I first heard of tough love when I was in my twenties. I thought to myself, “I will be that kind of parent - will always do what I have to do to make my child strong.”
It’s a great idea, and I’m sure it works in many cases, but there is a reason they call it “tough love”. It is really difficult to do.
I have a grown child who simply did not follow the easy path in life. By easy path I mean, stay out of trouble, get a job and stick with it, pay your bills, get married before the kids are born, buy a house, no substance abuse…etc.
It was simple when I was inexperienced to think life is black and white. You do it right or you don’t. You make good decisions or you don’t. What I have found is life is extremely grey. Choices are sometimes done without the conscious decision to make them. No forethought at all, it seems at times.
What began as my child wanting to help someone has ended up nearly destroying him. It has taken over ten years, but that is what happened. He was young and naïve when he thought he could save another person.
Now I’ve been forced to put my beliefs into action. I had to use tough love and make very conscious decisions in order to make this child understand I’m not playing the game anymore.
This is painful.
My child is hurt and angry.
I am hurt and angry. Even as a parent who is making decisions that will, in the end I hope help my child, I am furious at the deceit, the thefts, the outright lies.
As a parent of course I love this grown child of mine more than life itself, but I have to walk away and turn my back because I am vulnerable to him. I see the eight-year-old who wanted to ride his skateboard off the roof of the house, with those bright blue eyes and hopeful expression.
What I need to see is the grown man with his bright blue eyes and hopeful expression - and realize he has to do this himself. I can’t rescue him any more than he could rescue the person he met ten years ago.
That’s a hard lesson for me. As an empowered woman and a mother who dedicated her time, heart and soul into her children…it is excruciating.
I know people reading this column today who are going through a similar situation may not be dealing with their child. It may be a sibling, a niece or nephew, a spouse or even a parent. It could be a friend.
When I was growing up, I associated love with warm fuzzy feelings of comfort and trust; understanding and compassion.
What I know now is love has many faces. From holding the hands and arms of a child down while a doctor lances an infected wound to turning my physical back to my grown son – it’s all love. They may not see it right now or understand what they do see, but the end result is hopefully the same.
The wound will heal and a better, healthier person will emerge.
Published Nov. 16, 2013