There are many meanings for tough these days. That jacket is tough. Are you tough enough to take me on? That kid needs some tough love. Tough luck, buster.
I heard that last meaning a lot growing up when it came to wanting something and not getting it. “Tough.” As much as I may not have liked it back then, it did teach me the difference between what I need and what I want and how to prioritize the two. It’s the same lesson I taught the teenagers I worked with, but in a different way. “Oh you want a Playstation game, but you really need new socks and shoes and only have enough for one or the other. Okay, you can buy the game, but who is going to buy the shoes and socks for you?” The answer was no one.
I had to do a lot of prioritizing like that in college. I really needed to pay the rent but friends wanted to go out to dinner yet again. Sorry guys.
Easter is coming up and guests are shopping the store pretty hard. I feel like it’s the holidays again some nights. Last night I happened to overhear a woman on her cell phone calling someone asking, “What does he want? What does he need?” I’m thinking to myself, Seriously? When did Easter become another Christmas? Did I miss something? I mean, as a kid I got jelly beans in those plastic eggs and maybe a chocolate bunny. I got to hunt for Easter eggs and we went to church like we did every Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
I tried to write that whole conversation off that I overheard. That was until I overheard a conversation between two female friends who ran into each other in the shoe section. One of them was looking for shoes for her son because one year they got him new shoes for Easter. Now he expects new shoes every Easter. They were talking about not wanting Easter to be like Christmas and I’m thinking, right on. They talked about not wanting to give them baskets full of sugar. Right on! “But we can’t just stop now.” It took everything I had to not run to their aisle and yell, “Are you freaking kidding me? YOU’RE the parent. Of course you can stop now! YOU draw the line. YOU get to tell them no.” If I had not just returned from my break, I would have left for one because I was seriously disturbed by that conversation.
I am not a parent. Not a biological one anyway. I’ve been a stand-in parent for many teenagers and young adults. I set an example for them. I told them no. I drew a line and gave them appropriate consequences when they were crossed. Of course they got upset with me. What teenager doesn’t get mad at their parent for being told no you can’t have or do something, or for taking privileges away for a week? It doesn’t mean they hated my guts and refused to talk to me. Maybe in the moment. But, they got the lessons. They understood what they could and could not do. What they could and could not have. They are all adults now and I hear from some of them. The ones I hear from all fully understand what I was preparing them for now that they are living on their own. While I was working with them, there were boundaries to be observed. I obviously couldn’t tell them I love them even if they all had a little piece of my heart. But, I loved them all which is why I put my foot down and set limits with them.
In the end of that job, I was working mostly in the group home my agency ran. I did my best to give them as normal of a home experience as I could. I made a scrapbook of all the things they did in the house. The day they all moved in. Decorating the gingerbread men for them for Christmas. Receiving college acceptance letters. All the things most mothers try to do for their kids. I also took them to task for all the stupid teenage shit they did, too. “What were you thinking?” “Get over here and finish your chores. NOW.” “If you don’t stop yelling at me, I’m turning this car around, taking you home and you can call your mother to explain why you missed your senior pictures.” That last one, true story.
All those times spent disciplining them or telling them no, I never once said, “Tough.” Nor did I use the same tone of voice I used to hear it. But, the things I said and the way I said it were all conveying that same message.
I know a lot of wonderful parents who are firm, yet loving. They are able to discipline their children and set limits with them. They love their children unconditionally and make sure they know it even when they have to get tough.
There are parents out there that I just wonder about. They can’t say no to their children. They can’t set limits. These are the parents that need to toughen up for their children’s sake or they will be the adults later on that don’t know how to function at school, work, or in their social life.