TOUGHLOVE is a non-profit, educational organisation offering self-help materials to parents and kids in trouble. The program features on LifeStyle YOU's documentary Australians Exposed: Girl Fight.
Read on for the personal story of parents who found support and strength from a TOUGHLOVE group in Queensland.
Parents Are People Too
By J. B.
I used to think, before I had children, when I saw other people’s children playing up, that parents were to blame. But, not any more.
I have been blessed with three beautiful children, the eldest of which has been a handful. I have always known - off by heart - the phone numbers of the schools my child has attended, and I am currently on first name terms with her guidence officer as well as several of her teachers. We have been to counselling. We have been to doctors, thinking that perhaps there was a medical reason for her horrible behaviour. We’ve talked to the police. I’ve looked to faith and prayed for help.
We have tried everything we could think of to make things right. We’ve had small amounts of success in the sort term, but nothing has been consistently successful.
Everyone has been helpful and very kind especially the teachers and administration staff at her school, who have bent over backwards and tried every conceivable thing to try to get her to settle down and start working towards fulfilling her potential, which the teachers all agree is considerable.
My husband and I are nice people - good people - that love each other and our children. We’ve been married for ages and have a stable relationship that has been sorely tested during the last couple of years. Mainly because I wasn’t willing to let our child stand up and be accountable for her own behaviour. I felt guilty. "Perhaps if I’d done something differently." "If I’d been a better parent she would be different now."
I kept trying all sorts of ways to make things better. I tried groundings, withholding pocket money, being extremely stern, being really soft. I was endlessly forgiving. I listened to her pleas for more freedom to make her own decisions and thought, "yes, that sounds reasonable". I forgot she didn’t have the skills to deal with such freedom. I forgot that she was still just a child. I didn’t want to lose my daughter’s love. I didn’t want her to be angry with me, but no matter what I did to try and help her, no matter how much I loved her or how often I forgave her, she was still angry, still difficult.
I watched as my normally easy going and fun-loving husband became quieter and more serious with the onset of each new drama, and I wondered how much more we could endure. I felt alienated from my family, friends, and neighbours.
And then I found TOUGHLOVE. I found other parents like myself, from all walks of life, struggling to come to terms with adolescent behaviour which seems to be appearing in children at a much younger age these days. Through TOUGHLOVE, I have found acceptance and support, and new ways of dealing with problems that work, not overnight, not without hard work and commitment, and not without pain, but slowly, gradually chipping away at problems that have seemed insurmountable, and always with the wonderful support network willing to help with advice, nurturing and hope – which was all but lost.
I have been a member of TOUGHLOVE for just a few months, but already I am feeling stronger within myself. There was nothing out there for me before. I felt that children had all the support in the world, but parents were left out in the cold. When we did seek help we were made to feel that we were, indeed, to blame, which only made us feel more inadequate and insecure, and even more guilty that we were unable to deal effectively with our unruly children.
I still have a long way to go before I will feel truly confident in my own abilities as a parent. I still have heaps to learn. It’s a matter of two steps forward, one step back, but now I have support when I need it most. I have a little more structure in my life. A weekly meeting to attend where I know I’ll be accepted for who I am; where "blame is a dirty word, where there are kindred spirits who know how I feel, who can identify with what I’ve been going through, who can offer alternatives that have worked for them".
To find out more about TOUGHLOVE, go to www.toughlove.org.au