Parenting Guide: Loving a Child Without Expectations

By Greg Baer M.D.

February 14, 2024

When my grandchild Jack was four years old, there were few things more delightful than his arrival at our house for a visit.

He ran across the kitchen floor and flung himself into the air, four limbs splayed as far apart as he could get them, with no doubt that I would catch him and hold him.

And then we played. A lot.

I pushed him on a tire suspended from high in a tree. We explored the creek and the woods. We threw rocks. We hammered nails. We splashed in puddles.

Enjoying Time with a Child Without Expectations

Jack thoroughly enjoyed our time together, but when he was young I can’t remember him saying, “Wow, Grandpa, thanks for making this path through the woods,” or “You must have spent a lot of time digging postholes, installing supports, shoveling mud in the rain, and hauling gravel to make this great ramp up the side of the dam for the lake, so we could ride our tricycles and motorized cars there.”

In other words, Jack was not big in the gratitude department. He didn’t understand the effort that went into suspending a chain for a tire swing from a branch more than thirty feet off the ground.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. At that point, it was not his job to be understanding and grateful. He was a kid. It was his job to feel loved and gradually to learn to be more responsible and loving.

Parents Loving without Expectations

I suppose that’s one reason I especially enjoy loving grandchildren. When I’m with them, there’s no confusion about trading Imitation Love. I give because I want to, knowing that I’ll get nothing in return.

Sure, I enjoy their smiles and giggles, but those responses don’t make me feel more important or valued; I’m just happy for them.

Our job as parents is to learn to love a child and to love with a child, but not to get love or gratitude from a child. They don’t teach us to love, just give us the opportunities to practice loving.

I am not saying that children have no ability to love unconditionally, nor that they don’t need to learn gratitude. I am saying, however, that their ability is quite limited while they are young.

By virtue of their weakness and dependence upon adults—especially their parents—they simply need us too much to have much unconditional concern for our happiness.

And we need children and other people who can’t reward us for our love and service. These people give us invaluable opportunities to practice loving unconditionally. I’m grateful for them.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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