Child DevelopmentGood FamilyParenting

Tough Love or Tender Lessons

Heather van Mil2 comments4797 views
Defiant child on Life, Love and the Pursuit of Play
Defiance, thy name is a 4 year old child

Parenting often seems to be a juggling act and the balance between extremes frequently eludes me. Things are usually fairly simple, if not exhausting with my 20 month old, but for the last 18 months or so, ever since my oldest was around 4 1/2 years old, I have particularly struggled with the tough love parenting vs. the tender lessons method. At 4.5 my sweet, energetic-yet-cooperative daughter turned into an (at times) argumentative, un-cooperative young girl. She questions everything my hubby and I say, and often argues for the sake of having an opposing view. While not always taking things at face value is a skill I ultimately want to encourage and I think will serve her well in life, it is EXHAUSTING, and this is often where the tough love mommy comes out to play.

Yesterday we were getting ready for a family walk in the newly fallen snow. She had left her boots at her friend’s who lived upstairs and, seeing as they were still asleep, we were not ready to retrieve them. We suggested she find her other fuzzy boots, or get some really thick socks and wear her rainboots. She wanted to do neither of these. We told her it wasn’t an option and we weren’t going to spend hours arguing over it. We got about 2 blocks into our winter wonderland walk when she started complaining that her feet were cold. Turns out that while we were getting her little sister and ourselves ready, she had taken none of our friendly “suggestions” and had worn old rainboots with cracks in them – and no socks. Tough Love Mommy said that she was disappointed that she had made such poor choice, but we weren’t going to let her choice affect the rest of the family’s fun, and continued on to our destination one more block away.

By the time we made it to the park, she was well into the “I’m so sad and cold but I’ll have a stiff upper lip because my parents are so mean” act that she has mastered so well, and my veneer was cracking as visions of frostbite danced in my head. I popped her on the swing, slid her boots off and used my warm mitts as make shift socks, before putting her boots back on. Tender Lessons Mommy had appeared quicker than you could say “Polkaroo” (Google it). We enjoyed the rest of our snowy adventure and went home to hot tea and naps.

I was torn about my decisions in that situation, as I often am when these conflicts continuously arise. My daughter is attempting to assert her own independence and control, and I strive to allow many situations where she can do that unhindered.  When I need to put down my foot and insist that she do certain things and she doesn’t co-operate, I am rarely satisfied with how I handle it. If Tough Love Mommy has paid a visit, I feel afterwards that I was too strict. If Tender Lessons Mommy had her way, I feel like I was too permissive and she’ll never follow through. If it switches from one to the other, as it did with ‘Bootsgate’, then I feel like I’m confusing her and not being clear on the boundaries. No matter which way things play out, I feel like I could have done better. Why didn’t anyone warn me that kids get more difficult with age!

Who rules in your house, Tough Love Mommy or Tender Lessons Mommy? And are Moms EVER confident about the parenting decisions they make? Tell me I’m not alone in this! 


  1. There is a place for both Tough Love Mommy and Tender Lessons Mommy. Tough Love Mommy allows a child to experience the natural consequences of her actions while ensuring no permanent damage ensues. This mommy although ‘Tough’ often sends the message that the child is capable of dealing with the consequences and growing from the experience and/or finding a solution on her own using her intelligence, knowledge, experience, etc.

    ‘Tender Lessons Mommy’ lets a child know that no matter how badly the child messes up mommy will always love her and when absolutely necessary will pick her up, brush her off, kiss the troubles away and give words of love and encouragement. Unconditional love allows a child to fearlessly navigate the world and find her true self.

    Children need a mix of both mommies and there is no right or wrong combination of the two. It is a constant negotiation between the two mommies based on the needs, current situation, and personalities of both mother and child.

    Your story is lovely as a mother of older children I encourage you to trust your instincts and not judge or over analyse your parenting choices. It seems to me that your child received the best of both mommies that day.

    1. Wow, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment Melody, it brought tears to my eyes! I appreciate your support and encouragement and will definitely be passing it on to other Mommies I meet!!

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