Are You Parenting from Love or its Opposite?

For much of my life, I thought that the opposite of ‘love’ was ‘hate’. And then, I discovered that these two words were opposites only in English grammar quizzes.  

Love is an energizing force – it gives you the energy to move towards some things and people, and away from other things and people. Hate is energizing too! It gives you the energy to move towards some things and people, and away from other things and people.

That is why I say: hate is not the opposite of love. Of course, one seems to be a positive force and the other negative, but that is only a matter of how you interpret the words themselves.

Love may give you the energy to care for a sick child when you are completely exhausted; while hatred for a bad habit may help you rid yourself of it – both positive outcomes.

Reverse the interpretation, and another picture emerges. You may ‘love’ your body image a certain way, leading you towards anorexia (a negative outcome); while ‘hating’ your parents might motivate you to study hard and go away to a good college, making a good life for yourself away from them. 

So what is the opposite of love? I think fear is. Love energizes, but fear paralyzes. Fear grips you and doesn’t let go. You don’t know what to think, what to do, which way to turn. Every option seems unsafe, fraught with danger. You are unable to take any action – either to run away from the fear or to confront it, deal with it. You do the only thing you can do – you give in to it.

So I’m saying fear is the opposite of love.

You can parent from love – but how can you parent from fear?

I’ll show you how you parent from fear.

Your son doesn’t like guns, he’s not aggressive, he doesn’t like sports, he’s not into technology (Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have made ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’ acceptable – even fashionable!); instead, he is always reading. And no, he’s not reading the Hardy boys series or Biggles or Percy Jackson: he’s reading poetry, classical English literature, mythology; he enjoys sculpture and painting. He is your son and you love him – no doubt whatsoever about it. But you’re uncomfortable with the idea of him being such a ‘sissy’ – no boyish pastimes, no macho stuff, he’s every girl’s best friend and knows no boys (if he does, you haven’t seen any evidence of it). At every turn, you ‘encourage’ him to go out and play cricket or football or baseball. You buy him War of the Worlds games. You enroll him (or try to) into adventure sports activities. You ask him to be a boy (or a man).

You wonder what is wrong with him. You wonder what your friends think – you wonder what his friends think – of him and of you! You wonder what successful career he could possibly have – become a sculptor? Teach English or mythology? Nothing wrong with these options, but they’re not what you had in mind when you thought of him reaching the pinnacle of success at work…

You wonder if he’s gay. You watch his every move with a hawk’s eye, ready to pounce on the slightest ‘symptom’ of homosexuality. You read obsessively about closet gays. You see a counselor or doctor. You find out how you can influence his sexuality, his interests, his career choices – so these are more acceptable to the world at large.

If your child does not fit the ‘norm’, you lose your joy in her, your enjoyment of her. The only thing that drives you – relentlessly – is that she should be more middle-of-the-road. This is parenting from fear.

She’s outspoken, and refuses to pretend a grief she doesn’t feel at a grand-aunt’s death. She’s not behaving inappropriately – she just wants to sit and make conversation with a cousin, or read a book or watch TV. You tell her, “No chatting; don’t read or watch TV. Aunt… has just died. You should behave more funereally.” (!)

It’s immaterial that your child didn’t know the lady who died; you are more concerned about what people will say if they see her doing ‘normal’ stuff when there’s just been a death in the family. You force her to behave in a manner untrue to herself. Even you, who knew the lady, do not feel much grief, but you have perfected the art of showing the expected reaction, doing the expected thing, however disconnected it might be from what you are really feeling. And now you’re forcing your child to do the same.

This is parenting from fear. If you think for a bit, you’ll find that you parent from fear much more often than you realize. Fear of what people will say. Fear of what kind of life your son will build for himself if he goes so much against the ‘masculine’ mode. Fear of what people will say about you as a parent – that you did not raise him to be more ‘normal’. Fear that you did not teach your child how to ‘behave’ in social situations. Fear that she will not be a ‘success’. Fear that she will be singled out, ridiculed, left out in the cold, not find friends or acceptance

You, her loving parent, who is so anxious for your child to find acceptance and love, end up withholding both from her. Yes, you yourself! Supremely ironic, don’t you think?

You are so afraid of what others will think and say and feel about this unconventional boy of yours, that all your parenting becomes focused on making him more conventional. You send him clear signals that he will have your approval if he fits the mold.

Your child understands what’s going on. In essence, you are telling him, “I love you, but I will love you more if you are this way/ do this thing/ be this thing …” You are telling him that he is not okay as he is, that you do not accept him for who he is.

You jeopardize your relationship with your child. She may or may not ‘change’ herself to fit the norm, but you’ll definitely find her moving away from you. This only increases your frantic desperation. Fear has you in its thrall, and there seems to be no way out.

Identify exactly how you parent from fear, and I’ll tell you tomorrow how you can break the stranglehold of fear to enjoy parenting your child as you would like to – from love. 🙂

11 Responses to Are You Parenting from Love or its Opposite?

  1. Venu Arora November 24, 2011 at 5:28 am #

    This is creating more fear in me than love Vinita- as if parenting wasn’t hard work already if I start thinking about all this I will totally die!! 🙂

    • Vinita Zutshi November 24, 2011 at 7:02 am #

      As far as I can see, Venu, you don’t need to worry (fear? ;-)) about this one. 🙂 But it helps to be vigilant. I’ve found this kind of thinking tends to creep up on parents when their kids are 7 or 8+, when parents feel they’re not ‘children’ any longer.


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