Dr. Greg Baer’s inspiration has made me a better father, better husband, better human being. This week Greg generously shares with our readers his personal story, and the lessons he’s learned that can help make any relationship more loving.
Jonathan: Welcome to Kidorable Parenting’s interview with Dr. Greg Baer, bestselling author of Real Love in Parenting and many other books. I’m Jonathan Domsky, blogger, parenting coach, co-founder of Kidorable and long time raving fan of Greg’s work. Let’s get started. Greg, tell me a little bit about who you are, what you do and what you’re passionate about.
Greg: For 20 years, I was a surgeon with a really successful, big practice. I had spent all my life doing the things that everybody tells all their children will make them happy, you know, study in school, and do well, and be successful, and be smart, and be obedient, and all that stuff we tell our kids. And I had achieved every goal in my life by the time I was 35 and discovered I wasn’t happy. Well, that’s discouraging because if you’ve done everything you’ve been told to do and you are not happy, what’s left? So, I got depressed. I started using drugs. I couldn’t sleep at night. Finally got to the place where I was suicidal and I started looking around for what creates true happiness in people’s lives.
And I’ll be darned if I didn’t discover that it’s just love. Love is what makes people happy. But not just any kind—it has to be unconditionally given. Which roughly I’m going to say 99% of kids never receive. From the time we’re little kids,our parents smile at us when we get good grades, when we’re good, when we don’t fight with our sister.
But as soon as we do the things that we’ve been told not to do, we get that exasperated sigh or that, you know, disapproving look and that will just absolutely destroy a child. And so, what I’ve done is I’ve now spent the past 25 years writing books on unconditional love and teaching people how to apply it in their personal lives, in their marriages, and in parenting. That’s what I do.
Jonathan: So, how do you give a child that unconditional love that they so need to be happy?
Greg: You jumped right to the important question. You can’t give what you don’t have. Period. People say, “Well, but I do unconditionally love my child.” And I’m looking at them and I’m going, “There is no way you unconditionally love your child.” “Well, how do you know?” they say. “Well, by your tone of voice right now.” When people feel unconditionally loved, there is no anger, or impatience, or irritation, or disappointment, or any of those things in the parent.
Every parent who is listening, try this with your child. Just go into the next room, and just bark a moment of disapproval and watch your child’s face. It’s just like punching a child in the face. So, how do we give it? First, we have to find it, which is why I’ve written 20 books. But after we have found unconditional love, then we start to give it to our children and if you have any doubt as a parent whether you’re able to do this, just ask yourself one question, “Do I ever get angry, or disappointed, or impatient, or discouraged, or disappointed with my child?” If you do, the love you’re giving them is not unconditional. And so the work starts with us as parents.
Jonathan: So, Greg, that makes sense. It sounds hard. If we didn’t receive unconditional love ourselves as children or in our adult relationships, how do we grow that capacity?
Greg: It’s something that you absolutely cannot do by yourself. Love is a transitive verb. It has an object—I love someone. You don’t just sit and love. So, we have to get it from somewhere, so we’ve created an enormous website, reallove.com, and provided completely free resources so that people can find this unconditional love so that they can give it to their children. We have hundreds of hours of videos, we have free conference calls, so that parents can feel first what it’s like to be loved and then you see this light go on in the parent’s eyes and it’s like, “Oh, that’s what I’ve always wanted. And then, they can start loving their children.
Jonathan: Makes sense.
Greg: Either parents come here with horror stories and everybody who’s listening has got some version of this of children who are difficult, whiny, disobedient, you know, all the usual stuff that, you know, little kids do. And come here and get unconditionally loved themselves and go home and begin to unconditionally love their children and call me within, I’m not joking, five to seven days and say, “Our entire family is different.”
And of course it’s different. Because once you introduce the essential degree in happiness and love, it changes all the dynamics of the family.
Jonathan: Sure. You know, Greg, one thing I find inspiring about your story is that you weren’t born with this. You know, you didn’t come out of the womb already knowing this stuff, you arrived at these conclusions later in life. What’s something that you wish you had more courage or imagination to do when you were younger, before you had this epiphany.
Greg: You know, before I found unconditional love, I don’t think I could have done anything different. Pretty much every parent that I talk to and teach unconditional love to says, “Oh, I wish I had done this earlier.” And I reach out, take their hand and say, “Honey, stop it. Without knowing what it is, there is no way you could have done it differently.” Many parents come to me, for example, with 20, 30, 40-year-old kids and say, “Oh, I wish I hadn’t hurt them.” Without knowing how to love them, there’s no way you could have avoided that.
So, I look back at my life before real love and go, “I don’t know that I could have done anything different,” because not having love is like not having air. It’s just absolutely guaranteed to cause pain. You feel like you’re drowning. You thrash out. Everything changed after that, so life before real love, I look at and go, “I’m glad it got me to where I am now, but I wouldn’t do it different.”
Jonathan: What was your family’s response? How did they react to the changes that happened in your life when you discovered this?
Greg: Well, let’s talk about two different families. So, the family I was raised in naturally was the family that was not loving. That’s the family that taught me values and made me feel less than worthwhile. So that I spent my entire life, you know, proving myself. So, here I am to all the world looking like the picture of success. A huge surgical practice, busy, successful, traveling the country, teaching medical school. So, when I started writing these books, my family of origin was frankly not very interested. Because they live the old way without unconditional love, and couldn’t imagine what in the world I was going on about.
But when I brought real love back to my family, because my wife and I have seven kids, that just changed everything. Now, I’ve told you stories about how families will change completely in a week. That’s usually families with younger children. I didn’t start learning this until my oldest was like 19. So, that’s 19 years of a child hearing from his father, “I’m disappointed in you, I’m irritated at you,” which a child normally translates as, “I don’t love you.” So, with the older children, it took longest. In fact, it took several years with the older children.
But now, imagine this, for Christmas, there are like 24-25 people here in this house. We’re here for two weeks and in two weeks at Christmas time, with 24 people in the house, there’s not a single second of contention, unpleasantness, tension, nothing, because we’ve all learned it. Love is a whole lot better than not.
Jonathan: Greg, show me what this looks like in action. What do you do? What does it look like? What do you do to give children that you love the courage and imagination to make their own way, not having to prove themselves to you to earn their parents’ love?
Greg: Oh, it’s so amazing. Look, let me give you one from early childhood, which is probably a lot of your audience. I ask audiences of parents, I say, “Answer this really complicated question. Why do children like to color in coloring books with crayons?” And the parents give all these different answers blah blah blah blah, creative juices, blah blah blah, blah. And I say, “No, all wrong. Children like to color with crayons because it’s fun. Because they love to.” So then, what we do is we come along as parents and we say, “Oh, really nice job.” When we look, you know, at a particular thing that they’ve done. “Good job.” Or worse, “Good boy or good girl.”
Well, see, now we’ve completely screwed it up for the kid. The kid was doing it for fun before and now anytime the kid goes to crayon and this is…or to color and this is not just…the kid is thinking, “Oh crap, now I have to please my parents by turning out a good drawing.” In fact, they’ve now done studies that prove that the more you praise a child, for doing a thing, the less they do it. They hate the conditional pressure. That’s conditional love.
Jonathan: Greg, describe something in your family life that you have consciously made more fun, easy, meaningful or joyous?
Greg: The first decision that I made, and we’ll get to some more in a second, but the first one is I am never, ever going to allow my children…I have eight grandchildren…my grandchildren to see me irritated, annoyed, disappointed, discouraged, impatient, nothing, because you have to first remove the obstacles before you can start to create joy. It will just be like Jon, you and I are having a conversation and we have a wonderful time for the first nine minutes but in the last minute, I punch you in the face. It doesn’t average out.
So, first I had to get rid of the anger and then the second thing was, it sounds like such a simple thing. I just started listening to them. Children are speaking to you. All of you parents who are listening, they’re speaking to you all day long and we often don’t realize it. So, for example, a child gets up on the edge of the couch and they jump onto the floor. Nine out of ten parents say, “Get down from there, don’t jump on the couch, don’t.”
You know what I suggest is? If you don’t like your children up on your furniture, get some cheaper furniture. Because children are told, “No, stop that, be careful, don’t hurry,” all day long. So, when I say to listen, included in that is stop correcting them all the time. Save your corrections for things that matter like, “Don’t run out in the street without looking both ways.” I mean, that could kill them. But little stupid things that they do around the house like make noises and bang pots, that’s called being a child.
So, the most…I would say the most fun thing that we’ve done initially is let them be children.
Jonathan: In the beginning of your response you said don’t ever let them see you be angry or, be annoyed with them. It seems like a tall order never to be angry or annoyed with your kids. How do you…what do you do when you do feel those things?
Greg: You are so observant. Because, yes, you’re right. It is pretty much impossible to never be angry. It’s going to happen. You walk into the room and the child has poured ink all over your papers. Anger is going to come up initially. Of course, I don’t know where a child would find ink these days. But the anger comes up. So, what do you do? Do you say to the child, “You sit right here in the chair, don’t move,” because of course, they’ve got ink all over their hands. “I’ll be back in five minutes,” or two, or three, or whatever it is. Or put them in a playpen and you go into the next room. Let’s say, my wife were here, and I initially got angry, I would go in and say, “Suzie has just spilled ink all over my papers. My initial response was to kill her, but I decided that wouldn’t be a good thing to do, so would you mind going in there and dealing with that for me?”
Or let’s say I’m a single parent and I don’t have somebody else to go to. Then I would call a friend who understands unconditional love, and I would say, “I want to kill this child.” I get these calls all day long and I say something to the parent like, “So, would you like to use a knife, a gun, or a rope?” And it just breaks the tension and the parent cracks up and goes, “So, really you’re telling me the kid is just being a kid and go in and clean up the mess?” “Yeah, pretty much.”
So, you will get angry, just don’t ever stay in the room with the child when you are angry. Don’t ever think that you’re being angry but you’re hiding it when you’re talking to the child. Oh no, they can feel it.
Jonathan: So, here you’re saying remove yourself from the situation, take turns with your co-parent? Just calm down and then re-engage?
Greg: You got it.
Jonathan: What’s something about your current family life that you wish was more fun, easy, meaningful and joyous today?
Greg: You know, sometimes with the eight grandkids, I wish they were closer. Sometimes I wish I had 30 hours in a day, so I can spend more time on the phone with our kids who are far flung, all over the country. But as far as how do I wish our relationship was, how do I wish I interacted with them, I never thought this day would come. But I can’t think of anything I would change. Our family has changed so much, we’ve become so loving toward each other, that there isn’t a single negative feeling. Imagine this with seven kids and eight grandkids, between any parent and child, or any child and another child. I am frankly incredulous.
Jonathan: So Greg, it sounds like a big part of this is education. First educating yourself, of course, but then educating your children, educating the people that you parent with, educating grandparents, in-laws. How do you do that and how have you responded to people who aren’t fully on board?
Greg: The first thing I say to people is, “Read the Real Love in Parenting book. It’s utterly convincing, no kidding. It’s…90% of what you need to know is in one book.” Now, occasionally people will say to me, “I think this is crap. There’s no such thing as unconditional love.” And I say, “Well, of course, you think this is crap if you’ve never seen unconditional love. If you’ve never felt it. If you’ve never seen children raised in it, why in the world would you believe in it?”
So, I just tell them, “What have you got to lose by trying?” Give it a shot. Your children’s lives are literally at stake. Is it worth it? I spend all day mostly talking to adults who were not given unconditional love as children and are still paying for it at age 50, 60, and 70. So, my response to people who are a little skeptical is, you could try this with your child now or your child can be in therapy for the rest of their lives. You chose.
Jonathan: So Greg, I’ve read five of your books. I’m a huge fan and I apply the principles to all of my relationships at work, with my spouse, with my son. If there’s one thing that I found most impactful, it’s the idea of choosing to be right or choosing to be loving in a relationship. Can you elaborate on that?
Greg: That’s very cool that you picked up on that, because although parents don’t mean to do it, we teach our children to admit when they’re wrong all the time and yet we’re never wrong with them. Because we’re the parent, we think that we know everything and so we’re always right, right, right and besides we’re way bigger than they are and we control the money and the house and everything else.
So, we tell them to learn to be wrong, but we don’t admit it. It is transformative to a child for a parent to say, “You know, I was wrong to do that.” So, for example, a mother just the other day called me and she said, “My daughter and I were having an argument.” Her daughter was, I don’t know, I think 11. “And it was getting more heated and I went, ‘Hang on I’ll be back in five minutes.'” She did just what we were talking about before. She removed herself, she called somebody, wasn’t even me, and they just reminded her that what her child needed because her child was argumentative, was more love.
Argument and anger are always a response to an insufficient supply of love. She got loved by the other adult on the phone, she went back into the room with her 11-year-old, and she said, “Sweetie, what you need from me is love and what you got was anger. I was wrong.” The argument was done. Just like that, poof. So, we really get to choose, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy, because you only get to pick one of them?
Jonathan: Greg, what’s the best thing about being a parent?
Greg: Oh, my. The simply indescribable joy of watching a child enjoy their lives. Three of my grandchildren were just here and watching those three kids play with each other, go outside, and run, and jump, and we cut firewood, and we jumped in the lake and watching these kids love their lives and not fight with each other one time. The thrill of that is indescribable and the reason I say my grandchildren is because they’re about the age that most listeners’ children are.
My grandchildren range from, oh, let’s see, age two to age sixteen. Imagine, Jonathan, I have a 16-year-old grandson. 16 is an absolutely poisonous age for boys. I mean, that’s when they’re into girls, cars, drugs, alcohol, porn, everything. I have a 16-year-old boy who when his mother asked him the other day, “What’s your favorite thing in the world to do?” He didn’t say playing video games, he didn’t say Disney world, he said, “Working outside with Grandpa.” Working? He enjoys shoveling gravel with me outside over every other fun activity in the world because he feels utterly loved while we’re together. So, that is the greatest joy in parenting for me.
Jonathan: Tell me about your current project or something else you think I should know about your work.
Greg: You know, I’m always writing books. We’re up to, I think, 20. I think I’m going to probably take a pause from writing books. The things that I do most now is train other people to be parenting and marriage coaches so that this work can continue because you know, I’m not a young guy anymore. And we do an awful lot of video chats. So, there are hundreds and hundreds of hours of instructional videos on the website. I suppose my current project is just continuing to love people and doing what has already proved to be so successful.
Jonathan: Nice. Greg, what’s the one most important thing you wish our audience would take away from our time together today and where can we find out more?
Greg: If I had to pick one thing, it might be what you said. Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? The other one would be never ever under any circumstances, ever express anger, disappointment or irritation at a child. It is death. And if you want to learn more about how to raise children who are happy, who are loving, who are responsible, who are kind to each other, who are cooperative, who are successful, then I suggest you go to reallove.com and I suggest that you start reading parenting books.
Jonathan: Reallove.com. Wonderful. Greg, this has been such a treat. I feel inspired, with an open mind and an open heart. I’m grateful for your time, your wisdom and your generosity.
Greg: Jonathan, it is always a delight to talk to you. Thank you.
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