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When ‘Tough Love’ Ends in a Hug

ESCALATION is never territory a parent wants to traverse when they sense they’re losing control. I had one of those situations recently.

My son was exasperated, and even as I write these words I hear God’s voice through Ephesians 6:4 – “Fathers, do not be provoking your children to anger, but be nourishing them in the training and admonition of the Lord.”[1]

I had provoked him to anger. He did not understand my logic. He is only four, after all. My error was imputing to him a sense of logic that is beyond his present understanding. Little wonder he began to charge at me. This is where I’ve found sons and daughters are different. A daughter might become distraught and withdrawn, which potentially affects them psychologically. Or, they might respond in a passively aggressive way. Without generalising or specifying too much, there are gender differences, but angering my children has clearly had different and yet always negative effects.

It’s humbling as a parent when you finally realise, in trying to do the right thing, you’re actually dead wrong. It’s a real trap. Later reflection has often revealed I was duped by my ignorant understanding.

The moment I realised he was out of control, and that so was I, something clicked within me; something that melted my pride.

It was the realisation of the power of a hug to diffuse the powder keg of emotion and bring space for reflection within the safety of affection.

Even as I embraced my son, I felt he was getting something he did not deserve – a hug instead of tough love. I thought it was grace. But by his response God taught me an important lesson. It wasn’t grace at all; it was simple justice. I was saying sorry for riling him to anger for mismanaging the corrective moment.

Finally I had become open enough to begin to understand. My son’s response was simply to receive that hug. And within a minute I could begin to reason with him. His response spoke powerfully for the justice he now felt had been restored. And he was then able to emotionally handle the consequences that were now his – the right time for tough love.

What I’m saying here will make implicit sense to the majority of mothers.

No wonder, at least in my case, it is to fathers that the apostle Paul writes, “do not be provoking your children to anger… ”

Perhaps the chief lesson in all this, as father, is what am I learning about my own anger?

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