Redefining Love For the Sake of the Kids

Tough love

Tough love is not a new concept. The phrase was originally coined by education advocate Bill Milliken in 1968. Tough love is the idea that it isn’t loving to tell people what they want to hear and enable them in unhealthy emotional or physical habits.

I want to take it a step further. Tough love is not just for the other person. We need to practice tough love towards ourselves. By refusing accountability for our own darkness, we are harming our own health and well-being, and passing these bad habits on to our children.


Kids need to see their parents take care of themselves in order to enter the world as competent adults. More than just a healthy diet and exercise, kids need to see their parents advocate for themselves, stand up to emotional bullies, and truthfully accept responsibility for their own actions, good and bad.

It’s never too late to hold yourself and others accountable. Yes, the longer you wait, the harder it’s going to be to break free. But it can be done. I would argue it must be done, for the well-being of yourself, your family, and for the toxic people in your life. Particularly if there are children involved.

Walk the walk

I put off dealing with the most toxic relationships in my life until I saw them affecting my children. It was only then that I realized that I could lecture all I wanted about setting healthy boundaries, but unless I was living my own advice it wasn’t going to stick. In order for it to really sink in I had to walk the walk, and the only way to do that was to finally stand up for myself and say, “Enough!”

We want our kids to be confident and happy. We want them to make positive choices. We want them to have the courage to stand up to peer pressure and injustice. Yet so many of us aren’t doing these things in our own lives. We aren’t confident. We aren’t happy. We aren’t making positive choices. We aren’t standing up to peer pressure and injustice. How can we possibly expect our kids to do what we aren’t teaching them?

Kids learn by imitation

Humans, like all animals, learn by watching how previous generations function in their world and they mimic what their elders do. If a child is watching his parents make excuses for their own behavior, blaming other people for their problems, and complaining because nothing ever changes, he is learning that his emotions are the boss and his circumstances are beyond his control.

If a child is watching a parent be bullied by her grandparents, or a mother or father be mistreated by a spouse, or a parent give in to a pushy neighbor, or any other number of ways we are intimidated by others on a day-to-day basis, she is going to believe its ok to allow certain people to mistreat her, and it is also ok to mistreat others. We are teaching children that power in relationships, rather than love, is the main priority.

By not setting clear boundaries, we are telling our children that it is impolite to set limits for ourselves. We are communicating that the rules are different depending on the person, when in fact they are not. Disrespect and mistreatment is what it is, whether it is an authority figure, a family member, or a random stranger on the street. If we allow ourselves to be bullied, we are communicating that there are occasions when bullying is ok.

The best gift

When we redefine love, we hold ourselves and others accountable. We set appropriate boundaries that clearly define where we end and others begin. We aren’t afraid of standing up for ourselves because we recognize that conflict isn’t always bad and boundaries aren’t mean. In fact, they are an act of love. When we set boundaries, we are communicating to the other person that we love them enough to share our whole selves.

When our children watch us do this, it breaks the generational Shame Cycle. They will not grow up being afraid of conflict. They will know how to love themselves and others through disagreements and disappointments. They will be able to clearly identify where they end and others begin. They will be able to recognize the relationships that are positive to pursue and those that are not.

When you live your own life with redefined love, you teach your children how to be their own best advocate. By simply living your life in a healthy way, you are giving your children the gift of self-confidence. You are giving them the gift of redefined love.

If you feel at any point like you want to harm yourself or someone else, seek professional help immediately or dial 911. You are worth too much to the world to choose otherwise.

The author of Redefining Love is not a licensed mental healthcare professional. The information included on this site is for the specific purposes of learning to set boundaries and hold yourself and others accountable with love and grace. For mental health diagnosis questions or clinical mental health treatment or concerns, please reach out to a licensed mental healthcare professional.

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