“James, you’re not helping him by being tough, you’re being mean.”
It took a while to let that sink in as I looked at my wife in disbelief.
I couldn’t believe that what I thought was showing my oldest son, tough love, was actually looking like and feeling like I had no love for him.
My dad was huge on tough love and it helped push me to do things I might have never tried. Now as a dad myself, I also use tough love on my kids.
However, this one time I had to agree with my wife. I wasn’t showing my son tough love, I was being a dick. I was killing his pride instead of helping him become stronger.
It all started with our trip to Metlife Stadium for their annual fitness expo. We had such a dope time at that event last year that this year we went super early so we could sign up to do duo zip lining.
My oldest has done a ton of zip lines. This one would be his shortest one ever and his 5-year-old brother really wanted to try it. You know I was down for it also.
My oldest and I headed to the top of the platform to start our adventure. That’s when I started to notice that my oldest was actually scared of this one. Til this day I still don’t know why since he has done way scarier zip lines before. Maybe it was the crowd of people? Maybe every zip line, no matter the length, is a new adventure? Who knows.
The plan was to have me go a few seconds ahead of him so I could record our trip down together, but it didn’t work out as planned.He backed down and I became a jerk.
Teasing not encouragement
Instead of being a support system, I myself panicked and resorted to tough love. I looked at him and angrily told him, “Stop being scared. We waited this whole time — do it!”and more.
I became that dad I hate. I started teasing him instead of encouraging him. Instead of talking him into doing it, I talked him right out of it.
My tough love wasn’t encouraging him, it was fucking with his head. It was making him feel like crap and to be honest I didn’t even stop to think about it.
He gave me a sad look and told me he would meet me on the other side. I jumped off the edge and zip lined down to the bottom while he walked down the stairs.
As we watched his 5-year-old brother zip line across the field, I kept throwing jabs.
I kept telling my oldest that he was acting “soft” and that he should be embarrassed that his little brother just did what we wouldn’t do. Not my finest hour.
Jab after jab, I kept serving him every chance I got. I forgot he wasn’t me and this wouldn’t help him “man up.” Well, at least not the way I was handling it.
I wanted him to conquer anything and everything that came his way, but I wasn’t helping by coming after him like I was. Instead, I was making him sad and it took my wife’s words for me to notice it.
My tough love was looking like I had no love for him and I was killing his pride, I was messing up. It happens to the best of us.
Tough love may have worked for you but …
I am a huge believer in tough love. This world is unforgiving and I like to think what my dad showed me really helped me with my life. It made me tougher in a neighborhood that needed kids to be tough. My son, however; he wasn’t raised in my crazy environment. I had to mature quickly; my son can just be a kid.
Instead of teasing my son about him being afraid, I should have stepped down with him and simply talked about it. Instead, I made him feel worthless by teasing him about something most kids would be afraid to do.
That doesn’t mean that tough love isn’t needed, there’s always a time and place for it. It just means that we need to know when we are going too far with it.
I messed up and I know it. Will it happen again? Probably, but next time I will try my hardest to not make tough love look like I have no love for the people I love the most. That’s all I can do and if I mess up again, I’m sure I’ll make it up to them somehow.
A version of this first appeared on Cool4Dads. Photo: Arisa Chattasa on Unsplash
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