Parenting tough love leads to character development

There may not be a more enjoyable and more frustrating relationship than the one we have with our children.

There may not be a more enjoyable and more frustrating relationship than the one we have with our children. We have a blended family in our home with three children ages 16, 14 and 9. There are all kinds of developmental issues going on between 9-16. No one day is ever boring.

Our daughter, who is 14 and a freshman, is running track this year. For the full backstory on this, she wanted to do a sport as a freshman so she wouldn’t have to take physical education. She chose to run cross country in the fall. OK, I told her, you can run cross country, but keep in mind it will be easier to go through fitness walking every other day in school than it will be to run cross country. Cross country runners buy T-shirts that read, “My sport is your sport’s punishment.”

I practically begged her not to run cross country. Never mind that her uncle, my wife’s brother, is the cross country coach. My daughter insisted this is what she wanted to do.

She didn’t follow the summer running schedule the coaches sent home. You can see how this has disaster written all over it, right?

The first practice comes in the summer shortly before the school year started. She wanted to quit the team after one day.


Something happened that day between my daughter and me that I’m sure she hopes never happens again. There was no way she was quitting. That was made clear to her before she left the house for her first practice. The only way she could quit cross country is if she returned to practice the next day and looked every girl on that team in the eye and said, “I’m quitting and I’m letting you down and I’m sorry.” And in order to join any sport or organization for the next four years of high school, she first would have to tell that group not to count on her because she has a history of quitting. She also had to repay me the pay-to-play fee. Tough love? Yes.

To make a long story short, she stayed with cross country. She improved every week. Now she is running track. The other day when I picked her up from practice, she said she ran five miles. She mentioned this like it was no big deal, just a Tuesday routine at practice. In less than a school year, she has come so far, and I could not be prouder of her.

These are the little victories in life, I believe, that have a lasting impression on forming our children into the people they become. I wonder what message would have been sent if she had been allowed to quit practice after one day, as opposed to the lesson she learned about overcoming tough obstacles and making yourself better.