Tough Love is REAL Love!

One of my friends asked the following question on her facebook page:

 “When using ‘tough love’ in parenting, has it ever brought you to tears?”

Before answering this, I think it is important to define what “tough love” is.  One definition on the internet defined tough love as the:  promotion of a person’s welfare, especially that of an addict, child, or criminal, by enforcing certain constraints on them, or requiring them to take responsibility for their actions.  I think this definition is vague and doesn’t quite describe what I generally think of as tough love.  For the purposes of this discussion, let me describe exercising “tough love” as: “not protecting someone from the natural consequences of his/her bad behavior.”  Here is an example.  Imagine a mother repeatedly telling her teenage daughter:  “Sarah, go to bed!  You have a school trip tomorrow that you have been looking forward to all year.  If you don’t get enough sleep, you will be too slow in the morning, and you will miss the school bus when it comes to pick you up.  Miss the school bus, and you miss the trip.”

Sure enough, Sarah doesn’t go to bed.  She stays up late.  She gets up late the next morning and misses her school bus.  Then she begs her mother to drive her to school so that she can catch the other bus in time for her trip.  A mother exercising tough love would say, “You missed your bus because you ignored my warning.  I will not protect you from your bad decisions.  Sorry that you will be missing your trip.”

I realize that this sounds harsh.  A mother instinctively wants to protect her children.  At some point, Sarah will even beg: “Mom, PLEASE drive me to school.  I have learned my lesson!”  In reality, if the mother in this example drives her daughter to school, the only lesson that she really taught her daughter was:  “When I misbehave, Mom will get me out of it!

Will you as a parent feel bad for your daughter when she misses her trip.  Of course you will.  Get over it and do the right thing!  I love what Proverbs 23:13 says,

Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.”

Without getting into a discussion about corporal punishment, (which I believe in—but I don’t want to get sidetracked!) the writer is saying, “Punish your child appropriately.  It won’t kill him!”

As a parent, my job is to raise my child so that he will grow up and be able to stand on his own two feet.  Every time I protect my child from the consequences of his own bad behavior, I am teaching him, “Don’t worry about it.  It’s perfectly fine to make bad choices.  Nothing will happen to you!”  You are not helping your children by letting them continue in their wrong behavior.  You are making them weak.  You are aiding in the formation of their bad character.  One day when they are older, their bad behavior will cost them a job, a relationship, or even their freedom.  And you won’t be there to bail them out (pun intended!).

So can “tough love” make a parent cry?  Yes, in some cases.  When appropriate, DO IT ANYWAY!


To read an encouraging book about heaven: