How to Move From Tough Love to Gentle Love

families parenting reader question May 23, 2022
How to Move From Tough Love to Gentle Love

A reader question: “Does the inner voice that says ‘you’re coddling them’ ever go away? I still hear it.”


“I’m coddling them.”

“They need tough love.”

“I can’t let them get away with this.”


Let’s get curious!


This voice is showing up to point to something vulnerable. We don't want it to just go away without listening to it first. It is a piece of you and points to your story, and thus deserves compassionate understanding. So let's get curious.


When do you hear this voice most frequently?

Whose voice is it? What else does it say?

How does it make you feel?

Where do you feel it in your body?


These voices likely point to powerful voices that shaped you when you were young -- parents, grandparents, siblings. You likely received some messages around strictness, tough love, and high bar expectations as a child. 


As you forge a new path with your own children, these messages are floating to the surface, unearthed by your own bravery and willingness to consider another path.


Your Needs


Does this voice rise up in particular situations? 


It may also be pointing to your own needs.


As you listen to this voice, ask whether it is protecting you from something or pointing you toward something? Perhaps you hear it most when you're running upstairs for the 15th time today to refill a snack bowl or water cup. Maybe it is trying to say: "I'm exhausted. I need a rest." Listening to that voice will point you In a better direction as you connect with your own needs.


Compassionate Reframe


It's so vulnerable to parent your children off the well-traveled-path. It is even more vulnerable to do so when it exposes your own childhood wounds and deep needs. The first compassionate reframe is seeing these messages themselves as a sign of strength: These messages rise up from your vulnerability and point to your bravery.


We can be compassionate and still recognize these messages aren't serving you. When your inner voice says, "you're coddling them," you can respond, "No, I'm accommodating with love. I'm breaking the cycle.” This second compassionate reframe moves from “getting away with it” to needed accommodation, from “coddling” to connection.




The power of this inner voice will fade as you meet you deep needs and practice self-compassion. But you'll stay stuck unless you also put up boundaries about what messages you listen to. 


Our dominant parenting culture is full of messages around "strictness" and "tough love." How are you putting boundaries around this vulnerability? Do you click on that article? Listen to that podcast? Spend lots of time with those friends? Imagine what your mom would say? 


Or can you protect this brave, vulnerable choice with a firm boundary? A firm boundary may simply exist inside yourself as you choose what thoughts to feed and which to let wither. 


The Takeaway


Listen with curiosity

Own your story

Respond with compassion to your needs

Reframe from "coddling" to “accommodating"

Move from tough love to gentle love

Shift from strict to connected

Create boundaries around parenting messages


And yes, these messages will fade, leaving a powerful, brave human in its wake.

Why is everything so hard?


Take this quick quiz to find out where you're getting stuck in your challenging parenting life and one next step to move forward with confidence.

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