Every time I have the privilege of meeting with a group of parents, whether they are raising tots or teens, I always kick off the class by exploring the concept of "Unconditional Love." I start by handing out a yellow star cut out and ask them to write the name of anyone in their life who has treated them like a star, like they are someone with great value. Some people start writing immediately, maybe writing more than one name. Others sit and stare at the star- maybe they are still waiting to experience this kind of love.
Together, we flesh out a definition of this special kind of love; that love that never dies, that accepts you just the way you are, love that is judgement free. Those who wrote someone's name on the star talk about the people in their lives who have valued them , encouraged them and believed in them. We talk about the fact that this kind of love lives on in our hearts long after their loved ones are gone.
Not everyone has experienced this foundation of unconditional love. Some of us heard only what was wrong with us, with very little attention on our worth and value. We heard things like "I never wanted you." or "you were a mistake", or "why couldn't you be _______?".
These messages do nothing to build our value. They tell us now and forever : "you're not good enough."
I believe we are all born with that empty star in our hearts, waiting for someone to love us as the unique and incredible person we are. We seek love and connection, yet sometimes we find neither in the people around us. The list of where some folks learned unconditional love sounds like a family tree. Others got the opposite from their families, but found a friend, a life partner, a coach, a counselor, a teacher or God as their first source of unconditional love. Some are still seeking.
If we get to the end of the class activity of defining unconditional love and some participants still have an empty star, I ask, "where could you find that kind of acceptance, love, support and value?" Sometimes we have looked for love in all the wrong places. The challenge is to start with the person in the mirror. My goal is for each of us to write our own name on the star. It is never to late to build unconditional love for yourself.
As we grow in unconditional love for ourselves, we expand the capacity of our hearts to love others. When we truly value ourselves, we build up our whole family.