Tough Love: Yay or Nay?
I attended a conference yesterday morning at my sons’ school called, “I’m Parenting As Fast As I Can.” The head of the preschool was handing out the flyers a few days ago, and she said to me, “Erica, you’d love this. Come!” Of course I had a coffee meeting at that time, so my first reaction was “no.” But the title really hooked me in, and so I rescheduled my coffee meeting and decided I’d go (it wasn’t an urgent thing).
The conference was brilliant, and the hour flew by. The facilitator discussed the state of mommyhood today. How most of us are doing just that– parenting as fast as we can. Bombarded with literature on how to be the best possible mom, in a hurry to exposure our children to a wide array of extra curricular activities to make them “well rounded children,” impose a lot of structure so our kids are polite, achieving and well behaved. She discussed the micro-managing that many of us are doing as well… you know, the helicopter parent who hovers over the child so they can’t mess up or fail?
In fact, she recommended a book that she considers the “Dr. Spock” of today, and that has some really great tips for moms. We were coincidentally sent an excerpt of this book in today’s school newsletter, and that’s when I decided to write about this topic.
Take a read.
“Children need an opportunity to learn about the ‘wave pattern’ of emotions. If parents rush to rescue them from distress, children don’t get an opportunity to learn that they can suffer and recover on their own. Having the courage not to pamper and overprotect your child means that sometimes she will be uncomfortable, unhappy, or even in peril, but that you are willing to take a chance because of your commitment to her growth and development.
Free will is the attribute that will define your child’s life. How he makes decisions and chooses between right and wrong will directly influence everything else. Letting your child exercise free will doesn’t mean being permissive. It means allowing him to choose badly and to learn from the choices he makes.
Children can only learn to make choices when they are given the opportunity to do so. Begin by giving your child a chance to mess up, i.e., allow your child to make a ‘cheap mistake’.
Treating children’s daily distresses as an expected and unalarming part of life is an effective way to discourage them from turning small difficulties into big dramas. Building good character traits is a lifelong process. We can help children become calmer and more resilient by staying calm ourselves.
When horticulturists want to prepare hothouse plants for replanting outdoors, they subject them to stress to strengthen them. Through progressive deprivation of food and water and exposure to extreme temperatures, the plants grow stronger root systems and thicker stems. While parents do not need to deprive their children of life-sustaining essentials, they do need to prepare them for rough conditions by teaching them to tolerate some stresses and extremes.”
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel
Now, depending what your parenting style is, you may consider this quite harsh. Or you may consider this kind of “tough love” necessary to allow your child to thrive in “the real world.” I think perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between.
In the fall, I wrote about my son, for the first time this year, not making the A team in hockey. He was DEVASTATED. Why? Because he got a big dose of humble pie! He has had the biggest cheerleading squad in his corner since he was born– two doting parents, four EXTRA doting grandparents, telling him he was the best. He’s been the superstar in everyone’s eyes. So if he had a bad game, instead of allowing him to own that poor play, he was coddled, and patted on the back, and still told, “Oh you’re still a star.” So what happened when, for the first time in his hockey life, he made the B team? He was shocked. It brings me back to one of my favorite movies, Rocky, when the heavyweight champion of the world, Rocky Balboa, realizes that he has been protected by his trainer Micky all along, by having had Rocky only take on fighters of a lesser caliber.
So, despite this unconditional cheering squad in my son’s corner, myself and my dad on the other hand, would be frustrated. How the hell is this kid gonna cope in the real world if all he’s ever told is he’s wonderful? So there I was, always the killjoy, at the end of every setback, reminding him, that no, he’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread, and that for me, all that matters is that he tried his best. So if he made the B team, well yah, it’s a disappointment, it means he wasn’t good enough enough for the A team, but that’s okay, and that we’re still so very proud of him. We can’t be the best at everything we do in life. But what matters is that you give it your all.
So here’s the “on the fence” question for this TGI Friday:
Do you shelter and protect, because these are our babies, and we want them to grow up with confidence and self esteem, in the bosom of those they love, and in turn perhaps risk doing them a disservice, or do you impose a sort of tough love, giving them the necessary tools to prepare them to thrive and cope in the “real world?”
I’m still on the fence.
I’d love to know your take on this.