Long Lost Tough Love

Some people today have never been told that they are wrong and flawed, and it shows. What’s worse, some people don’t know the depth of a love that is willing to tell them these things and help them find a better, brighter path.

In fact, there’s a misconception about love in general in our modern society. Today, love is touted and used as a synonym for acceptance. The idea that you can only love anyone by accepting and encouraging their every will, whim, and action is a false premise that only ever leads to hurt. And though it may seem mean or “abusive” to some, love, especially tough love, is a necessary part of life. It’s what we were made for and from. It’s what we crave as humans lost in the sinful world of our own creation. 

Tough Love

Tough love does not equal hate. Tough love is loving through honesty and reality. I’ll say that again, tough love is loving through honesty and reality. With gentleness, kindness, wisdom, and sound advice, we can offer those who need it a bit of tough love that might just save them from themselves. Because the honest truth is that we are a fallen race; humans are flawed and broken; we spend our lives seeking out wholeness and Truth. Made for perfection, humans are imperfect, and if we’re lucky, we know it—and we try to correct ourselves. Not all of our choices are inherently good just because we are making them for ourselves.

I know mentioning Bill Cosby is a bit of a social faux pas these days, but does anyone remember that episode of The Cosby Show where Bill and his wife show their teenage son Theo, who is threatening to move out, just exactly what that means for him financially? They strip his bedroom of his furniture and the belongings purchased with their money, and start charging him rent—utilities, food, and all. When he can’t live up to these expectations, they tell him he is being evicted. It doesn’t take long for him to realize this threat is empty, but in the process he learns that their love is what is keeping him clothed, fed, and housed, and reality has a bit of bite.

Their parental tough love was not through hatred or spite. It was done because they loved their son and wanted him to be grounded in a reality where he would succeed instead of fall on his face. They were honest, but no one could call them cruel or abusive. There was love there the whole time.

So What Does Tough Love Look Like?

Above all, tough love is rooted in Truth. The big T kind of truth that includes objective reality, facts, and a moral basis. It does not mean we wash our hands of the person or situation when the going gets gray or blurred, it means we act as a sounding board, source of comfort and advice, a compass towards truth and beauty, and a foundation of encouragement. Tough love is not indulgence or enabling—especially when it comes to the people we love the most.

Consider AA, where addicts are told to their face that they are in the wrong, that they have something about them that they need to work hard at fixing. Think of the gambler who might need to be told when to stop. Or the friend who is dating someone who is clearly not right for her. We could be accepting of them and let them continue to fall, get hurt, and maybe that could be what they need ultimately. Or, we can tell them that they are wrong, that something is amiss, that there is a need for a change. That they are broken and that’s okay, because broken does not mean unfixable. More importantly, we should tell them that we are going to help them be and find better. 

Tough love takes a few different forms, but in general, tough love can look like:

  • Telling someone they are on a destructive path
  • Giving honest advice rooted in truth that is constructive and unbending no matter what the receiver’s opinions or beliefs are 
  • Not bending the truth to save feelings
  • Not compromising your own beliefs for the sake of supporting someone else’s
  • Letting someone (child, friend, etc.) figure it out on their own while acting as a safety net
  • Pulling back the support (financial or otherwise) we offer someone so they learn to be self-sufficient
  • Helping someone acknowledge the mistakes they’ve made, or their inherent flaws to set them up for success instead of failure
  • Being the dose of reality
  • Acting as a compass and confidante 
  • Setting boundaries

Tough Love at Just the Right Moment

There will always be situations in life where we have to step back, step away, and refrain from involvement. In these situations, it’s important to remember that we are not withdrawing our love, but rather acknowledging that the person who needs our tough love is probably not ready, or won’t listen anyway. For that, there is just love. Plain old love that they will feel on some cosmic level. 

Additionally, no one, not even the most lazy of us, needs tough love constantly. It is only when bad habits, chronic laziness, an over-bloated sense of privilege, the inability to make a decision, extreme naivety or disconnect from reality, and repeated horrible decisions takes hold that someone needs to grab us by the shoulders, look us in the eye, and tell just how it is, how it will be, and how we need to make it better.

It is up to us to determine the instances where tough love will be effective and those where it will fall on deaf ears. There is always a right time and right place. Discernment will tell you when and where.

As Mothers

“Mothers are the first defense, the final word, the leaders, the comforters, and the perpetuators of TRUTH.”

Some people today have never been told they need to work for something, and it shows. Plenty of us remember being told by our parents that if we wanted a car, a cell phone, a college education, we’d have to work for it. Life takes money, and money takes a little bit of effort to earn. We are beholden to our debts, and expected to honor our responsibilities. For most things, there is no easy way out. And the part of mothers, and dads too, is to be the source of tough love TRUTH that builds up strong, confident, well-adjusted, reality-grounded children who work hard. 

This applies to so much more than just financial matters. Children need a stalwart example of sticking to what is right, even if the ebb and flow of the society around us changes. Today, we often find ourselves in the middle of controversial topics where there is a plain and simple Right and Wrong. Tough love includes standing for truth and what is right, even if no one else is. It’s pushing back and fighting to maintain the presence of truth where it is underrepresented. Our kids need to see this.

In a society that values the quick and easy and self-serving, it’s more important than ever to exert the tough love that creates young adults who understand that nothing should ever be simply handed to them, that there is value in making your own way and living off of your own merits, and that there is a clear right and wrong—and we should always stand with the right.

It’s becoming more and more obvious that people are not told the truth these days. They are lied to and coddled, they are fawned over and petted, and they are left to their own devices, even if that means they are drowning. It seems it’s time to toss out the life-raft and show a little Tough Love.    

What does tough love look like in your home? Share some stories and advice with your fellow American moms so we can raise a strong and healthy generation together!