Why I believe the words ‘tough’ and ‘love’ are incompatible

Once again I find myself left inwardly raging by something I read on social media. This time an article from an education professional about the benefits of so called ‘tough love’. I know this is because it is a trigger for me…

It brings me back to how the educational system almost broke my autistic and dyslexic son, and if we hadn’t got him out when we did it may of succeeded. When educators talk about tough love, to me, they are talking in the same prehistoric language as when people say ‘toughen up’ about bullying or ‘it never did me any harm’ or the new modern form of the same thing ‘they need to build resilience’ when talking about forcing children into situations they can not cope with. This is one and the same thing in my eyes, it’s adults bullying children to toe the line, to not make their lives more difficult, to mould them in to a child that ticks a box and meets their targets.

This is a long held and institutionalised attitude and it works because the majority of children can be forced into this mould and hold it together but even leaving aside the ones that break in the process, is this really desirable in any case? It puts me in mind of factory farming where the bent or the stunted are discarded while the others are sprayed with harmful stuff to make them grow straight and identical often leaving them open to new diseases further down the line for which new treatments emerge or reliant on the artificial fertilisers to get by.

Farming however is changing and the benefits not just to the plants themselves, but the whole environment of organic farming is now known. Crops grow side by side with wildflowers, all different shapes and sizes thriving under their own steam in their own way, free from targets or measurements or chemical treatments. Why then has this same wisdom not been applied to growing our children, why are we still factory farming our kids?

Love is not tough, love is kind and generous and warm and nurturing and most importantly it should be unconditional. We should love a person as they are, not how we want them to be. As adults when we seek out our mate what we look for (in the words of Bridget Jones Diary) is to be ‘Loved just the way we are’. Yet it seems we believe children are born ‘wrong’ and need to push and pummelled into the perfect shape before the tough turns into love.

Why can’t we let them grown from their own unique starting point, what are we so afraid of or is it just convenience to adults or the fact we were raised along the same model that stops us treating children as individuals? From the very start children are judge like cabbages, weighed and assessed and awarded marks relating to sameness and consistency. If a child takes ‘too long’ to talk or read or reach any other arbitrary milestone then they are crammed with therapies or extra lessons until they are ‘on target’ again. And if they don’t reach their target or get broken in the meantime? Then they are tossed aside, it is assumed they won’t make it, parents are told they will never x, y or z. Schools don’t want them messing up their figures and off roll them or send them to specialist placements or give up on them or up the ‘tough love’ to extra tough love until the break or see through the unfairness of the system and opt out of society completely.

I may seem like a namby pamby snowflake to many, with my soft and loving individualised approaches but I believe love is strong and when applied to children it makes them grown stronger not weaker. Loving yourself is about accepting who you are and working to your strengths and recognising your weaknesses so, loving a child must mean the same in my eyes.

A one size fits all tough love attitude is never gong to nurture our children to become their best and strongest selves.

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