I think most parents would agree that just about any punishment you dole out will be just as hard – perhaps harder – on the parent as it is on the kid. That’s always been the case in my household. I remember back when my oldest daughter – the more responsible of my four children – would test the limits of her parents’ patience. All my kids knew better than most how to “mommy shop” their punishments. I can’t tell you the number of times I punished my kids only to come home and find that my wife had completely undercut the punishment, returning whatever treasure of my children’s that I’d taken away.
Andrea, my late wife, had no patience when it came to punishments. Actually, she had little patience with a lot of things, her husband included. (That’s a criticism, yes, but bear in mind that there were probably 10,000,000 things about her I loved, too) Worse, when the twins were born, Noah, the oldest of the two, had a blood-curdling scream that I would agree was just . . . well, blood-curdling. But where I’d put him in a room and shut the door until he stopped Andrea couldn’t take it. I’d head off her impatience when I was home . . . but I worked a lot. Those hours led to so many undermanned punishments.
So I had to get creative. When my oldest – at pre-teen age – decided she “needed privacy” more than she deserved she started slamming her bedroom door. In the worst instance she slammed it so hard that her sister’s bookshelf – on a common wall – flew off its wall anchors and broke the soccer trophies neatly arranged on it. I could have simply taken away the television or other things but I knew that when I went to work the next day she’d have seen an inordinate number of Spongebob episodes before I got home. So I took her door off the hinges. I even was more sadistic than that when I leaned the door against the wall facing her bed so she got to see her door but not use it. If she wanted “privacy” while dressing there was a bathroom across the hall.
But today it’s even more difficult. Noah’s behavior when I am not home and work late is – to put it kindly – appalling. Twice in one day he got discipline slips. I should take solace, as the teachers tell me, in the fact he’s not lashing out at other kids. No . . . he’s lashed out at the teachers now. Not violently, but angrily and talking back. If I’d done that Sister Mildred would have jammed all my knuckles with the back end of a wooden hand broom . . . but we’re in a different world now.
So I took away Noah’s privileges. Nothing else really works. He’s an odd one to peg. Where Abbi wanted privacy I took that away. Where Hannah didn’t care about school but did care about her guitar and writing – I took those away. It’s worked, no more missed assignments. But Noah . . . he’s a plucky one. He asks over and over and over and over again “when can I get my games back?” He poses his interrogatives in the form of legitimate school questions: “if I have to type something up for school, can I use the computer then?” It’s not that he asks them, really, it’s that he asks them all . . . the . . . time. I have the patience and wearwithall to weather his storm of third degree. It’s been many days without all this.
Today was where it hit its peak.
You see, he also states, constantly, how bored he is. My response is generally “if you hadn’t gotten sent to the principal’s office twice in one day you might not have this issue, would you?” That mixed with the most-used response of “there are plenty of clothes need to be folded” or “leaves to be raked” or the like. That usually heads him off for about another half-hour.
Tonight, though, I face the delicate task of deciding if he gets them back tomorrow if he behaves. Why, if I’ve been so good about weathering all these issues, would I consider this? A couple reasons:
First . . . there’s the fact he’s being punished at school as well. This isn’t the one day’s problems, this is the entire week. Every day I worked late the next day he had a problem at school. I think even the teachers were thrilled we had reached Thanksgiving break. He’s writing letters of apology to the teachers and he’s facing some stiff considerations in the classroom.
Second . . .there’s the rest of the kids to think about. Yes, I say how responsible Abbi is. No, she’s not too dissimilar from her Mom. The last time – in the middle of a rainstorm and we were short on funds – she asked if we could go out to dinner because they were driving her crazy. That was the first full-day of her watching them in months. I can only imagine Monday-Wednesday this week. Toss Noah not being able to play game boy, computer, TV . . . none of it while his siblings can and it’s Andrea back in the house all over again.
So my response to her in the middle of the afternoon, I’ve decided, will be to let her know that if he behaves he’ll get one thing back. Tomorrow the next thing. Wednesday the next. Yes, I’m caving in spit of my principals, but I choose to believe it’s more my setting the agenda. He’s been punished.
It’s not that the rest of them – and me, working 30-odd miles away, should be punished as well.
This way the punishment fits the crime . . . for all of us.