My brother and his wife adopted a 2 year old girl from Russia 16 years ago. She has been both a joy and a nightmare, often within a single day. Currently she is leaning towards nightmare, and my brother and his wife spend every day afraid for her. I spent time with them all yesterday and it was an eye opening experience for me.
My parents are advocates of “tough love”. They implemented this often when I was a child, always to disastrous results. Each time they used “tough love” on me I ran away from home. Seriously ran away, The shortest time I was ever gone was 1 week; usually I was gone a month or more.
My family story has always been that there is something inherently wrong with me. I was a brat, or manic depressive, or some other type of dysfunction. As a somewhat successful, stable adult, I’ve often struggled to reconcile these disparaging facts. My siblings, who presumably endured the same childhood as I, never ran away. They acted out in other ways but none nearly as dramatic as I. Over time, as I’ve raised my own children, I’ve become aware that each of us is born into a different existence. We are born with our own personality traits, into a unique time and place in our family history. For me, I was born with a sensitive nature, able to pick up on nonverbal cues that most others miss. Added to this was the fact that I was the 3rd of 4, and my parents were too overwhelmed to pay me much attention. My oldest and youngest siblings were the family favorites and as such, had a gentler, more loving childhood than me and my older brother. He, despite being extremely successful, struggles with many of the issues I struggle with.
Back to his daughter. She spent her 1st 9th months in a hospital bed, being tube fed. From there she was moved to an orphanage. When they brought her home she was infested with intestinal parasites which took months to clear up. She came to the states not knowing a word of English, and was already behind the 8-ball, having spent her first 2 years in isolation, with little human contact, and probably no human love. Her parents have worked their asses off to provide her with everything she could possibly want. They have showered her with love and affection, they’ve provided an exceptional education and experiences most of us will never have. Yet it is not enough.
She is currently in a treatment facility. Her mother visits her every day, bringing her food, books and other comfort items. They sit together and play cards or board games until visiting hours are over. Mom goes home, daughter goes to bed and they do it again the next day. The daughter has been in several treatment facilities, and each have been well respected, lovely facilities, which has created quite the debate in my family.
I’ve heard, repeatedly, they need to implement “tough love”. She has it too easy, my family says. She is being spoiled; there are no consequence for bad behavior; she is given everything she asks for. And honestly, until yesterday, I wondered if that was true. Yesterday changed my mind.
The mere suggestion that this child is getting everything she wants is ludicrous. I know many teens and I’ve yet to meet one that would choose a locked treatment facility over a gorgeous home with a pool, music lessons, friends and sports, trips to the beach, a summer job scooping ice cream and surfing, and a school year of sucess with her peers. This teen has not been outside for 40 day, has zero privacy, and is surrounded by some really sick people. She is not being spoiled!
I am really agitated at the founders of the “tough love movement”. Here is a concise history of the tough love movement”.
This “philosophy” is simply a way for mean people to treat others badly.
When faced with a troubled person I have come to believe that the only truely effective approach is to come from a place of love. Without the love, nothing else really matters. Without love it is impossible for anyone to begin the work required to recover from trauma or neglect.
I’ve been thinking about this in reference to my middle son, who came home from college in a really bad state. While I started with love and kindness, I did not keep that up. I did what I was taught to do – implemented “tough love”. Even though I knew it was ineffective and damaging, I did it anyway. As a result, he hasn’t talked to me in 2 years.
Moderation is the key here. There has to be a way to demonstrate, and smother a child with love and kindness while helping them overcome destructive behaviors. I wish I had come to this two years ago, before I forgot about the love I felt for my son.
I suppose my point is this – Always start with love and kindness.