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Tough Love or Too Much?

tough love Last weekend, Husband and I took the girls to the American Museum of Natural History. Toddler was eager to be reunited with the Stegosaurus in the Hall of Dinosaurs. Once there, the girls were in prime silly mode. They chased each other through the crowds, placed their little grubby hands on the glass dividers, and generally caused a fair bit of barely-acceptable kiddie mayhem. We did not stay too long.

We left the museum. As is par for the Upper West course, there were many families scattered about, doing their own thing, enjoying the promise of another summer Sunday. But my eye zoomed to one family in particular. The boy was probably six or seven? He was with his parents. He wore a helmet and was on a bike. This boy's father had tied a beach towel around his son's middle. His mother stood yards ahead, crouched down, stern-faced, waving her son to pedal toward her. The little boy did as told, pumping skinny legs, turning those wheels. He went a few inches, his father propping him up from behind. And then the bike tipped. This happened over and over.

This is not what bothered me. That the parents were teaching, trying to teach, and that the progress was made in barely there bits and pieces. What bothered me? The boy was sobbing. His face was wet with tears. His glasses were fogged. Not only that, but he was saying, and very clearly, "I don't want to do this anymore!" These words, it seems, did not deter his parents. His father gripped that towel. And his mother barked for her boy to keep trying.

My little girls skipped by this little boy. And I followed them. But even when I could no longer see this family, I pictured them. I thought about that boy. And those parents. I felt (and feel) confused. Was this scene a snippet of tough love or was this insistence on the part of the parents too much? Instinct tells me that the parents should have laid off that tearful little guy. But maybe parenting is not meant to be all smiles and snuggles? Maybe there are skills and lessons, more and less important, that we must teach through toughness and tears?

I don't know. I don't even pretend to know. But on this Monday morning in August, I am still thinking of that little boy and his red eyes and shaky feet. I am also thinking of two little girls, pajama-clad and cartoon-entranced and inches from me. I know it is a precious pipe dream, but I would like to get things right with these creatures.

And so. Here I am. In my cozy spot on the couch. In my cozy spot in the cosmos. Writing. Wondering. Asking.

Always asking.

Do you think this scene with this little boy on his bike was an instance of tough love or a manifestation of excessive parental pressure? Do you think parenthood is in some sense striking a balance between discipline and fun, hardness and softness? Were your own parents tough on you when it came to learning certain skills and life lessons?

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