’m betting originated from this one (Dad’s Letter to Little Girl) and just wanted to say I’m almost 40 years old and still waiting for that unconditional love. You are spot on telling your daughter not to cast her pearls before the swine we call men in this world. I’ll most likely die an unmarried virgin with no posterity but don’t feel sorry for me, feel sorry for all the single men who had their chance to get to know me but were too scared to make the first move.
    What about adding sexual orientation to your list? Do you ever fear the day your Little One all grown up will come to you and ask “Daddy, how come all my guy friends would rather kiss each other instead of me?”

  • Junkyard Dawg

    I read this article and also looked at the article which you said created so much anger from wounded men. The only thing I could see is that you were in effect telling your daughter that she did not need to love any man unconditionally. She does not have to do him favours nor does she need to be worthy of interest. I don’t know if you see what I’m trying to point out. But it is clear to me that you love her unconditionally.

  • Joleen

    Dr. Flanagan,
    I stumbled upon your site by chance. God’s grace, I believe.

    Your words: “The world of a woman is ripe with subtext: I will love you on the
    condition that you find just the right ways to stroke my ego, just the
    right moves to make me feel like I’m good enough” rang true with me.

    I’ve been having problems with my husband for the last 6 months, and the comments I keep hearing are: Did you praise him enough? How did you make him feel? Did you meet his needs?

    I know I’m not faultless in our marital woes, but I am tired of people telling me that if I would just stoke his ego and encourage him as a mother would a child, then I can have my husband’s love.

  • Shannon

    I read the original article some time ago, and bawled like a baby. In my home, love was conditional. Every “I love you” was followed by a “but”. My father was a christian counselor, my grandfather a pastor, and no one ever told me I had worth. I was talented and intelligent, and could only seem to earn my mom’s attention when I was doing something “to make her proud”. My father, though we were close, never talked much to me about what I deserved in a man, and instead the two of us shared numerous conversations based on pure logic. Reading the words of a daddy written to his daughter made me weep with longing. I never realized how badly I needed to hear someone tell me I was enough just because of who I am. I read the article a second time as if God was speaking to me, His child. The tears that followed were of an entirely new nature, and my view of my Heavenly Father altered drastically.
    I dont believe that unconditional love could ever be anything but positive.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Shannon, thank you for sharing this. I know such radical changes in the way we see ourselves can fade as old patterns of thinking reassert themselves. But you have a “true north” now, and may it be the direction you are heading for the rest of your days!

  • Joyfull Chimes

    Dear Kelly, I can’ t thank you enough for saving my sanity.I read the first article a few days ago, the letter to your daughter and the other one above yesterday. I was born in the midst of narcissten. And already at a very early age I had decided to end the generation sickness that existed in my family. Trouble was I got a very good education from them. Even though, my Mom was not an alcoholic, I became somewhat of a co dependant for her. Yes, I help people, I had believe if I gave enough love out there, somehow the good karma would come back. I was even a nurse for five years where I just gave.
    So here I am at 43 in the middle of a divorce and picking up the pieces of my life, wondering if unconditional love is enough? Because I have discovered that I have a subconscious ability to surround myself with narcisstic people. I have no filter when it comes to people like that.
    I read books, articles and anything that I can get my hands on to bring awareness to myself. I am really serious about changing my self for the better.
    A lot of what you wrote in both articles, including the letter to you son, seems to belong to my present belief system. Thank Goodness!
    I beleive that everychild that we decide to set into this world should be given a sense of selfworth. God knows, there are days when I am still looking for mine.I have one child from this marriage and he has ADHD. There is nothing like having a special child. They bring you to the edge of your sanity about what unconditional love means. You just love them anyway.
    So thank you, that you also dedicated that letter to the rest of the human race. It gave me hope.

    • drkellyflanagan

      I glad it has given you hope, and you are so very welcome!

  • Sarah

    Thank you for this post! It embodies in a few short words basically everything I, an admittedly still childless woman, think about parenting.

    Growing up I was immensely lucky to have two parents, who, even though they often didn’t apply the same laws to each other, made sure to know they loved me unconditionally. One of my best childhood memories and the thing that helped me most is the countless times my father knelt down to my eye level and told me that whatever bad thing I might do in life, if I came to him he might be angry about it but above all he would still. allways. love. me.

    I would like to add to this article a sentence you wrote in “Marriage is for Losers”: “It is knowing that [they] will never fully understand you, will never truly love you unconditionally—because they are a broken creature, too—and loving them to the end anyway.”
    This to me is the core of Christianity: love and forgiveness. I hope to be able to live it as best as this broken creature can.