Tough love — treating a child with loving but stern discipline in the short run to cure him or her of bad behavior in the long run — can be taken too far. But what can parents do when “kind love” fails to turn a child away from drug abuse or other destructive behaviors? This week’s clergy offer insights for concerned parents.
Rabbi Mendy Goldberg
Lubavitch of the East End, Coram
I would like to first mention that it’s of the utmost importance for anyone who may be close to someone who is abusing drugs or any substance to be in constant contact with a therapist to ensure their loved one is receiving the best possible treatment. That being said, I wouldn’t call it tough love. I like to call it disciplined love, which is good for any person, addict or not. One of the core issues our children have today is “feeling entitled,” which at times is the cause for them to begin to abuse drugs and what-have-you, as we allow them to “feel good” for whatever it may be, not realizing the repercussions that may occur. If we truly love someone, it’s not that we enable them to do what they want at any whim. When you love your child unconditionally, does that mean you allow them to roam the streets at any hour? Discipline is a necessary ingredient to foster love in any relationship whether parental or spousal. The same will apply when dealing with an addict. We need to use the right hand to encourage and foster the love and generosity, to be sympathetic and give more than just a listening ear. However, just as important, we need to use the left hand, to know when we need to hold back to allow for the situation to gravitate and to implement guides and metrics for them to achieve. We need to use real benchmarks in showing them their progress, and help them realize that the more they achieve, the better they enhance the relationship with the people they love, and those who love them.
Children’s pastor, Island Christian Church, Northport
Tough love is one of the more difficult aspects of parenting. Just Google it and you can spend an hour reading heartbreaking stories of pain and the destruction of taking it too far. In my mind, tough love boils down to loving discipline. It’s allowing our child or loved one to experience the consequences of their choices so that they might learn wisdom. Biblical wisdom is both knowing what is right before God and having the ability to do it. Wisdom is the goal of all loving discipline and the path to living under God’s blessing. As parents, we can find solace that even God, the perfect Father, has to deal with rebellious children. The tragic truth is that our children, like us, have inherited a nature that selfishly demands its own way. This is the very thing that Jesus came to rescue us from. Fortunately, the Bible has a lot to say about the loving discipline of God. Embracing it will keep us from taking tough love too far! King Solomon wrote, “[The] Lord corrects those he loves” (Proverbs 3:12). The Bible also says, “God’s discipline is always good for us,” (Hebrews 12:10) and “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening — it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest for those who are trained in this way.” (Hebrews 12:11) One sure sign that our tough love is crossing the line is when it loses the love. Our kids need to know that we are always for them yet against the destructive choices they are making, that we grieve when they reap what they’ve sown, and that honesty about failure is what unleashes the power of God to change us.
Samantha’s Lil Bit of Heaven Ministries, East Northport
I believe the limits set have to be based on how extreme the person’s behavior is. Tough love is all about setting boundaries. It is finding that area of balance that stands firm against an “unacceptable behavior” while offering genuine care and concern. Although resorting to tough love can sometimes be seen as cold to an outsider, when fully understood, tough love is really meant to protect the person from further destruction (either to themselves, their future or those around them). Ironically, tough love is usually harder on the person who has to instill it then the actual recipient of it. The thing to keep in mind is that when a parent or friend makes the decision that it is time to introduce tough love into the relationship, it is then that they are actually reflecting the love, heart and character of Adonai. Why? Because the Lord says in his word that “Whom he loves, he chastens.” (Hebrews 12:6) Throughout the book of Proverbs, Scripture talks about discipline and its benefits. In time, it is tough love that will draw the line in the sand for the person to make needed life-changing decisions. The seeds of sowing tough love now will be worth the harvest of a better life for a loved one in the future.