This raises the intriguing possibility that the problem with praise isn’t that it is done the wrong way — or handed out too easily, as social conservatives insist. Rather, it might be just another method of control, analogous to punishment. The primary message of all types of conditional parenting is that children must earn a parent’s love. A steady diet of that, [psychologist Carl] Rogers warned, and children might eventually need a therapist to provide the unconditional acceptance they didn’t get when it counted.First, a bit of social science nerdiness: the data presented here to show that unconditionally loved children grow up happier is meaningless, because it could just as well be that happy people think better of their parents than the miserable. The effect is small enough that a few malingerers and a few of the rosy-cheeked could be responsible for all of it.
. . . . In a companion study, Dr. Assor and his colleagues interviewed mothers of grown children. With this generation, too, conditional parenting proved damaging. Those mothers who, as children, sensed that they were loved only when they lived up to their parents’ expectations now felt less worthy as adults. Yet despite the negative effects, these mothers were more likely to use conditional affection with their own children.
And, second, what on earth would "unconditional love" of your children mean? I think children hate to be criticized, in any way by anyone. I don't think correction ever makes them feel loved. So, to me, you can't offer "unconditional love" while ever criticizing or correcting your child, and since you can't keep a toddler alive without correcting him or her, this is baloney. What does "use conditional affection" mean, if it doesn't mean smiling at your child when he learns a new word and frowning when he hits his sister? Is it wrong to scold your child for hitting his sister? Is it wrong to smile at your child when she learns something new, or gives you a present?
And is it really so wrong to try to "control" your children? I hope not, because anyone who has been around toddlers knows that they need a lot of control. They need to learn not to bite and hit and call names, not to eat dirt, not to break Daddy's computer for fun. They need to learn to speak and put on their shoes and to say please and thank you. And a lot of other stuff.
As a theoretical proposition, is it possible to live with anyone without trying to shape that person? I doubt it, and I certainly don't think any adult can live with a child without trying to.
So enough with the extremist theorizing about parenting. Just do the best you can.