People sometimes ask what problem or diagnosis I find hardest to treat in my clinic. Is it depression, anxiety or trauma? The truth is the people who struggle the most in my clinic, the ones who are the hardest to treat, are the ones who feel unlovable. The people who doubt anyone truly wants to choose them or be with them. The same people who step out into the world every day without the security of feeling lovable.

I’ve wondered a lot about what this must feel like because I have never once doubted that I am lovable. I have doubted whether I am good enough at work or funny enough or popular enough but never if I was lovable. I have never doubted that I have value or that I am worthy of love. Ever.

I see my confidence in my lovability as the direct result of how I was parented and how I was loved by my parents. I was raised in a home where loving kids was the number one priority. More than discipline, grades, physical prowess or appearance, love was the focus of my parents’ home. There were rules and limits and times where my parents were angry, but mostly my brothers and I were loved. We were cherished with kisses and hugs, listened to and made to feel like we were the best part of our parents’ existence.

The love my parents gave us wasn’t transactional; it wasn’t based on what we did or how we behaved. They loved us no matter what, even when we were driving them crazy, even when we did wrong. They just loved us. I don’t remember many consequences or punishments in our home other than my parents expressing disappointment or fleeting anger. Mostly I remember love.

I come from a long line of love. When my grandfather died recently at the age of 95, he said to my father, “I was one of the lucky ones in life because I was born into a cradle of love.” Despite all his life challenges including chronic pain due to a lifelong hip problem, his experience as a young Dutch man escaping German work camps and going into hiding  in the war and being poor throughout his life due to post-war migration and the medical bills for one of his children before the days of insurance, in his final moments, what he was most grateful for was the foundation of love his parents gave him.

Sometimes people claim parents these days are too soft. They don’t punish their kids enough and that’s why the world is the way it is. That’s why so many young people turn to drugs and have no respect. Their view is that parents have got to be tougher, stricter, harder. I’m proof, along with my brothers, that all the love in the absence of harsh parenting works. On the flip side, the prisons and drug rehabilitation clinics of the world are full mostly with people who weren’t born into a cradle of love. They’ve been punished hard, not just by the law, but by the people who were charged with raising them. By the people who were responsible for loving them most.

The thing I want most for my kids is for them to know they are loved. For them to never doubt they are worthy of love. To feel deep into their inner core they are lovable, no matter what happens in life, what mistakes they might make along the way or circumstances they find themselves in.

Because I want this, I parent them with love. I focus on soft guidance and support, I stay away from punishment or consequences. My boundaries and limits exist mostly to keep my kids safe not just for the sake of having a rule or being in control. I want them to know that cradle of love, that feeling of deep acceptance without having to prove that they are worthy.

Whenever you can, give your kids love. Whenever in doubt, go with love over punishment. Let that love flow out of you. You too can make a long line of people know love and never doubt that they are loveable. You might be the start of that line or one of the members of that line.

Raise your kids in a cradle of love. It’s the greatest gift of all.

Nadene van der Linden

Nadene van der Linden is a clinical psychologist in private practice specialising in perinatal psychology, parenting and trauma. Join the Unshakeable Calm facebook group today. Science based tips for calm and confident living.