Most parents want their kids to be tough and resilient, able to withstand hardship. But sometimes in their endeavor to do that, they unwittingly cross the thin line between tough love and abuse.
I remember my father trying to toughen up my brother. He was of the generation that blindly believed the biblical dictum ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’. The more he’d push him to be out-going, the more my introverted brother became inhibited and insecure. Not surprisingly, he ended up having emotional issues – stuttering and bed-wetting and lacking confidence.
However, since he was the elder one, he developed this false bravado of being tough and macho. Sadly, like most people who grow up with physical and emotional violence, he could be manly only with people weaker, particularly women.
Crossing The Line Between Tough Love and Abuse
The most essential part of tough love is identifying when it crosses the line into abuse.
Discipling a child is a tricky business. It takes patience, presence, and prudence. Most of all it is being aware of one’s own triggers that make us replay our own dysfunctional childhood drama. Don’t kid yourself, that you will never repeat your parents’ toxic behavior.
I have been there, and I am ashamed to say, that there were times I screamed at my son for some trivial thing. And a few times I did spank him before I became aware of my horrendous actions.
Now that my son is an adult, I bring up the incidents of my not-good-enough parenting so that my son is aware of what I did wrong and does not repeat the same with his own kids.
Owning our shortcomings is the only way we can change the intra-generational transmission of crazy-making parenting styles.
Accepting Our Traumatic Childhoods
A good place to begin getting in touch with our 0wn past and become aware of the good, bad, and ugly. Most importantly, we need to stop idealizing our parents and see them for who they are – flawed and human.
Swiss psychologist, Alice Miller has written extensively on the effects of abusive parenting and how it affects a child’s well-being, particularly how repressed rage can have Hitlerian ramifications. In her book, For Your Own Good, she states that:
The more we idealize the past and refuse to acknowledge our childhood sufferings, the more we pass them on unconsciously to the next generation.
No doubt, denial is a built-in protective mechanism but we have to break through the resistances and get to those repressed experiences.
Some ways parental behaviors that may seem tough-love but are actually abusive…And it starts young
1) Forcing independence before they are ready
- From birth, babies have to sleep alone otherwise they will become clingy.
- Then, they are left to cry out loud – they will learn not to be demanding.
- They have to be potty-trained by the time they are 2 or else they will never do.
2) Obedience – Always Have to Toe The Line
- They have to eat all the veggies – they cannot have likes and dislikes.
- They have to learn to share even if the other child is a mean brat – they do have not a choice.
- They have to be a good girl and kiss creepy uncle – giving consent is not up to them.
- They have to learn to play/do what you want them to d, even if they hate it because you know what is best.
3) No Mollycoddling – They Need To Be Self-Reliant
- They have to be responsible for their own clothes, and school-work by the time they are 5.
- They have to learn to cook, clean, and take care of their siblings by the time they are 10. (sometimes it is even younger).
4) Trivializing Issues – They Have to Have a Thick Skin
- They have to stop being a sissy and stop crying when they are hurt.
- They have to accept the teasing and bullying, it will teach them to be tough.
- They have to fight their own battles when they are kicked around at school or in the playground.
5) Inflexible Disciplining – No Questions Asked
- You cannot go for a sleepover at your friend’s house – just don’t ask why
- You have to be home by 6 p.m or else you will be grounded for a week.
- You have to go to sleep at 10 p.m even on weekends.
6) Using Hurtful Words and Threats
- You are stupid, you will never amount to anything.
- Why can’t you be like your sister who gets such good grades?
- If you don’t come to your Aunt Mary’s house today, I will not give you any pocket money.
7) Spanking and Hitting
- Many parents still think it is OK to discipline a child this way.
Tough Love Is Not Always Needed
It has been my experience that once a child can understand things, you can negotiate things and elicit good behavior. Rarely, does one need to resort to tough-love measures? Be open to discourse and negotiation. Rigidity and lack of flexibility only leads to resentment resulting in delinquent behaviors
Children need emotional stability and consistency. So don’t be erratic about rules. Be clear about boundaries and expectations. There should be no ambiguity. Most importantly, they need to feel and secure enough to discuss any matter with you Remember, how you tackle their tantrums and deal with their feelings shapes how they feel about themselves and their world.
You, as a parent need to show respectful love for this life you chose to bring into the world.