I’m generally a lighthearted and goofy person. I don’t really know that there is a way to make this lighthearted though, because it is one of the hardest struggles for me as a parent. So I’m putting on my serious hat for minute.
I have a pretty unique family dynamic. We adopted our oldest two kids and they are very close in age to us. I’m talking barely a 12-year difference. We have only had them for 8 years but we are very much their parents.While we try to understand that they are able adults now, and make their own choices, boundaries have been hard to establish. We want to help. We want them to succeed and we want to provide whatever we can to do that. But sometimes tough love is needed.
That means saying no when it would be easy to say yes. Sticking to boundaries, even though you know they’ll be upset with you. Teaching accountability and responsibility, all in the hopes of them learning independence and hopefully becoming productive and contributing members of society.
There have been many times in our parenting journey that we have had to use “tough love” with each of our children.
Before I go further, I am going to say this has nothing to do with corporal punishment, smacking, or physically disciplining your child. When I speak of tough love, I am talking about the kind of love, discipline, and guidance that often is just as hard to dish out as it is to receive.
As children get older and even turn into adults, sometimes it’s the only option to do right by them. You can do everything “right” and still find yourself in a position where one of your children needs you to say no, let them fail, or go without. But tough love isn’t just for grown children. The following tips can be applied to most ages.
Take Emotion Out Of It
Parenting is so dang emotional. It can bring you to your knees one moment, and make you experience euphoria the next. We love our kids so much and this was the hardest thing for me to learn.
By taking our emotions out of it, it doesn’t mean that we are removing love or compassion. What it means is guilt, embarrassment, shame, anxiety, or possible codependency isn’t getting in the way of making the best decision for our child.
Take a deep breath and give yourself some time to decide your next step. If you allow yourself to process through your emotions, then you aren’t making a parenting decision based on being upset, scared, or exhausted.
I remember when we decided to ask our daughter to find her own place, because she wasn’t following the house rules. We knew it would come with a lot of blow back, but we also knew we were preventing her from moving on to the next chapter of her life. She would not get a job if she knew she had a comfy bed to sleep in all day. We took about a week to decide what we would do. We tried for months to instill more responsibility, but it wouldn’t happen as long as she was in her comfort zone. Sometimes you have to shake things up a bit. Which brings me to my next point.
Don’t Let Potentially Upsetting Your Child Stop You
Some kids never stop throwing temper tantrums. Meanwhile, there are teenagers, grown adults, and middle-aged men fighting on Twitter.There are people I know who still throw temper tantrums as a way to manipulate or scare others into subjection.
Most relationships will not fall apart because you instill boundaries. If it does, then the relationship had unrealistic goals. Tough love is not meant to be a pleasant experience. If you’re at the point where tough love is necessary, it’s probably because you tried to avoid conflict – a mistake I’ve made too.
I often find that a “just this time” or “only a little longer” mentality turns into years of enabling and entitlement. So think long-term. While they are young, think, “Is this helping them to feel empowered?” This doesn’t mean you should have your 10-year-old work 40 hours a week to pay for their own toilet paper. Make it age appropriate. Give them small chores around the house and have them earn a toy or treat. As parents, we don’t need to give them everything we never had. Do the tough work now so you aren’t stuck with a 40-year-old freeloader.
If you are dealing with an adult child, think back. How long have you been playing the same record over and over again? Hold them accountable! If they say they will pay you back and don’t, then the next time they ask for money, say no!
Cutting Off Doesn’t Mean Cutting Out
You can offer support and love without enabling them. Instead of giving them money to buy groceries, send a care package home or extend an invite to dinner. Offer advice and help on how to get a job but don’t fill out the application for them. The goal is independence, after all.
Make it clear that you love them and want what’s best for them, so you will help where it’s appropriate. Set and KEEP those boundaries.
I am in no way suggesting disconnection. I also don’t want this to be confused with neglect or lack of compassion. When dealing with younger children, they are struggling to figure out their own emotions. I would never suggest that you should not comfort an upset child or neglect them, in the name of tough love.
It’s Going To Hurt You
We don’t like to see our kids struggle, but sometimes it’s inevitable. Sadly, it can even extend to not giving them that $20 for their next hit of a drug. Sometimes tough love hurts us more than it hurts them. My insides have been torn apart. I’ve had so many nights pacing back and forth, and I’ve wondered if I’d ever see my kid again. But I knew in my heart, I was making the right choice.
Lastly, know you aren’t alone. There are so many people who have had to put their foot down when it comes to people in their lives. It’s extremely difficult when you have a parental bond with your child and have to upset them. However this doesn’t just go for parents; it can be applied to any relationship, including with in-laws, best friends, employers, and spouses. Healthy boundaries are what give longevity to our relationships, and that keeps us sane.When you are able to maintain those boundaries, and don’t have the stress of being taken advantage of or enabling the other person, the relationship is likely to last longer. I’ve seen it firsthand.
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