My mother changed the way I view the world and myself with her tough love, and I plan on doing the same for my 2-year-old when he gets a little older.

By Dina Gachman
January 22, 2020
The author and her mother and child.
Courtesy of Dina Gachman

My son is only 2 years old, so right now the advice I'm giving him pretty much comes down to toddler truisms like "Teeth are not for biting people" and "It's not nice to headbutt Mommy." It's still pretty basic stuff, but there is one piece of big kid advice I got from my own mom when I was around 12 years old that I can't wait to share with him.

My Southern belle mom had all sorts of sage words for my sisters and me, from "Don't be a Hateful Hannah" to "It takes all kinds." (I've actually said these things to my son already, although I'm not sure how much he's getting out of my country-fried wisdom at this stage.)

But the best advice, and the one I'm saving for when he's a bit older, is something that I'm sure my sweet-but-tough Texas mom probably heard from her own sweet-but-tough Texas mom. It goes like this: "Honey, there will always be someone taller, wealthier, smarter, and better looking than you, so move on."

It sounds harsh, but adding the "Honey" helps a bit, and a Southern accent doesn't hurt either.

As we got older, my mom threw out this tough love gem whenever my sisters and I complained that our hair was too frizzy, or we were too short, or that Emily Smith made the soccer team and we didn't. You can change up the descriptors to your liking, swapping out "wealthier" for "more successful," or "taller" for "stronger," but the meaning doesn’t change. It's about letting your child know that sometimes, life doesn't go the way you want it to—and that's OK.

I don't want my son to become an adult who thinks that the world owes him. I hope he learns resilience, perseverance, and empathy, and that's what I think this honest advice is all about. A past study shows that a "tough love" approach to parenting (meaning discipline mixed with warmth) can in fact help kids become more empathetic and better able to self-regulate. I can only speak to my experience, which is that this tough love advice is something that I return to constantly as an adult, and I like to think it has given me a balanced view of my life and my place in the world.

Of course, I spent my teens rolling my eyes at my mom when she said it, but when I got older and started experiencing setbacks, whether personal or professional, I found myself repeating it in my head like a mantra.

This advice has a magical way of kick-starting my mood, stopping me from wallowing, and reminding me to keep things in perspective. Obviously, there are times when it's healthy to wallow a little bit or, if the problem is truly painful, to grieve or express sorrow. If I came to my mom in tears after a breakup or a lost job, she wouldn't scoff and tell me to get over it. She would comfort me, listen to me, and maybe even baby me a little. It was only when the wallowing or self-pity started to get in the way of me moving on that she'd throw out the tough love.

I'm so thankful that she did so that I can one day share it with my son because, sometimes, a little tough love is the kindest thing you can give.

Dina Gachman is the author of Brokenomics, a book of humor essays about money, and she writes about pop culture, parenting, and film. You can find her on Twitter @TheElf26

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