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Tough Love: Are Modern Parents Too Soft?

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

As far back as I can remember, we always had a live-in maid in the family home to do the daily cleaning round the house. Some might say we were a little spoilt, but it was pretty normal in our little community in Cape Town. I have 3 younger sisters and when we all became old enough to get more involved in the house cleaning duties, my mom decided to get a maid for only a couple days a week and this was a big change for us all.

Now I should explain, my mom had an old-fashioned, authoritarian style of parenting, and she often used to say things like, “you better do that, or else“ We knew exactly what that meant, if she needed to repeatedly ask us for something over and over, it would usually end up with the guilty party receiving a telling off or worst, getting a slap on the bum for not being an obedient child.

It might sound shocking to some people, but this was widely accepted to be normal parenting back then. Today, I often think how different it was, I always thought that I would end up being a happy slapper like my mom was, after all we were raised in an era of corporal punishment, luckily though, that had all been abolished by the late 90s. Despite all this, I was raised in a loving but strict home, compared to the relatively sobering and more engaging parenting techniques of today. We now encourage our kids to communicate and talk through their problems, which works for us, but sometimes I feel it’s not enough.

"Let go of trying to control your child and instead, let them make their own choices and allow him or her to experience the consequences"

My 2 sons have completely different personalities, one of them is more of a go-getter and has all the confidence in the world and the other often needs a bit of encouragement and reassurance that they’ll be just fine. What I’ve noticed though, is that sometimes the less confident one expects a certain reaction from us when faced with a challenging task, its as if to say, “I can’t do this, so I’m waving my little white flag and you need to help me”. Helping is fine and it’s one of the jobs we all sign up for as a parent, but encouraging our kids to surrender is not one of them. This is when I feel some tough love is required, not as regimented as we’ve experienced growing up, but a modern take on tough love to help build a stronger character.

Here’s what I think tough love helps to advocate, if done properly -

  • Show love while also being firm when discipline is needed.

  • Consistently set reasonable expectations and boundaries.

  • Find a balance between offering guidance and permitting too much freedom.

  • It’s important to show respect, especially if you are dealing with kids that are going through hormonal changes.

  • Let go of trying to control your child and instead, let them make their own choices and allow him or her to experience the consequences.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if tough love is not done properly, it can be disparaging for kids and here’s why -

  • They may need help with everything and are less likely to be independent

  • Often, they tend to be short tempered and become aggressive when under pressure.

  • They may develop poor social skills, have a low self esteem and lack confidence.

  • Frequently feel as though they are not socially accepted by peers.

  • Children become fearful and obedient around parents.

These are some of the things we need to consider when interacting and setting boundaries with our kids and be very careful that we’re not being militant to an extent. Sometimes if this behaviour isn’t pointed out, we may fail to recognise it.

In my view, I would say that parents need to take a balanced approach to everything and enable children to thrive in every situation and be expressive. It’s important to encourage them to feel like they’re capable of achieving anything.

Let us know what you think?

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