I'm going out on a limb today and getting personal. I've made a resolution to be more open and honest about my thoughts and opinions-even if others disagree with me. This seems especially risky since this post deals with people's dearly held thoughts and beliefs. So here goes.
I've been following a blog written by a mom who is a Christian. It's always very sweet and funny. Yesterday, she wrote a post about the rising number of bullying-related suicides. (But this post isn't about that.) She noted that according to statistics, kids who are overweight, Muslim, or gay are most likely to be bullied and wrote a heartfelt letter to her son about how she would love him if he ever came to her and said he was gay. She said that she would embrace and celebrate it and also that being a Christian would not diminish that since she and her husband have taken a pick-and-choose approach to the Bible and simply don't believe that there is anything sinful about a gay lifestyle. A number of commenters agreed with this idea. It was a very personal post for a lot of people. (But this post isn't about whether or not a homosexual lifestyle is sinful or about how people interpret the Bible.)
Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. For me, whether or not I think my child's behavior is sinful should never enter into the equation of loving him. If I say, "I will still love you if you are gay because I don't believe that a homosexual lifestyle is sinful", I feel like I'm heading down a slippery slope. What if my kid beats his spouse/gay partner? Or what if he decides to convert to another religion? Maybe a very different religion like being an Orthodox Jew, or Amish, or Muslim? Or becomes an atheist? What if my kid is arrested for drunk driving? Or worse, hits someone while he is drunk driving? What if Duckling gets his girlfriend pregnant 15 years down the road? Or what if he simply tells a lie? The bottom line is that Duckling will never be perfect in this life (neither will I) and that at some point he will screw up. He will sin. He will make mistakes. Can I only love him when he doesn't make mistakes? I have been a perfectionist my whole life, so this is pretty personal to me. I've always been seeking for a love that lasts through disapproval and disagreement. One that says, "It's not the end of the world if you make a mistake; just try again."
I personally think that love and approval are two entirely separate things. To me, loving my child means that I will never stop wanting what is best for him and caring about him. If he has really screwed up (like I have to visit him in the state penitentiary), I would certainly feel angry, disappointed, and shamed. But the challenge would be to still care about him without excusing his behavior. There are some things that simply can't be excused. And this is the way that God (the Perfect Parent) loves us- sins and imperfections and everything. We don't have to have His approval for him to love us. He loves us because we are His children. (Recognizing your intrinsic worth despite your misdeeds is a big part of CBT.)
And if anyone wants my personal opinion, I think kids need to hear "I love you even though I don't approve of what you have done," even more than they need to hear "I love you because I agree with what you're doing." What I think or believe or feel is irrelevant. My responsibility is letting Duckling know that he has my love simply because he is my little boy.