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How to Love without Catering

By Shabd Simran Adeniji and Jai Fuller

Yogi Bhajan has given us a simple but powerful guide for parenting in his Ten Things to do for Your Children. It’s a beautiful list of values and qualities that most parents would love to give their kiddos, but sometimes these concepts on paper are hard to put into practice.

Yogiji gave us some insight into the kind of love that will help children grow into their highest selves as opposed to limiting their growth and development. He asked us to ‘challenge them’ and ‘limit them.’

Loving them and then limiting them may feel like very different concepts—polar opposites—but in fact, they go hand in hand with one another because part of loving them is challenging them with limits.

Loving Without Catering

Having worked with hundreds of families over the past two decades, one of the biggest challenges we see parents face is the concept of loving our little ones without catering to them. Yogiji helps us understand that catering to our children is not the same as loving them:

“Anybody who loves anybody and caters to somebody he loves is the biggest cheat and fraud on the planet. Love has no catering; love has Infinity, but you love to be catered to.”
-Yogi Bhajan, July 3, 1992

“What we do is, in the name of love we cater to each other. We love our children; we spoil them. We love our husbands; we cater to them. And vice versa—we love our wives or girlfriends; we cater to them.”
-Yogi Bhajan, March 19, 1992

As parents it’s easy to feel that it’s our responsibility to keep our children happy. But if we are not careful, the cost of keeping them happy all the time can lead to us becoming a catering service to their every whim. This is where loving them can get a little sticky.

Does love mean accommodating all of their wants and needs? Well, frankly in the beginning it actually does. When a baby is born, it’s our job to decipher their every need and meet those needs, ‘cater’ to them you might say. But an infant’s ego is not yet fully developed, so we need to dote on our infants; give them tons of attention as their brain develops exponentially and they thrive from a constant loving connection with us.

Once we hit the toddler years (approximately18m-3yrs), their ego begins to develop and they start to explore their sense of autonomy. It is within this period that we have to shift how our love looks. Research has shown us that children need to have boundaries and limits to feel contained, held and safe. This creates a predictable environment and gives them the tools to regulate their emotions and expectations in the wider world.

As parents, our job now becomes equal parts love/affection and healthy limits/boundaries. This can feel like a new kind of love, maybe even a deeper love, as we learn to discern when we need to create those boundaries versus obliging their requests. In these moments, (and there are many in a day with toddlers) it can be easy to get trapped into catering to their desire for instant gratification instead of standing our loving ground and creating a healthy relationship with limits.

Remember, the most loving choice in some moments may not be the one our children want, but it’s the one that serves their soul’s evolution.

Responding to Tantrums

Perhaps more detrimental than catering once in a while is when we try to “do the right thing” by initially setting the healthy limit, but in the end we give in to a tantrum. This generally happens following incessant whining, uncooperative energy or tantrums. We eventually get worn down and say, “Okay, fine, you can have it!”

This, of course, shows them that they can manipulate us with this very undesirable behavior. Even if we preface it by saying, “Just this once” or “Never talk to me that way again,” by giving in, we have just rewarded them for their efforts. The more success they have with this technique the harder it becomes to shift out of this dynamic that we’ve created. In essence we are saying, “This is an effective way to communicate with me, keep it up.” 

The first few times we set a limit are the hardest—they will come at you with all they’ve got, but before too long they will come to see that it’s a waste of their energy and “No” really means “No.” The best strategy perhaps is to choose your battles. Be sure not to set a limit if you don’t have the energy to follow through.

“Children are very sensitive creatures. They need love; they need to be provided for; and they need straightforward guidance. They do not need to be smothered and catered to by neurotic, insecure parents. Insecure parents create insecure children.
-Yogi Bhajan

Why do We Cater to Our Children?

“It is your duty to speak the truth to your children and to stand to it. Don't lie to them. Don't cater to them...when you cater to the child, you are trying to cover, and the child has the super psychic power to see behind it.”
-Yogi Bhajan

When we cater to our children we are actually “covering” things for them. Are we covering the discomfort of what saying no might bring? Are we covering the harshness of the ‘real world’? Perhaps we are covering our own fear/insecurity of what it will feel like if our children aren’t happy with us. Even our guilt about not spending enough quality time with them can prompt us to give in and keep them happy. What are we avoiding within ourselves when we don’t allow them the chance to face a limit? 

When we are talking with parents about the concept of loving versus catering, the most common themes we hear are:

  • It is just easier. Denying our children what they want in the moment can mean dealing with anger, tantrums, whining, sulking, rage etc.—all of which can take a lot of our attention and energy to deal with.
  • We are being validated. When we cater to them, it feels good and it keeps the peace. We are validated through their affection and happiness, we feel their approval and are affirmed that we are doing a good job.

There are no one-size fits all answers here, it’s simply an opportunity to reflect on what’s coming up for us and how we might work through those deeper layers so that we are able to create the most truly authentic, loving environment for our kids. And remember, love needs to include a healthy dose of boundaries and limits.

The Price of Keeping the Peace

Ram and Shanti put a lot of energy into childproofing their home when their daughter Akal was a baby. They rearranged the whole house, moved everything that could be a potential hazard and made sure the whole house was baby safe. It gave Akal the freedom to roam about freely and explore everything in her environment without having to contain her in one area or possibly upset her by taking things away from her and telling her not to touch them. This way she didn’t have to hear the word ‘no’ from her parents.

As Akal grew, her parents felt very uncomfortable when she was upset or crying so they avoided this by anticipating things that might upset her and creating what they called a “yes environment” for her that extended past the physical space and into all areas of their lives.

When Akal was four years old, Shanti thought it was cute that she was already developing her own fashion sense, and currently was in a “purple” phase. She let her pick out her own clothes each day and these days she wanted everything to be purple! Knowing that she’d get upset if there weren’t any purple clothes to wear, Shanti did her best to stay on top of the laundry, so she always had clean purple clothes ready to go.

But once in a while the dirty laundry would pile up and there would be no clean purple clothes for her to wear. So they would let Akal wear her dirty purple clothes to avoid upsetting her by making her wear clean clothes of a different color.

Akal turned out to be a picky eater too. If there were vegetables in the soup that she didn’t care for, her papa, Ram, would pick them out of her bowl for her before serving her. Often Ram prepared her a completely different meal if she didn’t like what was for dinner.

As we can see, Ram and Shanti are doing an incredible job of keeping little Akal happy at all times. The list goes on of the ways these parents go out of their way to accommodate their sweet girl. 

And what parent can’t relate to Ram and Shanti’s situation? What’s wrong with preventing a tantrum or making life a little easier by anticipating the pitfalls that will create so much stress for everyone involved? Sometimes doing what’s in our power to avoid a colossal meltdown can be the right choice. But other times, when we have the clarity and energy to hold our ground and see it through, we can choose the limit. These are the times we will have the most impact.

What Yogiji is teaching us is that we must not let the catering become a pattern, a normal routine, as Ram and Shanti have developed with their daughter.

Raising Secure and Stable Children

For some of us, creating boundaries and limits with our little ones can feel unloving, harsh and unnecessary. It feels more kind and loving to give them what they want all the time. But when we love them through catering, the message a child receives is that there are no limits in this world, and they learn to expect to get their way all the time.

That experience of being catered to or not feeling the limit around their desires can work against them in the long run. Yogiji talked about this many times in his teachings, urging us to create a secure and steady environment for our kids so that they can thrive in the loving container of the boundaries we provide them.

Yogi Bhajan encouraged parents to consider the bigger picture and provide our little ones with tools and skills for later in life, keeping our attention on what will truly support a lifelong happiness rather than the momentary fix. When we are looking at the situation with short-sighted vision, we miss seeing how catering to our children now creates a foundation for them to have unhealthy expectations in their future.

Simultaneously this fosters an unsustainable dynamic between us. We won’t always be in a position to make life easier (nor should we be) and give them everything they desire, so why encourage that expectation? Instead, let’s help them learn their own capacity by loving them with limits, alongside plenty of kindness and cuddles.


This blog is an excerpt from a book in progress by Shabd Simran Adeniji & Jai Fuller based on Yogi Bhajan’s list of “10 Things to Give Your Children.” Both authors were raised in Sikh Dharma and now have children of their own spanning ages 1-12yrs. Their goal is to apply Yogi Bhajan’s teachings on parenting in easy-to-apply, practical strategies that all yogic families can relate to. Look for the complete book coming soon!