I heard a story the other day. Actually I reported it. The headline read: "7 arrested in Foods Co shooting, including three minors." Imagine, being 17 years old, barely old enough to drive, not old enough to vote, and facing prison time. You may be thinking, "Those young thugs had it coming." Yes, chances are, this wasn't their first foray into crime or illegal activity. But then I started thinking, were there opportunities along the way to prevent them from taking this path? Where were their parents? Were they working all day every day just to make ends meet? Were they absent from their lives? Were they in prison too?
By now, you've seen the footage of #momoftheyear Toya Graham, who was shown beating her son on live television during the Baltimore riots. She explained why she took action, "That’s my only son and at the end of the day I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray. At that point, I just lost it,” said Graham. “I was shocked, I was angry, because you never want to see your child out there doing that.” Baltimore's Police Commissioner referred to Graham at a news conference saying, “I wish I had more parents who took charge of their kids tonight.” I think a lot of us were thinking the same thing, as we watched the images of looting, burning, and rioting on TV. That's why her tough love resonated with so many parents across the country. Sometimes you have put your foot down because kids will always test the limits. When interviewed later, the clearly embarrassed teenager acknowledged that the public beat down happened because his mother loves him. And she very well may have prevented him from being arrested/injured/killed.
You might be surprised to learn that I had a youthful rebellion of my own. I too was 17 and bored. Bored of being the dutiful daughter and straight-A student. So I started shoplifting. At first it was small stuff, like a pair of earrings here, a coffee mug there. It wasn't because I had a bad upbringing. I was raised in a Christian home with both parents. It wasn't out of need. My folks worked hard to provide everything I needed. It was for a thrill. To see what I could get away with. To impress my friends. I soon graduated up to stealing clothes from department stores. My parents never suspected a thing. I never argued with them at home (except about the typical teenage stuff like boys and dress code). I kept my grades up. I never acted out at school. But then I got caught. I was put in handcuffs and marched across the mall, my face burning in shame. I had just turned 18. They would charge me as an adult. To make matters worse, my younger cousin was with me, and so the charges included "contributing to the delinquency of a minor." But that's not what I feared the most. I feared my parents' reaction. Specifically my dad's, because he had always been the disciplinarian at home. The one who whacked us with a wooden stick when we were really naughty. But boy, was I wrong. It was my mom I should have feared all along.
She lost it. Just like Toya Graham "lost it." My mom was shocked, angry, and horribly disappointed. Nothing in my young life could have prepared me for her reaction. She came at me with scissors and cut off all my hair. One of my pride and joys. Long, straight, silky smooth, all the way down my back. Gone in an instant. A teenage girl's vanity completely stripped away. She cried and screamed at me. I ran away from home. "I'll disappear. That'll teach her," I thought angrily. But as the days went by, it sunk in. Holy cow. That's how much my mom loves me. I never shoplifted again.
Only now that I'm a mother myself, do I understand the pain I caused her. Only now can I really be grateful that she scared me straight. Only now can I grasp the concept of tough love. I am not my children's friend. I am their mother. It is my duty to raise them to be God-fearing, law abiding, good human beings. That cannot be done without a good measure of discipline. There are consequences for bad behavior. Last year, my daughter was caught lying to me about missing homework assignments so that she could go to movie night at her school. She was grounded from movie nights for the rest of the year. "Wow that's harsh," said some of my friends. But she learned her lesson. And she's been honest with me since then, even during the times when she knew I wouldn't be happy with her. I know there will be many more times when I'll have to do the hard thing. Especially during the teenage years, when (God forbid) she goes through her rebellion. Those ominous foreboding words from my mom will come back to haunt me, "Someday you'll have a daughter just like you." I used to think, "I should be so lucky!" Now I know better. Ha!
So this Mother's Day, Happy Mother's Day to Toya Graham, my mom, and the rest of us who dole out tough love because we love our kids so. dang. much.