Defensive Parenting Part 2: Tough Love Makes Good Kids

| by Suzanne Venker

First, a disclaimer: It's a thousand times harder to be a parent today. From the pressure to breastfeed and stimulate your baby intellectually (an absurd concept), to not allowing our children to play freely in the neighborhood, to the idea that parents should have 100K dollars saved for their kids' college educations, the entire parenting environment can really suck. Now add to this the politically correct, unspoken idea that being a meanie will cause your child irreparable harm -- and it's little wonder parents today struggle so much.

This is why it's so important for people to speak out against modern parenting. We need to get the pressure off parents who feel overwhelmed with their responsibilities -- and part of the way to do this is to quit setting them up to fail. The above scenario sets them up to fail in the same way the pressure of becoming a working mother does. Thankfully, the pressure with this particular issue has eased up a bit over the past decade; but ten years ago it was still in full swing. That's why I wrote a book to counteract the notion that women should expect to successfully care for babies and toddlers while holding down a full-time job. The concept is absurd; there just aren't enough hours in the day to perform two full-time jobs well.

Similarly, teaching parents to indulge their children out of fear of coming across as a meanie is a lose-lose scenario. There is a happy medium between the belts and paddles of yesteryear and the indulgent nature of modern parenting. That middle ground is tough love, which means being firm, fair, consistent, and commanding -- while at the same time providing unconditional love. That we know this works doesn't mean we're successful all the time or that we won't struggle. We all struggle. But this doesn't change the fact that this is what children respond to best. And there is still plenty of room under this umbrella for us all to be unique in our parenting style -- and for us to take into account our children's unique personalities.

For example, I have one child who's naturally compliant. It is in her nature to do the right thing at all times. And let's face it: This makes raising her very easy. Now I have another child who's naturally defiant. It is in his nature to argue at all times, to do things his way, and to take charge. But his father and I don't change the rules for him because he's harder to raise. We don't "give him an out" by suggesting he can't help but get into trouble more because that's "just the way he is" or because he "needs to be understood" or because he's mentally deficient in some way. It just means it takes more effort on our part to raise him.

What has happened is that over the course of the past several decades the school of thought with respect to parenting has been that "nicer" is better. Parents have been encouraged to understand their children rather than "tell them what to do" -- the idea being that if children feel understood and appreciated, they'll behave better and will have a stronger sense of self. But more often than not this approach merely leads to children ruling the roost. Children don't want their parents to give them a lot of slack. They want you to be in charge of them.

For the past 20 years I have been up to my neck in disciplining children -- which is not say that I've done it perfectly all the time. But it is to say that I've seen a lot. I spent my twenties working with at-risk youth and teaching middle school; and as many of you I'm sure remember, middle school is all about discipline. Sometimes we teachers thought that's all we did all day!

Since that time I've been home with my two children, who are now 7 and 10. I know what today's parents are like, and I can tell you from everything I've seen that there are far fewer parents who parent the old-fashioned way than there are those who parent the modern way. And if it works for them, great. But most of the time it does not work. Most of the time these parents are suffering behind closed doors with children who are in control -- rather than the other way around. And if parents think this is hell when their kids are little, it ain't nothin compared to what it's going to be like when their kids are teenagers. All of us need to watch out for these years -- regardless of how we parent. So I say let's not add to it by starting things off on the wrong foot.

Photo by ttarasiuk via Flickr