Do you think “tough love” is the right way to handle an adult child who lacks ambition? My friend’s daughter is 25, attractive, sweet, and sincere. But despite creative talent and sociability, she’s only worked here and there for short periods.
Her parents are fed up and say she has to get a job anywhere before her next birthday, or they’re renting out her room. And they mean it.
Yet these are well-off people who don’t need the money. They raised her to take for granted their family trips south in winter, a cottage in summer, even trips to Europe.
Among their four children, she was obviously the most emotionally sensitive and delicate one. Recently, she experienced a serious trauma in her relationship with a former close friend.
I’ve known her for years and fear that if her parents carry out their threat, it’ll cause her emotional abuse that she can’t handle at all.
Or, do you think that their ultimatum can actually move her to get a real job and push her toward independence?
Only a professional therapist/psychiatrist can predict the impact of tough-love measures on a specific personality. That happens through getting to know the person, not guessing from brief details.
I’ve heard of people who, having reached bottom, scraped up last bits of strength and courage to surmount their problems and shortcomings.
However, your friend has apparently always been emotionally delicate. And she’s dealing with a trauma.
For me, this is a situation where people of means can make sure she’s getting good therapy. They can work with the specialist’s suggestions and their daughter’s positive traits (creative, sociable) to direct her to a course/internship/part-time work or volunteering that provides positive experiences and encouragement.
Does tough love harm or hurt an adult child? I believe parents need to take a hard look at themselves plus their child, and be able to feel comfortable with answering these questions:
How far are they willing to go with their ultimatum? How much do they share responsibility for their adult child’s current situation? Have they tried other measures to encourage and support their child’s steps toward independence?
Lastly, how far do they plan to go with insisting on their terms… to the point where their offspring is homeless?
My general answer as to tough love’s harm or help: It depends on the parents’ motives and methods, and on the adult child’s inner resilience or lack thereof.
Reader’s Commentary Personal reflections in light of the many people who write you of their unhappy relationships, often based on differences between the partners:
“My wife and I are not well-suited, came from very different backgrounds and historical references, pursued very different interests and studies. But our love and respect for each other has somehow held us together as a couple and as parents for 15 years.
“To share just some facts – I’m bookish, she’s craft-oriented. She’s tech- and mechanically-skilled, I’m not even good at knowing where to start.
“I love team sports and watching big games, she’s bored by those but addicted to personal fitness.
“We were raised in different religions. But we chose together to make decency and respect for others our joint household belief. We do tell our children of their heritage from their grandparents and past generations.
“She has insecurities I don’t understand, but I accept that they’re hers, not mine to judge. I just love her and am grateful that she loves me.”
FEEDBACK Regarding children’s behaviour during grandparents’ visits (October 5):
Reader – “Parents of youngsters should ponder – how well-behaved are your children actually?
“Too many parents are in denial about how their children behave. If they’re truly loud, disruptive, messy, disrespectful, or just overly rambunctious, this could definitely wear on a couple in their 70s.
“To punish older grandparents because the parents don’t properly prepare children for their visits is bad behaviour from adults.
“Those children, ages four and six, are old enough to display basic manners, be taught to do quiet activities during grandparents' time, and to overall show basic respect.
“Would they set them loose in a museum or classroom without any preparation? No. They’d prepare their children by explaining the rules beforehand, along with any consequences of breaking the rules, and then enforce those rules and consequences.”
Ellie – Young children’s unruly behaviour almost always has a cause (tired, hungry, hurt, scared, unprepared, etc.) that can be resolved.
Tip of the day:
Does tough love help or harm an adult child? Depends on who’s getting the tough end and who’s ordering it.