Chicago mom debate: Tough love vs. enabling

In our world we often hear about two kinds of parents – Helicopter Enabler or Tough Lover. It’s confusing and it’s unsettling that these two labels get tossed around easily from one judgmental mother to the next.

Today on Facebook, an old classmate of mine posted how proud she was to have used tough love on her elementary school-aged daughter, leaving her to her own devices when a book was left at home, again. The mom refused to ‘enable’ and bring the book to school for her, insisting she was teaching her daughter to become responsible.

A conversation ensued. Some moms on one side, firmly agreeing with the tactic to let her learn to be responsible on her own. Others jumping to attack, insisting that enabling a younger child who has a dual-curriculum in school by bringing her a forgotten book now and again was only loving parenting. One mom, who has an older child, insisted that her daughter still grew up to become responsible – even though she so-called “enabled” her. I chimed in that if the forgetfulness happens often, perhaps this was an issue of Executive Functioning, something I’ve become quite familiar with at home.

I tried tough love when my son was little. He lost jackets. In his 17 years thus far I think we have gone through at least two coats a season. I resorted to buying sale-priced, ugly coats so that if they were lost I wouldn’t be too sad.

Then, he moved on to homework assignments. Completed assignments sat marinating on his desk – leaving him without a grade and looking quite irresponsible. We got angry. As parents we felt we had done our best to teach him responsibility and here he was failing, daily. We punished, we ignored phone calls to bring things in. Nothing changed. That was when I decided perhaps there was something wrong.

At around eight years old we took him to a physical therapist for some fine motor skill issues because the school had recommended he learn to cut better for his age. She suggested that perhaps he had Executive Functioning issues. Once we researched this and implemented some easy changes into his routine, things improved drastically.

I would love to say that at 17 he is the epitome of responsibility. He’s not. But, he has so vastly improved that I only bought ONE jacket last season and nearly all of his completed homework assignments were handed in.

If I had continued on my tough love route I would have alienated my child. I would have made him feel like a failure. Not every child fits in a box. In fact, I would venture to say NO child fits in a box. It’s not enabling to help them find their path. It’s not being a helicopter parent to bring a forgotten book to school a few times and recognize if its happening a lot perhaps its time to implement some changes or find out why.

To find our more about Executive Functioning to learn some simple tools any ‘responsibly-challenged’ child can use visit:

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