on Tough Love

I recently posted this thought on Twitter.

I wonder why we encourage our children to toughness, not tenderness?

In loving relationships between adults practicing “tough love” will quickly end such relationships.  With that thought in mind I’m tempted to ask the question “Why is being tough toward our children acceptable?

I’m tempted to ask, but instead I’ll explain why I think we tend toward being tough on our children.

Because we love them and we want them to be successful?

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? We think showing our children a hard hand or heart will somehow strengthen them and prepare them for a hard world. But will it? Or will it merely show them how to harden their own hearts?

The older I get the more I change my view toward the later way of thinking. After the physical necessities of life, the things our children most need from us are love, compassion, and understanding. Perhaps not in that order, but definitely all three of those difficult to define, intangible, yet absolutely crucial emotional elements.

How does “tough love” fit into any of those elements?

Should we teach our children discipline? In some ways we must. However, must is not necessarily the same as should.

The ways in which we must, and should, teach our children discipline are in regard to the physical necessities of life. We must teach them not to be greedy, not only because greed is immoral, but also because greed is unhealthy. If evil has a more accurate name, that name is greed.

On the emotional scale, we must teach our children to be cautious. We must teach them to be wary. We must teach them to listen to their instincts. We must teach them to always question, most especially the things they are told they may not question.

And then there is the question of when we should teach our children discipline in the matters of love, compassion, and understanding. I’m sure if I wrack my brain I can contrive some circumstance in which we should discipline our children to not love, to not be compassionate, or to not be understanding. Perhaps I could, however I suspect those circumstances would be precisely as I’ve already described them – contrived.

Perhaps instead of teaching our children discipline in the emotional elements of life we should teach them to be indiscriminate in the depth of those emotional constructs?

Unfortunately, in this shallow world where material possessions have assumed paramount importance I don’t know how to begin that lesson. How can I, in good conscience, teach my children to be generous toward those who exhibit greed? I cannot, however I can teach them to not take more than their share, and I try to do that every day.

Perhaps the essence of tough love is teaching our children to deny themselves the material desires so many mistake for needs?

Perhaps… is such a good word.

About C.G.Ayling

Musing misuser of words, lover of lyrical literature, author, occasional contrary thoughts. An honorable man’s name, in memoriam.
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2 Responses to on Tough Love

  1. Jean-Pierre Guyot says:

    Thanks for a very thoughtful blog. Indeed, a child will internalise the attitudes and values that their parents displayed when his/her brain was confronted by the messages sent his/her way. Structure is essential, but so is openness to the complex world the child is thrust into and must learn to navigate through it fearlessly. Structure and compassionate love are the answer!

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