During the ’70s and ’80s the parenting concept of “tough love” was introduced: It is the ultimate parental nightmare: “Your affectionate child is transformed, seemingly overnight, into an out-of-control, drug-addicted, hostile teenager. Many parents blame themselves. ‘Where did we go wrong?’ they ask. The kids, meanwhile, hurtle through their own bewildering adolescent nightmare. ” (1) It was thought that if parents wanted their children to respect them, the parents, again, become productive; than they had to kick, literally kick the defiant child out of the house.
Now we had troubles with our eldest, the kind of nightmare troubles that no parent wants to have, and there were times when, especially I wanted to, kick that boy out of the house; but my husband talked me out of it every single time. For us the idea of kicking a child out of the house is just plain wrong; but it was something that concerned friends would advise.
The whole philosophy of tough love is dominated by the idea that harsh rules and even brutal confrontation are necessary to help troubled teenagers. (1)
To my husband and me it seemed very much like we were giving our son a snake when he was asking for bread. Luke 11:11.
To throw him out of the house was going to be seen by him as if we thought he was garbage to be thrown away. To throw him out of the house meant we were forever going to break trust with him. Was he breaking trust with us….very much so. Was he being disrespectful…in spades. Did our having him stay part of the family mean we were doormats….in no way. It meant we had to have stronger boundaries, rules and expectations. It meant rehab, family therapy, and consequences for actions.
It meant jail time if necessary. It meant that I had to think very carefully before I spoke because I had to speak words of truth but not blame: Words of anger but not cruelty; words of support but not saccharin. It was not easy to be there for our son, to work with him, to watch him change from being so angry and defiant to a respectful man.
Years later our son told us he was so glad we stood by him because he knew people who were kicked out, whose families did use tough love, and those young men were now far worse, not better, for the experience. It was one of the most difficult ten years of our lives. It was not all rosy, but God does not promise us a life of ease, but he does promise that he will be with us to ease it.
The Trouble With Tough Love/Time Magazine (1) By Maia Szalavitz, Sunday, January 29, 2006