love is not tough

By now you probably have seen the video of the dad who shoots his daughter's laptop with his .45 to punish her for a Facebook post whining about being her parents' "slave".  If you haven't - you soon will.  It's going viral in a big way. I don't want to post it here, but you can find it easily enough if you google some of the key words in my first sentence.

Everywhere I've seen it so far, the comments have been cheering and lionizing the father for "teaching her a lesson" and lauding him for his tough love. This saddens but doesn't surprise me.  It's a direct reflection of the culture we live in - a culture steeped in the paradigm of behaviourism.  In this case, this shows up as framing a problem of relationship as a problem of behaviour.

Judging by this video (which is, admittedly, just a snapshot - but a powerful one) my impression is that this man's relationship with his daughter is severely fractured - and probably has been for some time. But all he can see is that his daughter is behaving badly. He is also noticebly hurt by what she posts on FB, but as is not uncommon, he can only deal with that hurt from a hard place. There does not seem to be any softness in him in which to feel his hurt. Anger is often the most (or only) accessible emotion for people who are defended against their own vulnerability. It seems that may be the case for this father.

So now we have this potent combo- a man who expresses his sadness as anger in a culture that puts behaviour above relationship.  

By getting angry and focusing on her behaviour he may find some success. She may be scared into behaving differently. But there is a cost to this. I expect that even if there is an improvement in external behaviour, there will be a deepening of the fracture in the relationship. There is a good chance that her heart will become more hardened to her father. She may obey him - but out of fear, not out of love.

The daughter's behaviour is a symptom of a deeper problem in their relationship. By simply treating the symptoms of a distressed relationship he is avoiding the real healing that could come from going to the root. As the parent, it should be his job to address the problem in the relationship and to repair it if it is damaged. But that isn't possible when he can't even see that that's the problem. And the more he is cheered for his current methods, the less likely he is to see it.

A common criticism when I talk about the primacy of relationship in parenting is that I am promoting the idea that parents should strive to be their children's best friends. Which shows how deep this problem goes - that a healthy relationship with your child is considered an aberration. So let me make this clear - there are more than two options here - it's not either be your kid's adversary or be their best friend.  The best option is to be your child's parent - neither adversary nor best friend, but trusted, loving care-giver.  A parent is the person in the child's life who guides them with love, not with fear. A parent is not someone who makes everything work in their child's life, but they are a soft place for their child to land when the things in their life don't work. A parent knows how to discipline a child without damaging the relationship - without shaming and humiliation. A parent cannot toughen their heart against their child, they must always be able to find the tenderness with which they can see their children's behaviour through the lens of love and relationship. A parent is the one person in a child's life from whom they should always get the message, "There is nothing you could do that would remove you from my love."

(That this is not the case in our world is apparent to me everyday in the work I do.  Everyday I work with clients and students who carry a deep-seated belief that they are only deserving of love when they behave in a way that is pleasing - and they are constantly trying to figure out what that is.)

There is a Swedish proverb that says, "Love me when I least deserve it, because that is when I really need it."

I hope that maybe, with some time and reflection, this dad figures out that his daughter needs his love.  There are profound gifts to be had in a healthy father-daughter relationship and if things don't change, this father and his daughter are both going to miss out on those gifts.  And that would be the biggest shame of all.


Further Reading/Resources:  

Centre for Child Honouring     

Making Sense of Discipline (DVD by Dr. Gordon Neufeld)

Brene Brown's TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability