Tough Love

Tough love.

I’ve heard the term thrown around before, but never had to add it to my parenting agenda.

Until yesterday.

One of the children in our house — I’ll refrain from naming the culprit — has built a solid history of “crying wolf” when it comes to staying home from school due to illness. Whether the reason behind the charade was lack of preparation for a particular class, or sheer desire to take a “personal day,” I’ll never know for sure. What I do know for sure is that this crap isn’t going to be put up with any longer. We’re a solid six weeks into the new school year, and yesterday was the day this child decided to test the waters. Thirty-eight minutes into today’s school day, I received the following text:

“I just threw up. What do I do?”

“Go to the clinic,” I type back.

It kills me, by the way, that I had to say this.

This began — I kid you not — a three-and-a-half hour volley of texts, in which my child pleaded and begged to come home. Ordinarily, I’d have keys in hand and jump into the car in a heartbeat — if the vomiting had actually been witnessed by a credible source. Claiming to throw up in the bathroom, with no one else around, does not guarantee a ticket home. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not wishing a classroom or hallway incident upon my child, the teachers and custodians. However, just like the a tree falling in the woods when no one’s around to hear it, if a child claims to vomit at school, and no one’s there to see it, … as far as I’m concerned, it has not happened. Luckily, a quick and insightful conversation with the school nurse tipped her off to this child’s penchant for playing the vomit card. She, having raised three kids already, and being responsible for over 1,000 students in our school system, was instantly on the same page as me. Combining forces with the school nurse shouldn’t have made me as giddy as it did, but hey… on the parenting battleground, you take any ally you can get.

As messages popped up continually through the lunch hour, guilt tip-toed around my mind. The “tough mom” part of my brain was giving “guilty mom” a hard side-eye, which prompted them to spar.

“You know he can’t keep doing this.”

“I know, but…”

“Another text? Just ignore it.”

“I can’t ignore my own child — besides, what if he’s really sick”

“Please. We all know he isn’t really sick.”

“I know, but…”

“You come at me with another ‘I know, but…’ and I swear to Heaven we’re throwing down.”

To pacify Guilty Mom, I fired off quick texts to my other children at school, asking them to be my eyes and ears during lunch period. Reports came back that my allegedly sick child went to the cafeteria, did not eat, and was on the quiet side. This is not typical. At that point, Guilty Mom grew bold and began digging in her heels against Tough Mom.

“See?! He isn’t himself. He’s definitely not feeling well.”

“Simply not feeling well isn’t worthy of leaving school for the day.”

“But if he’s feeling light-headed and queasy, that’s a miserable feeling, and I’m forcing him to feel miserable at school, rather than at home where it’s comfortable.”

In the end, Tough Mom won by reassuring Guilty Mom that this was a life lesson my child had to learn, and the end justified the means. My child will (hopefully) learn the following:

1.) One cannot cry wolf repeatedly, and expect to be taken seriously.

2.) If this was a way to avoid something at school — an incomplete assignment, a test for which he hadn’t studied — he’ll learn that one must face the consequences of one’s actions.

3.) Tough Mom is the new sheriff in town, and Guilty Mom has been relieved of her duties in the parenting department.

Tough love.

Most people probably thing the “tough” part of that phrase refers to assessment by the person on the receiving end. I, however, have first-hand experience that tough love can be toughest on the parent. We are so programmed that being a good parent means being everything to our children, and doing everything in our power to make our children happy. I think back to my own childhood — which I loved, and have no complaints about whatsoever — and I’m straight up telling you that some of the shenanigans that kids pull today would have never passed with my parents, or my friend’s parents. Never. My parents never sent notes or made phone calls to a coach, just to raise hell and get me on a sports team. My parents never took time out of their work days to hand-deliver a forgotten homework assignment to me at school. If I forgot something at home, it stayed there until I remembered to bring it to school myself. All of this to say that my parents were great, and I have to admit, I think I turned out pretty well despite the fact that they didn’t cater to my every whim, or drive themselves crazy trying to pave the way for me.

In a few conversations about the situation since yesterday afternoon, my child insists, and swears that he did, in fact, get sick at school. I have a pretty good hunch that allergies may be the culprit. I had forgotten that when this particular child was little, any sort of “congestion situation” would end up in him throwing up with very little warning. (Those were fun times, when we had to stash plastic bags in coat pockets in order to consider ourselves fully prepared to deal with the problem. To this day, I still keep a few plastic grocery bags rolled up in our cars, so apparently I’d been scarred for life.)

Most times it’s easy to love our kids, despite their fits, tantrums, sass and basic ability to drive parents to the outskirts of Crazytown. But it’s those days when tough love is the only way to solve a problem that you really understand how going against the grain can be sheer torture, yet also be the best, most loving and caring thing you can do for your child.

 

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