It’s been stormy in my house. No, it’s not the rain outside, though that was there, but the events of the last couple weeks have weighed on me and just beat me down. I’m not hitting my stride and falling off balance.
I have been very big in talking about discipline and stating for the record that I have to have follow-through on my demands. I don’t just say these things, I believe and try to practice them. Like most normal parents, though, I understand that the frustration, patience and emotional steel needed to endure the punishments is more necessary from the parent than from the child. My kids are particularly difficult examples.
Our home situation isn’t the only reason. I’m not big on letting myself or the kids use the example of losing my wife, Andrea, as the reason for misbehavior or acting out. Still, the fact remains that as hard as it is for me to care for four kids on my own I can only imagine what it must be to be one of those four children with one less parent. Whatever faults Andrea may have had, she absolutely loved and adored our kids. Sometimes it was to my detriment. Andrea didn’t like disciplining them, in fact she was horrible at it until the last few years of her life. I grew to be a bit resentful of her, this amazing and beautiful woman, because she’d get frustrated with their behavior, call me at work – where I could do absolutely NO good – and have me be the heavy. When that didn’t work I had to mete out the punishments when I walked in the door. The kids grew to flinch and dread my walking in the door. I never thought it was fair that she was able to have fun and get frustrated yet I had to be the one to dole out those criticisms, usher them to the dinner table, get them showered and cleaned, then force bedtime while their Mom would say “can’t they stay up just a little? We haven’t had more than an hour or two together as a family” and she becomes the white knight while I’m the black.
Let me reiterate – I hated that scenario. I saw my children, whom I loved so much, avoiding spending time with me and literally asking “so, Dad, when do you go to work?” Not as a question but a hope that they get rid of me for the rest of the day. I finally had to have a talk with Andrea that it wasn’t healthy that she got to be so loved and they were starting to despise me. Finally, she agreed and started taking the punishments into her hands and I got to come home without being the punisher. I tucked them in, said prayers, and read to them, like every other night, and we started to finally hit our stride.
So when they lost their Mom I lost the balance all over again. As a result, I have to look at punishments and what’s egregious and what’s simply worth letting slide.
With my middle daughter, Hannah, it’s hard. The boys I can take away privileges, games, TV, etc., and they respond. Noah has a harder time, but stay home all day and do nothing but read the books you have, not new ones or library books, and you get bored very fast and don’t want to visit that world again. When he got suspended for a day after kicking another boy I wanted to make sure the punishment sunk in. He loves being helpful, so when they suggested it be in-school kind of suspension it made no sense. Noah likes to clean up and help the teachers and be the class’ helper. I understand how it feels to be a bit of an outsider, the one who doesn’t fit the grain of the wood. he’s the knot in the pine desk, not the smooth grain that tries to go around it. So when he was suspended, he had to stay home and we scheduled his sister’s oral surgery so he’d have no attention, no help, no focus. Just books and a couch cushion to sit on. Not sure if it worked, but it’s all I can muster.
Hannah, to continue the point, doesn’t respond to it. When she hadn’t done her chores and I took away the privileges she was good for about 3 days and then went back. Take them away again and she could care less. She gets up, puts away 2 plates, then slinks off upstairs to her room or hides in the office so I can’t see her. As I’m doing laundry or making lunches I can’t tell if she’s doing her homework . . . until I get the reports showing she hasn’t turned it in again. Her latest stint is because I took them out of school for the anniversary of Andrea’s death – at leas that’s her explanation. In case you haven’t seen, we’re not past a month beyond that anniversary. Even I would have a hard time justifying changing the grades back if we’re now a month beyond. Hannah claims the assignments were changed while we were gone and didn’t know, which may be, but then she never tried to find out. I gave her a deadline and told her the one thing she desperately wanted – to see the Black Keys in concert with her sister and I next Friday – was the goal. No missed assignments; no zeros and she goes, spends the night with us, and then all is right with the world.
Last night was it. I even – violating my own credo – gave her a 1-day extension. She’s joined a school play, had a lot on her plate, and told her that she had to talk to the teacher today.
“She scares me,” was the excuse.
“No she doesn’t, if she was mean she wouldn’t care and wouldn’t be working with you to fix this. She’d just give you and “F”, which you very well might deserve!”
“But she scares me.”
“You’re not scared, you’re embarrassed and don’t want to admit to her or me you don’t want to face this. Bigger issues, Hannah, you cannot fail 7th grade!”
That’s the deal we made. Fix it, concert’s a go. Not fix it you’re staying with your Aunt along with your brothers. On top of that, if she fails 7th grade, she’s moving to the public school. I informed her already that I won’t pay for the same grade twice.
Tonight after picking her and Sam up from play practice her mouth ran a million miles an hour.
“I didn’t have time to talk with her and the class was busy and we didn’t have study time and the next bell had rung and I didn’t see her and I don’t know if she was still there and the whole thing was hard and there’s no possible way I could have talked with her during class and we had a quiz and . . . ”
“. . . I had to memorize my lines for the play.”
That’s when I lost it.
“The play!!! You should have blown off the play. You should have been late for rehearsal. You should have been late to your next class or stayed outside her classroom before going to rehearsal so you could fix this. That was the deal. The play isn’t what’s important, Hannah. You need to see your priorities here!”
I knew what was coming next: “so I can’t go to the concert??”
“What do you think?!”
She started to get huffy on the car ride home.
“Don’t get mad at me, Hannah, I didn’t do this. I gave you a day more than I should have!”
“I know,” was her answer, “I know. I did this, it’s my fault.”
I reminded her that taking 3rd grade again probably wouldn’t have affected her, but if she fails 7th . . . she may not even get into college. I stared at her with my mouth agape.
Her sister was depressed. She was secretly happy she might get a night with her Dad – the night before the prom – but she also wanted Hannah to come. They had this connection together and they could relate. Like sisters, not like older sister caring for her siblings.
But nothing was getting through. I had spoken with Hannah’s aunt and said “she’s got a hail Mary I’m allowing her today to try and fix it.” My response when I got home was to text her saying “well . . . Hannah fumbled.”
I wanted this. I wanted the night with my girls. I wanted to see a show – maybe not my favorite, but who cares? – and eat dinner, go to the hotel, then come home and watch my little girl transform into a grown up for prom. I wanted to see my little girls together again and then one of them had to ruin it.
The balance was broken again. It’s so far off-kilter at this point I’m not sure I can bring it back, but this is the only way. I cave in now nothing will ever sink in.
Like I said, punishment is often harder on the parents.