Rethinking Tough Love

I’ve parented a long time and will continue parenting for a long while yet. Still, I am often in need of fresh perspectives and a reminder of what is important, what is really important. 

Recently I attended some workshops dealing with trauma related and adolescent behavior. As is often the case I viewed some of the concepts with skepticism. You know, like when you frown a bit and say to yourself, “I just don’t know about that.” But I must also  admit I gleaned a lot of good practical information and felt there was a lot of value in what was shared. I was indeed given a fresh perspective. 

In addition I’ve done some reading and research on my own and I’ve arrived at some conclusions that have led me to rethink my stance on a very basic parenting technique that I’ve implemented for decades. It is commonly known as ‘tough love’ and as I said, I’m rethinking it. 

It’s challenging to parent in the best of times and let’s face it, these are not the best of times. As a matter of fact, these are downright scary times. 

I hesitated to blog my thoughts as they are still being formed and I’m not sure I can clearly communicate what I want to share. Yet, if you’ll read on, I’ll give it my best shot. 

Two terms you’ll often hear in the parenting world are ‘enabling’ and ‘manipulation’.  These are to be avoided. We, as parents, need to avoid enabling destructive or addictive behavior as well as guarding against emotional manipulation. This is true. And so, we suit up, like a catcher in a baseball team and prepare ourselves to protect ourselves from whatever our kids might hurtle towards us at any moment. It’s rather a defensive stance but better safe than sorry? Right? Well, I’m not so sure anymore. 

Sometimes I think we become so focused on being determined that we won’t enable and we won’t be manipulated that we are distracted from what really matters and that is relationship. 

All my life I’ve heard that you can’t be your child’s friend and parent them properly. I see that to a degree. We can’t be afraid to parent and negligent to properly protect because we don’t want to appear the ‘bad’ guy. On the other hand, before we cross our arms and dig in our heels on any given subject, we may want to reconsider. We may want to reconsider what it is we are attempting to accomplish. 

Sometimes I think we are so on guard for an attempt at manipulation that we overlook the obvious opportunities to strengthen relationships. And that, my friends, is what really matters. 

Sometimes I think we are so determined to resist the urge to help lest we might be accused of enabling a struggling person that we miss the chance to connect and impact a life. And that, my friends, is also what really matters. 

I have seen a lot of talk recently about a blog by a celebrity that I usually agree with. The basic premise was that once a child marries, that child can’t come home again. The concept of course is admirable and I understand that they’re trying to say that marriage is forever. But the more I thought about it the more I knew that I will never say that to my children. It won’t be the plan, certainly. It won’t be taken lightly, certainly. But my children will always know this, they can come home. They will always know, when it looks like they are out of options, there is an option. 

If I’ve learned one thing in my decades as a parent, it is this. Life can throw you curve balls. And sometimes when you’ve given it your very best, tried your hardest, made your best effort, you stumble, you falter. At those times, we all need to know we have a safe place. 

At what point does God say to me, you’re all grown up, you’ve messed up, you can’t come home. Never. Does that mean He will enable me or allow me to manipulate Him. Certainly not. But He will also never miss an opportunity to strengthen our relationship. He will never ignore the chance to provide me a safe place. 

His grace is amazing. His mercy is never ending. And He is my parenting example that I want to follow and pattern after. 

“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them.” Proverbs 3:27 NLT

“Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone, especially to those in the family of faith.” Galatians 6:10 NLT

A dear friend of mine shared with me some of her story. She was young and making terrible choices that actually put her very life at risk. Most of her family chose tough love. I’m not criticizing them. I may have done the very same thing. But one family member chose to maintain contact, repeatedly reaching out, refusing to sever the lines of communication. When the day came that she was ready to enter treatment and change her ways, it was that person that she reached out to. He was her lifeline. 

Another friend recently told me of a friends relative that was turned out of their home because of his addictive behavior. For decades they’ve refused any contact feeling that they were enabling him if they did so. She said something while we chatted that has struck a chord with me. “How many homeless, destitute people get better in that situation, alone?”

Oh, I know, we all have choices, we all must face consequences, and sometimes, when the situation is dangerous, dire decisions must be made. There’s nothing neat and tidy about such situations. 

But, y’all, in the end we can’t strong arm other people with threats and ultimatums. We can’t make them change by withdrawing emotional support. If we attempt that, aren’t we doing to them what we accuse them of doing to us? Manipulation?

Look, I don’t mean to imply that I have this all figured out. I certainly don’t know the details of your situation. All I know is this. As for me and my children, I intend for them to always know without a doubt, they can come home. I hope and pray that knowing that will help them know they can always come home spiritually too. Because, in the end, that is exactly what really matters. 

If you care to read more about this concept of dealing with a wayward child, you might find this article of interest.

Jeremiah 31:16-17 “This is what the Lord says: “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,“ declares the Lord. “They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future, declares the Lord. Your children will return to their land.”

It is my intention to take our my guard attire and pray for wisdom in dealing with my children and those I love. I don’t want prove to them that I can be tough. I want to show them instead that there is hope, God will always love them and so will I.   




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