Tough love is an expression used when someone treats another person harshly or sternly with the intent to help them in the long run.
I think it’s safe to say that I’m a strict, controlling and sometimes mean mother.
I also think it’s safe to say that I hate having to be this way, that I often isolate myself away from my family and cry my heart out about the tough choices I have to make, but that I think it’s necessary to implement a little tough love in order to raise responsible, self-sufficient and world-savvy children.
I take my mothering job very seriously. I have to. Who else is going to teach him how to survive out in this cold, hard world if I don’t do it?
(And when I say I, I mean both me and Kevin. He’s definitely not afraid to jump in and either back me up or implement a little of his own tough love).
When it comes to sensitive subjects or issues, I’m the sort of person who would rather just rip the bandage off and endure the two minutes of pain afterward than to stretch it out and endure periods of dull, mind-numbering pain over a two month period.
Again. I don’t LIKE being this way, but I honestly believe, in my heart, a little dose of reality goes a LOOONG way.
So, when I see parents coddle their children, I cringe. Children are little people. They’re made of flesh and blood. They can be molded. They are pliable.
They are not made of glass. They will not break or shatter if you hurt their little, wittle feelings.
I don’t mean to be heartless, but come on people. Your kids? Need a healthy does of reality now and again. They NEED to know where their boundaries are. They NEED to know what you expect from them. They NEED to know that just because they want something, doesn’t necessarily mean they will get it.
They NEED to know the power of NO once in a while. (They also NEED to know the power of yes once in a while, too. But that’s probably a whole other post).
They also NEED to know you’re their parent and not their friend. I hate to break this to you, but you can not be both. It’s impossible. At least, not until they have reached adulthood and have children of their own – THEN, and only then, is it possible to evolve your relationship into something other than an authority figure, but even then, it’s a thinly veiled friendship underlined by authority.
I’m sure that made sense on some level.
Look. I’ve been at this parenting gig for nearly 17 years now and though I will never claim to be an expert, I do know one thing for sure: your kids WILL hate you at one (or several) point in their lives. It’s inevitable.
At least, if you’re doing your parenting job correctly.
How can they not? Unless you’ve been a welcome mat for your child’s every whim, you’ve had to put your foot down on a request, or a wayward behavior or two, during the course of their short lives. And because they are children and are not emotionally mature enough to see the wisdom of your decision, they will have felt angry and resentful toward you.
I like to jokingly say that you haven’t TRULY obtained your full motherhood badge UNTIL your kids have cursed you under their breath.
I have a whole wall full of badges. I’ll show you sometime.
I remember H.A.T.I.N.G. my parents when I was a teen. (Sorry mom and dad. I don’t NOW of course. I wuv you both very much!). And there really wasn’t a reason why I hated them, I just hated the fact that they wouldn’t allow me to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.
*gasp* I KNOW. The audacity of my parents for loving me enough not to let me go wild. Bad parents.
But I was a young, stupid, wise-ass kid who thought I knew it all and there was a time period I was, erhm, less than nice to my parents and treated them like they were idiots. In fact, I’m just shocked that their heads didn’t explode from having to deal with my attitude.
And trust me when I say, I had an attitude the size of our national deficit.
And now, I have two boys who have reached that stage in their lives where they are tentatively spreading their wings and testing the air currents for a few practice solo flights.
And since wing span takes up so much space and our house is just a modest ranch-style home, it gets a wee bit crowded in here when that happens. Prides are pinched, sanity’s are squeezed and authority levels are tested.
Boy howdy, are they tested.
For the most part, my boys are well behaved. They do occasionally test me, but heck, I’d worry about them if they DIDN’T test me now and again. And we’ve had several skirmishes over staying up later than usual, or sneaking food at odd hours (sound familiar, mom?), and we’ve worked through some lies now and again.
But they were all relatively calm battles and we all relatively walked away from them with a few scrapes and bruises (figuratively speaking, of course).
Until about a year ago.
Dude hit 15 and Satan opened up the gates of hell on our house. Bedtime became AN ISSUE! And yes, it warrants all capital letters because it was AN ISSUE in our house.
Going to bed at a decent hour was suddenly deemed for little kids only. Who needed sleep! He was a TEENAGER, he didn’t need no stinkin’ sleep.
Now again, I’m no parenting expert, but I’m pretty sure all of the parenting books and gurus out there will tell you that teenagers? Need A LOT of sleep to function. They are growing at an alarming rate. Their bodies HAVE to have that sleep so they can have a chance to kick puberty in the ass. It’s a biological thing.
But emotionally? Teenagers fight sleep with every fiber of their being. You thought it was bad when they were toddlers? Just wait … oh, just you wait.
I don’t mean to scare you but …. scratch that … there is no way I can sugar coat the teenage battle field. It’s challenging, it’s ugly and it’s inevitable.
Suffice it to say, Dude and I had it out. And it was ugly. And I said some things that I will always regret. But in some twisted way, it was sort of good that it did happen because it taught me a valuable parenting lesson: my end-all authority with this kid had come to a screeching halt. Though I had final say, I had to learn to compromise and to let that tether rope out just a bit more, just enough to give him the illusion (heh) of having more freedom.
And it taught Dude to respect the fact that even though he was earning the right to make his own decisions, he still had to abide by house rules.
Since that incident, we’ve had a few snits now and again, but nothing like that blowout. It was a turning point in our relationship and I can honestly say, we’ve gotten along a lot better since that skirmish. I stuck to my guns, but I learned to bend a little. I learned that it was time to give up that iron-clench hold on him and let him BE an individual.
I’ve always been pretty honest with my boys. We talk about sex, we talk about peer pressure and we talk about their futures – a lot. I guess I’m emotionally prepping them for the day when they will leave the nest. And though it was really hard for me to initially let go of my boys, I’m learning that I’m actually looking forward to them becoming men. It’s fascinating to watch them physically morph into mature beings.
Jazz has grown about two inches these past few months. And his voice has dropped several octaves. He no longer looks, or sounds, like my baby anymore. He’s left the little boy realm and has stepped into the young man arena.
Though I’ve been sad to see him go, I think I’m more excited to see what comes next. And I PRAY that Jazz and I don’t have any explosive growing pains that Dude and I had. (We’re approaching that 15-year mark with Jazz. For some reason, 15 seems to be THE magical number in our household).
But if we do. I can hack it. Bring it on. Not because I welcome the drama but because it’s my job, as his mother, to make sure he stays on a rational and responsible path.
Dishing out tough love is not fun, but I know in my heart it’s necessary in order to help them grow and mature and to prep them for a life that doesn’t include me or my stupid rules.