Sunday, March 04, 2007

Is Unconditional Positive Regard Love?

Process, FosterAbba, and I have been writing posts about loving and foster care. I think it all started out with Process asking FosterAbba a question. In my post I tried to talk about how varied love can be, how much the experience of loving can vary from person to person.

Process' recently said that unconditional positive regard (UPR) is love. The Wikipedia article article to which Process (and I) linked states that UPR is "to treat the client as worthy and capable, even when the client does not act or feel that way."

Is this love? I want to make certain that I really don't know. I thought it would be interesting to toss out a couple of conceptions of love and perhaps we can all talk about it.

Whether or not UPR is really love, I think it might be a very good concept to teach foster parents to use for kids and those kids families. From what I understand, no matter how horrible someone's behavior is, the concept of UPR direct you to remember that this person is a human being, who was once a baby, and who is acting from pain and who contains with him or herself the ability to heal. That is not probably technically right, but it's the best I've got.

I would say that that describes pretty well the way I feel/think about Miss E and about all the mothers and fathers whom I don't even know whose children are in foster care. Foster parents are in the position of often knowing a great deal about the ways in which parents have failed their children. Some of us have blogs and we will share our sadness and our anger on our blogs. Some commenters, who know even less about the parents, will chime in with blanket condemnations of the parents. These comments always irritate me. Sometimes they "get" me so deeply that I write irritated posts. Though I agree that it is often necessary for children to be removed from their parents' care, I also always find that I have sympathy for them at the same time.

I can have moments of UPR for my father, whom I do not trust and for whom I still have a great deal of anger. I know what his mother did to him. I know it was worse than what he did to me. He had a responsibility not to do what he did; he is to be held responsible for doing it; but when I think about his childhood, I cannot hate him. These moments of sympathy do not lead me to think that I should trust him in any way. They do not change what happened and who he is. However, as long though as I am thinking about the child in the corner of the kitchen with untreated broken bones, I cannot hate.

UPR is certainly not equivalent to the love we have for our life partners. UPR is something we can have for people we don't know. The love we feel for those we share our lives with is something else. I don't know that I could define it for everyone, probably it is different for everyone. For me it would include heavy doses positive regard that are based upon my perception of who he is now (I like him -- a lot). It also includes feelings of total safety and trust. I really can tell him anything. I can be my weakest self with him, and he still loves me. It includes sexual attraction. It is what it is because it is mutual. Although there are some who would argue otherwise, most of us also think it is exclusive. It is the sort of love that you can have for just one other person.

So UPR is something that we can have for just about anyone. The sort of love that we have for live partners is the sort of thing we have for just one person. What about love for children? What is it? What should it be?

I'm not sure, but here are some thoughts:
-It includes at least the desire to provide. From at least the time our children are toddlers, good parents know there are times when we need to withhold help. There are times when we let them struggle. But even when we do that, good parents do it because we believe that it is what is best for the children.
-It includes a commitment to continue to do that. Genuine parental love does not stop at a certain age. It means that even when the kids are 40 you still care about what is best for them. You still feel an obligation to do what you think is best for them. Of course as they get older there is less and less that they genuinely need from their parents, and there is less the parents can give.
- It is probably important to point out that one of the dangers in parenting is going too far in these areas. Parental love invites us to sacrifice ourselves in ways that are not healthy for us or our children. Good parenting means understanding that and drawing boundaries. This is something that we need in all relationships, of course.
- There is the warm, fuzzy feeling or whatever it is. There is the special feeling that we have for children who are ours, that makes us more protective, proud, interested, sad or whatever because whatever is happening is happening to our kids.
- And there is the sense of love as action and choice. To make someone else's needs your own, to do something for them just because they need it and not because it serves your interests, is to love them.

And there is something else, which I cannot explain well either. There is something risky in loving someone, which does not seem to be there in simple Unconditional Positive Regard. In loving someone I am opening myself up to possible pain. Good boundaries will minimize that, but it does seem to be there.

When we are foster parents we are expected to pull off something remarkable. We are expected to act as if, and hopefully feel as though, we were the permanent parents for these children. At the same time we are reminded that we are not their parents every time an important decision must be made. We know that they can be moved from our care for reasons we may or may not agree with.

We have different strategies for coping with this. Perhaps aiming for UPR instead of some sort of "falling in love with" is a good thing for foster parents to do.

I'm not certain though.

Do you have any thoughts about parental love?

1 comment:

  1. The love I have for my children is the only love I really understand and trust. I know this love and I know it will never go away and I know it is not dependent on outside factors. I know this. It may be different for others but this is my thought.

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