Parenting Tips: Doing the Right Thing, Even When it Is Hard

By Greg Baer M.D.

May 9, 2024

A few years ago, after having my arthritic right hip replaced, I immediately started a rigorous physical therapy program to strengthen the muscles around the new joint.

The repetitive and painful nature of the therapy was a challenge, and at one point, I even found myself "cheating" the prescribed exercises to dodge the discomfort. 

This experience taught me an invaluable lesson about pain and avoidance—tendencies that not only apply to physical therapy but also profoundly influence our parenting decisions.

We naturally strive to avoid pain, often unconsciously. In doing so, whether in physical therapy or life’s broader scope, we may cheat ourselves out of valuable growth and learning opportunities.

Pain is a potent motivator, but the shortcuts we take to alleviate it can lead to greater pain in the future.

This pattern is vividly mirrored in how we parent. At times, we opt for the easier path to avoid immediate discomfort, which can unfortunately inflict long-term harm on our children.

Let’s consider the story of Eileen, a mother tirelessly grappling with her adult son, Morris, who has mastered the art of avoiding responsibility. Morris concocts excuses, lies, and maneuvers to avoid work, often exploiting his father's leniency in his mother's absence to gain food, money, or shelter.

Eileen's frustration peaked one evening when, after a long day anticipating relaxation, she found Morris at home, unbothered and indulging as if he were still a child.

This ongoing cycle of avoidance and indulgence not only strained her but also undermined the tough love necessary for Morris's growth.

“They’re both just cheating,” I remarked to Eileen, drawing a parallel to my physical therapy. The momentary relief from confronting Morris was seductive yet deviating from the difficult path she needed to stay on.

I advised Eileen to persist in loving yet firm parenting. She needed to communicate clearly to Morris that his unannounced visits were unacceptable and to enforce boundaries consistently.

Similarly, she had to confront her husband, Tom, about not circumventing the agreed rules, despite the discomfort it might cause.

“Doing the right thing does not mean that others will always agree or like it, but it will give you a sense of self-worth and peace,” I counseled her. This stance isn’t merely about asserting control but about nurturing responsibility and resilience in Morris.

Eileen’s story is a compelling reminder that as parents, doing the right thing, especially when it is challenging, is crucial. We must be prepared to face the discomfort of enforcing rules and standing by them, knowing that while this path is harder, it leads to better outcomes for our children.

Like overcoming the pain in therapy to heal and strengthen, confronting the pain in parenting paves the way for our children’s ultimate well-being and success.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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