We have all heard the expressions about tough love. As common a phrase as it is, I still am unclear as to its true meaning. To me the first time I had to hold down my infant for vaccinations and they screamed so hard that I thought they were going to pass out I felt like a tough love participant. It was horrible and I felt like some kind of monster as my little baby looked to me for help and there I was the one holding her legs firmly to the table. I had to do it right, because her life could depend on it and without thinking the decision was made. Right now, I can’t imagine anything that would be more painful than that moment and although my children and I may face a lot of battles….the careful goal of allowing them to grow into adulthood healthy and mostly happy is always the hope. When it comes to our kids, clearly the simple truth is that love is always just plain tough.
It is fairly obvious that none of us can truly prepare ourselves for the road ahead when it comes to raising kids. Some will get pregnant, some will do drugs, some will attempt suicide, some will shop lift or drink and drive, some will choose to drop out of school, remain jobless, marry too young, make bad decisions about everything from their wardrobe to their friends while others will surprise us with their innate morality and goodness. Try as we might to raise with morality and core values children will at some point branch out to be the individual that they were destined to be. Although it can be painful and we may have to step in and either make decisions or choices toward the betterment of their future; this really isn’t tough love – it is a parent’s love!
When we are divinely entrusted with the life of another, we become completely responsible for providing love. When they are little and rather cute it is easy to love unconditionally. At some point though they develop their own ideas, many of which a parent won’t agree with. Tough love is than defined as helping them (or someone else we love for that matter) regardless of how much it will hurt them. The scenario of forcing a child into rehab comes to mind. Perhaps what is so tough about it is not the decision we have to make but swallowing the pill of what it is our children have become instead. As one of the major influences in their life we somehow always will feel responsible for their condition. The key here is noticing that we are just one of the major influences of their life.
I remember a media buzz about a mother who called herself implementing tough love by calling the police because her 14 year old son stole money from her. She followed through with his juvenile arrest in efforts to teach him a lesson. What struck me about it was the pride that she felt in her decision as if it was good parenting or something. To me she obviously had something to prove. The point is that tough love by definition is no different that any other type of love that we feel for our kids. We strap them into car seats as toddlers against their will to avoid them being killed in a crash, we don’t let them go to the park alone to avoid them being kidnapped and then suddenly they are teenagers facing trouble and the decisions we make are considered ‘tough love’. I tend to believe that many of the subsequent decisions were just as hard but the consequences were different.
As a troubled teen myself I can say for sure that teenagers not only desire tough love but they need it. Tough love means standing up to your children and realizing that you are still able and responsible for making decisions for them - especially if they prove unable to. Tough love is stepping in and calling them on their actions, policing their behavior and their attitude and taking steps to redirect or change it. Tough love is also remaining loving toward your kids through everything. It is possible to be disappointed yet still love a child as whole heartedly as ever, even more in fact. It is ridiculous to assume that just because children are older, voice their often ignorant opinions and combat their parents every step of the way - that a parent would just step back and say “Do it your way!” That would be considered easy love. Easy for the folks.
Tough love doesn’t have to be about something as dark as institutionalizing a child for addiction or mental problems it can be disallowing them to see or date a boy you find wrong. Tough love can be grounding them on homecoming weekend for failing Geometry or skipping school. Tough love can be not allowing a 6 year old to attend a birthday party because he got in trouble with the teacher. Tough love is any of these things that parents do which we know are not going to make our child initially happy but will perpetuate us to our goal of raising healthy and able bodied adults. Tough love is also about letting a child passionate to travel explore their dreams abroad even though you will miss them terribly. Tough love is selfless and hard because it affects a part of us that loves so deeply. Tough love is largely about our ability as adults to see what the road ahead could offer when a child, any child cannot. Tough love is tough on us because we want above all for our children to be happy and we know that sometimes our decisions regarding their care might not always provide that.
The whole idea of tough love seems to lead people or parents to believe that we have something to feel guilty about as we make decisions for and lead our children through life. The truth is that the love of a good parent always goes beyond the wants of a child - no matter how old they are and it is always tough. What makes love tough when it comes to our children is that we always love them over and beyond the needs and wants of ourselves. We want to be their friends but were chosen as their parents and then the ones who must teach and foster them into life. Without the “tough love” other types of parental love would be lacking as it would point to the fact that we are either unequipped or unwilling to do what is always in the best interest of our children’s future.