Tough Love: When to Get Tough?


Connor HATED his physical therapist. Every time she walked in the door he would start crying. Every. Single. Time. He knew that she was going to make him work, and she did. So did I. We worked on rolling over and lying on our side and reaching for toys. Even though I didn’t like making him work SO HARD for things that most kids do naturally, I knew that this would ultimately help him. This was tough love, and it needed to be done.

Fast forward 3 years, and we moved to Hawaii and had been given the opportunity to attend a support group for military families with children of special needs. I was excited! Maybe I could make a friend who I could talk to about therapy and medicine who wouldn’t look at me like I had 5 heads when I started spouting off medical jargon.


When we got to the meeting, I saw a boy who was about 7 years old sitting in a wheelchair with leg braces on both of his legs. I walked up to his mom and introduced myself and Connor and my husband. I talked about how Connor also had leg braces and was learning to pull to stand and we were hoping he would walk soon. She mentioned her son could walk but didn’t like to. He chose to be in the wheelchair…and my jaw dropped to the floor. Maybe I didn’t hear her right. Her son didn’t want to learn to walk? She must have read my facial expression because she said, “Yes, you heard me right. I’m not going to force him to learn to walk if he doesn’t want to.” And I smiled and said, “That’s your right as his parent” and walked away.

I’m not here to say that all parents have to force their children to do therapy or learn to walk or talk; I’m not here to say that her decision for her family was wrong, but I have learned that tough love is not a concept that every parent chooses to use with their children. I myself am glad that I pushed Connor and made him do things that he wasn’t happy doing because now, 7 years later, he is walking, and running, and talking and reading and writing and doesn’t even remember those horrible days of having to fight to roll over, or reach out for toys.


Now it’s James’s turn, and even though he fights and cries and refuses in his own way to do things, I know this is best for him. I know that in the years coming I will watch him playing with his friends and smiling, and now, even though we have some hard days, it will all be worth it.

But thinking back it makes me wonder: if I didn’t push Connor and if I stop pushing James to learn to do these things, will it make them happy? Will they enjoy life in a wheelchair as much as Connor does running around and playing on his scooter?

I can only hope that I’m making the right choice for my family and that my children know that even though my love is tough sometimes, it is sincere, and it will never end no matter what happens.


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