There comes a time in every parent’s life that they have to let go of their little darling or their baby as they are often referred to. In the passage of time when a child grows to fulfill the expectations that we have of them such as: making good grades in school, graduating high school, and preparing for their future, the next step of letting go is difficult yet not as difficult if you had a child who had not fulfilled the expectations of young adults.
How do you let go of your child when he/she turns to drugs? Who drops out of high school? Who gets pregnant and doesn’t have a mean of support the child? How do you know what to do? How do you know where to turn to? How do you let go of your college student who gets themselves in a financial burden through bad choices or the thought patterns that mom, dad, friends, grandparents will bail them out each time? Where is that invisible line that moves from taking care of your child and turns to rescuing your child? When is help for a child too much help?
One role of many, for a parent or guardian, is to provide for the child but providing for the child may take a different road than one may think. For example: When your child chooses to drink alcohol at a party and gets picked up by the police, do you go bail him/her out? The natural tendency is to do so but at what cost to the child? He/she then learns that consequences are as lenient as the one who is bailing them out of their problem. Another example: If your child has parents who are divorced and are not communicating with one another, the child learns that manipulation works. So when this same child chooses to use drugs, he/she plays one parent against another. This happens in many situations not only in the choice to use drugs or not.
When tough love is applied to a child, the child may be resentful, angry and may even apply these manipulation tactics to siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents and authority figures. The decision to put a child in an “in house” or “long term” drug or behavioral treatment facility can come with heavy emotions for the parents. Am I doing the right thing for our child? Why do I feel so guilty? How far is truth and how far is manipulation when the child complains about the facility? How do I not fall apart when I am on this emotional roller coaster?
One skill a parent would do well to learn is subjective vs. objective reactions. As a parent, we want to help our child, bail them out, fix their problems, bring resolution to a situation that the child is in and in doing so we take empowerment away from our child and instill immaturity and a lack of confidence. Parental practice of this skill needs to start early in a child’s life, not after the child hits their teen years is your responsiveness to the child’s problem. This doesn’t mean you can’t start applying it after they are in their teen years, but you will be much better at it if you start when they are younger.
But to understand this, a parent needs to understand the difference between subjective and objective reactions. Subjective reactions are reactions based off an immediate emotional reaction to what a child has just said to you. Objective reactions are reactions that separate emotion out of the situation and a parent looks at what the child just said to you objectively. A parent can empathize with their child while at the same time not offering solutions but letting the child figure out a solution. This is empowering your child to solve problems and a necessary trait a child needs to develop to be successful in life after their teen years.
As a parent or guardian finding yourself in a position where a child you love is in need of tough love remember to step back, choose objective reactions and remember that letting go is a healthy step in building maturity in your child