It was one of those moments—one of those moments when you wish you had a camera. My children were all dressed up. They looked lovely (and were actually clean). The weather was beautiful, and we still had time before the holiday began. I called them to me. “Let’s go to the park and take some pictures!”

I thought it was a great idea. There was grass, trees, flowers.

I tried my best. Nearly 30 minutes of pleading and saying: “Just stand still. One second.Can’t you smile? Just stand still! One smile. Please, can you put your jacket back on? Just for the picture? No, don’t run away. Just stand still. One picture. Can’t you smile? Wait, hold the baby, don’t let him run away.”

I tried. Not even one “perfect” picture. This one made funny faces, that one kept moving. This one ran away. This one was too distracted by the birds to smile into the camera. This one didn’t want to wear the jacket or the tie.

I stopped trying. I let go. I started just clicking away. I laughed as I held the camera with a different lens. All of sudden, I became overwhelmed with an incredible feeling of unconditional love and joy at seeing my children as they were, as they are. Each one is so special and different. Do I accept them enough as they are? Do I love them enough as they are? Or am I always trying to fit them into a “perfect” picture. As these thoughts rolled around my head, my four children stood together and called out to me, smiling: “Mommy, take the picture!”

We get so caught up in the details of daily life. In feeding, bathing, dressing. We get caught up in grades, schooling and work. Social skills and manners. Educating, transmitting, training. The list is endless. I feel like I’m prodding, nudging, even coercing all day. Do I stop to think how much they do for me each day? They brush their teeth—not because they want to, but because I tell them to. They go to sleep—not because they want to, but because I tell them to. They say blessings and prayers because I teach them to. Really, when you stop to think about it, most of what they do is because you asked them to or trained them to. They are doing it because they want your love and your approval. They are doing it because they love you.

And do I do what is probably at times one of the most challenging things as a mother to do? Do I love them unconditionally? Yes, I really think that I do, but do I show it enough? Do I enjoy them enough, appreciate them enough? Do I show them enough respect and kindness? With all the guiding and teaching that goes with being a parent, do I remember that the most powerful tool that I have as a parent is my love? My love, my unconditional love.

When the Torah was given to the Nation of Israel, G‑d told Moses: “So shall you say to the house of Jacob and relate to the children of Israel . . . (Exodus 19:3).” The commentators explain that the “house of Jacob” are the women, and the “children of Israel” are the men. How was the Torah given over to the women? In a gentle voice explains the Midrash (Rashi-Mechilta). Why? I always wondered. Why do you have to give over to the women first and why in a gentle voice?

Because children need love, unconditional love. And who is the very first person who must give it to them? Their mother.

There is a tradition to read the book of Ruth on the holiday of Shavuot, the holiday when we celebrate receiving the Torah. Who was this woman Ruth? Ruth not only merited to have a holy book named after her, she merited to be the great-grandmother of King David, of the Moshiach. What kind of woman was Ruth? Ruth was a woman who knew how to love, unconditionally.

We are told that Ruth’s husband and brother in-law died, leaving Ruth and her mother-in-law widows and penniless. Before marrying her husband, Ruth had been a Moabite princess. She was still quite young when widowed, and could have easily goneWe have so many expectations of our children back to Moab and remarried. Naomi herself told Ruth to leave her and go back to her people. Ruth would not. Naomi told her: “I have no more sons for you to marry. I don’t have anything to give you.” Ruth loved her mother-in-law unconditionally. Ruth loved G‑d unconditionally. She followed Naomi back to Israel, took care of her and made sure that she had food. For this act of selfless kindness, Ruth merited royalty.

We read the book of Ruth on Shavuot, the holiday when the Nation of Israel received the Torah and told G‑d: “We will do (unconditionally).” We took upon ourselves to do and to love G‑d unconditionally. What did He do? The Midrash describes how G‑d gave us two crowns, crowns of royalty. He told us: “ . . . you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6).”

We, as mothers, have so many expectations of our children. So many ideas, dreams and worries. We so much want the best for our children. We try to control them and determine who we think they should be because we think that we can, but like everything in life, we have no real control. But we do have one powerful gift—the gift transmitted to us when we receive the Torah. We have the gift to be kind and soft. We have the gift that turns us into royalty—the gift to love, unconditionally.