Tough Love: It Can Be a Long, Bumpy Ride…Is the Journey Worth It?

Posted April 1, 2010 by

I am in a funk. I am sure I am not the only one, and the fact that the rain outside my window temporarily turned to snow didn’t help matters any. But at the moment I am very tired of parenting. Even the kitsch sign hanging from my computer from Crab Country in Maryland, which simply states, “The Crab is In” doesn’t do my mood justice.

Parenting is getting to me. And daughtering is getting to me. There I am, stuck in the middle of the sandwich again, but this time I feel like someone stepped on it. My mom’s memory continues to slide, which becomes a bit messy when it involves having forgotten to let the dogs out, or when they are in their crates, remembering to let them out. Both yield the same results.

My two younger kids are cruising, but bumps are appearing on the radar as they are off school for the next several days and that will inevitably lead to several disagreements that could end up in downright brawls.

Somehow when my thirteen-year-old daughter asked if she could have a couple friends hang out tomorrow, I didn’t quite imagine the co-ed gathering of eight who will require several pizzas and other goodies to eat. It also will not surprise me if none of them pick up after themselves. Just this morning said daughter clapped her cleats together in the garage (not in the driveway) to get all the stuck mud unstuck. Great. I gave her a very rapid lesson in how to operate the shop vac this afternoon.

Oh, and did I mention that her younger sister (ten, and definitely not cool) wants to watch whatever movie they watch along with them?

Then yesterday I got a call that caught me really by surprise and will put me to the ultimate “tough love” test. Not that we haven’t had enough practice, and our son who moved to Oregon (with our invitation to please leave) is currently between jobs (a kinder, gentler way of saying “unemployed”). How he navigates the next couple of weeks and whether or not any of his pending resumes or applications yield jobs remains to be seen.

But that wasn’t even the rotten phone call. This one involved our oldest son who has been sliding down a slippery slope of online gambling and making other poor choices, coupled with ineffective coping with a long-term relationship breakup. He called to inform me that he had been suspended from his job (as a sportscaster at the local station where he was getting great experience and a job that has always been his dream) due to a flunked drug test. Seems that is how he may have been soothing his pain. His future plans include returning to school in the fall to finish up his degree, and moving back home — with us — in the interim. But there will be rules, and he will need to decide if he will abide by them or not.

There will be rent, a contribution to the grocery budget, and mandatory payoff of the debt. He may need to get a second job. Early indicators are that these terms are unacceptable. What I have finally recognized is that it is unacceptable for us to work our butts off so he can sit on his.

The attitude of entitlement is both shocking and unsurprising at the same time, because as parents, we have helped shape his behavior.

Parents need to start taking the hard road of tough love and brace themselves for a bumpy ride full of guilt, hostility and all kinds of push-back. But I know from those who have negotiated the journey and come out the other side that it is worth it. So let’s stand together and be firm, say no, and have reasonable expectations.

As for the girls, the limit to the pizza party is eight, I will be a vigilant and annoying presence, and no, the little sister can’t barge in.

And as for the other layer of my sandwich, my mother, well, however it strikes her, she probably won’t remember anyway, so no worries there.

Honesty, holding the line, and giving up our membership in “Control-Freak Mother’s Anonymous” will get us all one step closer to launching responsible kids. And isn’t that really what we want?

About

Kathy has four children, aged 9, 12, 24 and 26. Her second son was seduced by marijuana when he was 16. Kathy is now a published author of "Winning the Drug War at Home". She is also a childbirth educator and is writing a pregnancy and childbirth book. Kathy graduated from Brown University with a degree in Health and Society, and also has a BSN in Nursing.

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