The Pain & Necessity of Tough Love
Sometimes being a parent takes your breath away. When you get the call from school to come get a bleeding or broken-armed child. When you pass by you daughter’s room and hear her crying because she has been forgotten by friends when they planned a fun event. When the words “tough” and “love” sit next to each other.
Today, instead of cream, I got to pour a splash of tough love into my morning cup of coffee. It came in the form of a kid who stayed up way too late finishing his homework. Was he up late goofing off, playing xbox, chatting with friends? No . . . he just studies too much. Issues can come in all sorts of packages. Ours look good on the outside, but are incredibly problematic on the inside. Getting this kid to bed is a constant fight – one this set of parents is losing.
Since school began, I’ve empty-threatened to leave if everyone isn’t in the car by 7:32. Then I proceed to run around, making sure that everyone is in the car, rather than let them (one in specific) experience the sour taste of a tardy bell. Until this morning.
Car not fully loaded, I left.
I know that doesn’t sound like much. In fact, if it wasn’t me, I would be carrying the flag at the head of the ditch-that-kid-so-he-can-learn-a-lesson parade. But it’s my kid. And true to sappy mother form, I hate to see my kids hurt.
So, I drove the rest of my brood to school distracted, worried about my guy at home, sick to my stomach at the thought of this poor boy who is working his tail off – literally – and letting it consume his life. Logically, I know we have to draw the line somewhere. But where and how seems to be the question every parent everywhere has to answer.
Memories of “you must let them cry it out” advice when they were babies flood my thoughts. And then my tough-loving friends come to mind. I stand amazed at their tenacity and commitment to their kids.
One couple, in particular. nipped a fun-loving son, who majorly goofed by skipping a few too many classes or just plain flubbing grades in his freshman year at University. Rather than offer up an empty-threat laced lecture, they zipped it. His Sophomore year looks a bit different than he and his friends might have expected. This kid’s parents have allowed him to live at home and attend Community College. They have put their money where their mouths are by giving the kid the chance to prove he can make the grades and work hard. If he can, they will send him back to University. If he can’t – let me add, this has nothing to do with the kid’s ability but everything to do with attitude – he will be getting a job and finding a place to live on his own.
As I drove to school, I thought of my friends and how their hearts must ache every day as they live out the actions of tough love. The road is a lonely one. When their kid spews at them stats of all his friends whose GPAs are lower than his, these parents point to the line in the sand – a reasonable line – even while knowing he’s right about his friends. But in the best way that they can, they have chosen to love him by expecting much and trying to teach him to live above a level of mediocrity.
How and when? I don’t know the answer. But I was moved by a daughter’s response to my lame attempt this morning. I looked over at her riding shotgun, where my guy that I left at home normally rides, “Well, I finally did it,” I say, feeling sick to my stomach. “I left like I’ve been saying I would.”
“You did,” she agrees. “I never thought you would actually do it.”
Hmmm . . . not sure what message I’m sending there.
She continues, “I’m proud of you, Mom.” Then with a firm nod of the head, she added, “Good job.”
I guess we really are all in this together. Not just parents, but our kids with us. Leaving one at home is only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, a dinky tardy pretty much falls in the ridiculous category. It barely holds a candle to some of the tough love we’ve already done and the tough love I’m sure we will need to do in the future.
What surprised me the most? That even in this very small example, my heart can hurt so deeply. Tough love is like willingly putting your hand into an open flame. The pain is certain and inevitable. Scars are imminent. But the tough-love flames aren’t without hope. They comprise the fire of refinement.
And with that thought, I’m led to the One who willingly leans into agony each time he dips me into refining flames. Like my kids, I want to stay planted in my stubborn ways, sure that I’m right. Then when tough love starts, I’m consumed with how much it hurts me rather than for a moment considering the pain it causes Him.
Here’s hoping I lean into truth – on both sides of tough love (the getting and the giving), “For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:12)
Thanks for walking the road with me.
Photo cc by MSVG on Flickr.