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Examining Tough Love In Parenting

stand-firm-tough-love-kid-800x800Tough love is an expression used when someone treats another person harshly or sternly with the intent to help them in the long run.” ~ Wikipedia.

I believe in structure, boundaries, and limits for children. I also believe we do well to have fair limits placed on those we invite into our lives.

Tough love has become a common phrase used in many varying contexts. My worry is that tough love that is not mindful is like passing the buck.I believe children need rules, guidance, and consequences. We are in their lives to teach them about the rules of living in groups. Cooperation, responsibility, and tolerance are just some of the values that are important as parents.

Sometimes children, teens, and adult children or others do things that are scary, dangerous, or ridiculous. The first knee-jerk reaction is typically anger. Even when a parent is afraid for a child’s safety, anger may be what is shown, even though fear rests just beneath the surface. Parent’s don’t often play their fear card in parenting and yet this is one of the things that teach children empathy and the perspective of the other.

I see parents who let their teens move in with a boyfriend or have the boyfriend sleep over at the house with the daughter. I know parents who let their kids drink, smoke, smoke pot, and have sex. They figure it is easier to let them do what they will. I also know parents who throw out their teen or young adult when they find they are using drugs or when they find they have done something very wrong.

I believe that parenting is not for the weak. We parent for a lifetime and along the way many things will happen. Some of these things can break a parent’s heart. Some of these things will make you rejoice. It is a mix of good, bad, and everything in between.

When parents come down too hard emotionally they run the risk of creating emotional difficulties or adding to the difficulties already there. Some kids simply cannot do life the way you would like. At least not yet.

When parents throw a child out into the streets or refuse to help them financially or otherwise they are making it impossible for the child and making someone else responsible.

If we have children we are the responsible ones and this means you must deal with it, whatever it becomes.

Alcohol treatment centers are famous for having parents disengage from what is known as enabling and codependency. I agree these are important to address. For example, to buy alcohol for your substance dependent child, teen, or adult child is enabling and not OK. However, to help the child and to keep helping through multiple relapses is not enabling or necessarily codependency. It is called being responsible and keeping your loved one from worse harm.

If we throw away a child or young adult there will likely be some predator waiting to catch her or him.

So, in my practice I advise on structure and dialogue that increases over time about how to get on the same page. I don’t advocate for anyone throwing anyone away. Anything that ends up in the trash becomes free game for other things.

So, rather than Tough Love I would offer that we consider Tenacious Love. With Tenacious Love you can’t shake the parent no matter how hard you try, and if you do, they will bound right back again with new and improved ideas on how to direct, re-direct, or otherwise let you know you are worth the efforts.

Take care and be well.

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD

Understanding Loss and Grief
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Examining Tough Love In Parenting

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, Ph.D.

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, Ph.D. works in private practice as a psychotherapist. Nanette works with children, adults, adolescents, couples, and families. She also works as a consultant with public and private schools on issues ranging from suicide and violence prevention to topics on mental health issues affecting youth. She is the author of Entering Adulthood: Understanding Depression and Suicide, 1990,The Everything Self-Esteem Book with CD, 2011, and A Comparative Case Study of the Elderly Women Beggars of Central Mexico, 2006. She frequently appears on radio and television covering community mental health topics such as the Arizona wild fires in the summer of 2011 and the Gabrielle Gifford shooting in Tucson, Arizona.

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APA Reference
Burton Mongelluzzo, N. (2013). Examining Tough Love In Parenting. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Sep 2013
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