Tough Love

by Rebecca Keliher


My oldest daughter had a birthday recently and asked if I would tell her the birth story. Leaving out the gory details, I tried my best to remember the event. Later that night, while I lay in bed thinking about the day, my mind drifted back to that moment when I first held her in my arms. As other parents can attest, there is a love like no other when it comes to your children.


But babies don’t stay babies very long. Before you know it, the toddler years arrive and, besides keeping little ones alive, we begin teaching and training them. Now that I’m a grandma, I am watching my daughter discover the challenges and joys of motherhood.


My grandsons are, hands down, the cutest boys you’ve ever seen! My oldest grandson is a toddler now, and, besides the ear to ear smiles that make me go mushy, he has a deep curiosity that leads him to all kinds of mischief. His father and mother have been proactive and laid out a plan for how they would parent and what boundaries they would enforce while developing a strong bond as he grows.


There are times when the grandma in me wants to rescue this little guy from consequences, but then I remember, all too well, that tough love is just as important as cuddles, words of encouragement, and hugs. Setting boundaries with our children begins in the toddler years and extends until they leave home. But the key isn’t setting the boundary, it’s reinforcing it. That’s when tough love comes into play.



I remember all too well the toughest love I had to give to one of my daughters. From her toddler years until her tweens, she was simply hard-headed and stubborn. Throughout her elementary years, I struggled to find a consequence that worked with her. No matter how many times I set a rule or enforced it, she simply didn’t get it. We went round and round!


After much prayer, I discovered what worked. This girl is an extrovert. She loves to go places and see people. On the next occasion for a get together, she would not be allowed to attend. One of her friends was having a birthday party at an ice rink, and I let her sisters attend while she stayed home. I cannot tell you how terrible I felt about it. From the moment I pulled out of the driveway, and for weeks afterwards, my heart ached when I thought of how much disappointment she experienced that day.


As parents, we love our kids so much, we don’t want to see them disappointed. We give and give and give to show our love, but sometimes what we need to give is tough love. That day, my daughter took a turn in her life. The consequence broke through her hard head, and I’m so glad it did. Her teen years were surprisingly pleasant.



It’s interesting to watch how life turns out; we learn what college our friends attended, what career choice they made, who married whom and how many kids they had. In homeschooling, I’ve graduated three (with many thanks to the tutorial program they attended). It makes me happy to see each daughter choosing her own path. But more than that, I rest in the fact that they were properly educated and prepared for the future they chose.


While there may be philosophies and popular homeschool speakers and bloggers raving about different methods of homeschooling, the one thing we need to be tough on is giving our students a proper education.


I’ve watched homeschool kids graduate and need to take remedial classes in college because they used a sub par curriculum that didn’t properly prepare them, but it was cheap and easy. I’ve also seen the care-free, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants style homeschooling result in kids that didn’t have the math or science skills to take college level testing. But the worst is when the core subjects of math, science, history, and language arts are substituted with a Bible, because as one speaker once said, “That’s all you need!”


Even if the destination isn’t college or trade school, a proper education ensures that your children will have the necessary knowledge and skills no matter what life throws at them. It also gives your student the confidence to know they can choose any path. I’ve watched homeschool girls graduate with minimal educations leading them to believe the only thing they could do is marry and have babies. Although motherhood is an amazing avenue to choose, it shouldn’t be the only option.


In our home, when the girls were in their tween years, I began to realize my own educational deficiencies. With high school on the horizon, I knew I didn’t have what it would take to ensure a good outcome, nor did I have the time to learn Shakespeare and biology. But that’s okay, because my job as a parent isn’t to each information, it’s to facilitate their education.


I chose to send the kids to a tutorial program where they were able to discover a love for literature, watch a veterinarian (and biology teacher) perform surgery on animals, and learn history from amazing teachers who wrote the curriculum!

We all have different situations, but hopefully we all have the same goal when it comes to homeschooling. Whether it’s ensuring kids get school work done, sending them to a tutorial program, or having the self-discipline to school well, being tough in the area of homeschooling shows love to your children.



As I think about tough love, the area it has benefited me the most is my personal life. For the first twenty years of my adult life, I felt the need to always say yes to every request made of me. Fix dinner for a family at church, even if my own kids get PB&J—no problem. Babysit for a couple who want a date night, even though I’ve been up for forty-eight hours with a nursing baby—okay.


Looking back, I notice a trend. The more I said yes, the more I was asked. By the twentieth year I was burnt out, angry at others, and living with severe physical ailments because I put everyone’s happiness ahead of my own self care.


Reading the books Boundaries and Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud was a life saver for me. I began drawing lines and getting tough by saying no. I began to love myself and take back my time so I could focus on my needs. I learned why Jesus went away to refresh himself — if the Son of God needed it, so do I!


Boundaries extend beyond our physical time, they also include our emotional health. Drawing lines became necessary in my relationships with toxic people. This included family members, church members, and friends. When taking the time to evaluate what is pulling you down, be sure to remember the emotional drain can come from a person, even if they are not requesting your time.


Having tough love is uncomfortable. In parenting, homeschooling, and taking care of yourself, it takes an inner voice that reinforces you’re doing the right thing and to hold out for the good results it will produce.


Used by permission: Originally published at


With five kids in their teen and early adult years, Rebecca shares the many ups and downs of parenting, homeschooling, and keeping it all together. As the Well Planned Gal she mentors women towards the goal of discovering the uniqueness Christ has created in them and their family and how to best organize and plan for the journey they will travel.