Throughout the ages, a war has waged between the Tough Love parent advisors and the  Soft Love parent advisors.   The Tough Love people have been at it the longest; in Western culture, the Soft Love is more prevalent today.  The following quotes show the contradictions.

Proverbs 19:18   The Old Testament “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.”

Plutarch, A.D. 110: The Education of Children. “Proper measures must be taken to ensure that [children] shall be tactful and courteous in their address; for nothing is so deservedly disliked as tactless characters.”

John Locke, 1693 Some Thoughts Concerning Educatino.   ,” I will also advise his feet to be wash’d every day in cold water, and to have his shoes so thin, that they might leak and let in water.… It is recommendable for its cleanliness; but that which I aim at in it, is health; and therefore I limit it not precisely to any time of the day,”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762 Emile: or, On Education,   “But let mothers deign to nurse their children ,morals will reform themselves, nature’s sentiments will be awakened in every heart, the state will be re-peopled.”

Lydia Maria Child, 1831 The Mother’s Book, “Even very little children are happy when they think they are useful. I can do some good—can’t I, mother?’ is one of the first questions asked….Let them go out with their little basket, to weed the garden, to pick peas for dinner, to feed the chickens….”

L. Emmett Holt, 1894 The Care and Feeding of Children, Babies under six months old should  never be played with; and the less of it at any time the better for the infant.”

John B. Watson, 1928 Psychological Care of Infant and Child “Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extraordinary good job of a difficult task.”

Benjamin Spock, 1946 The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, “The more people have studied different methods of bringing up children the more they have come to the conclusion that what good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is usually best after all. Furthermore, all parents do their best job when they have a natural, easy confidence in themselves. Better to make a few mistakes from being natural than to do everything letter-perfect out of a feeling of worry”

Thomas Gordon, 1970 Parent Effectiveness Training: “Punishment can be discarded forever and I mean all kinds of punishments, not just the physical kind.”

Thomas Phelon, 1993 One, Two, Three, Magic.  “You must first rid yourself of an erroneous idea about children known as the ‘little adult assumption.’ Kids are not little adults; they are kids. Explanations, persuasions, and logical reasoning usually have little or no effect on children. They simply do not respond to reasons and explanations like adults do.”


Contradictory advice creates family conflict, particularly when one child’s care-taker favors Tough Love and another Soft Love.  Soft Love advocates  are ahead in this war, at least currently, although the tide seems to be  turning because many are realizing in today’s workaholic world too much is asked of parents.

As Erica Jong recently noted in a November 6th Wall Street Journal Article:  “Today’s bible of child-rearing is ‘The Baby Book’ by William and Martha Sears, which trumpets “attachment parenting.’  You wear your baby, sleep with her and attune yourself totally to her needs. How you do this and also earn the money to keep her is rarely discussed. You are just assumed to be rich enough.  At one point, the Searses suggest that you borrow money so that you can bend your life to the baby’s needs….Add to this the dictates of “green” parenting—homemade baby food, cloth diapers, a cocoon of clockless, unscheduled time—and you have our new ideal. Anything less is bad for baby.”

She is right, the attachment people are right, the “green” parents are right, the parent advisors above were right but not in all ways or for all parents and all children.  So how can you make peace with all the contradictory advice?  Here are some of my ideas:

  1. Walk the middle road between Tough Love and Soft Love.  Be tough on unacceptable behavior, but Soft on the child.
  2. As the saying goes, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything becomes a nail.”  So search the experts for tools.  Phelon has some good ones, Gordon has some, the TV Nanny Shows have some, almost every expert has something to heed and something to ignore.
  3. Don’t expect every tool to be the right one for you or for your child.  Moreover, what might work for one care-taker or one child, will probably not work for other care-takers or children.
  4. Learn from the mistakes you feel your parents made and try to do better than they did.
  5. Practice forgiveness, forgive yourself your mistakes; your children theirs, your parents theirs.

An interesting link.  Molly Jong comments on her life with her mother as published in the Wall Street Journal.  Sounds like Erica was a good enough Mom.

Agree or disagree, comments are always welcomed.

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