Parenting 101: Make the punishment fit the grime

“The next time you do that, I’m going to spank you until you can’t sit down for a week!”

We’ve all said it at one time or another. Maybe not a threat of spanking, but of some other punishment that we really wouldn’t want to subject our kids to if we weren’t so angry at the time. And, we parents have used various methods of dealing with misbehavior that were inappropriate, ineffective, or both. Most Pagan parents I’ve talked to don’t like spanking anyway, but sometimes in the heat of anger we lash out, and invariably we wish we’d handled the situation differently.

That’s all part of parenting, and part of being human. Children don’t come with instruction manuals, and parents deal with frustration on a day to day basis. And as a result, we make mistakes. Even noted pediatrician and child development expert, Dr. T. Barry Brazelton, admitted that he spanked his kids on occasion. I, too, have spanked our daughters. They didn’t like it, and neither did I, but the real reasons I try not to use corporal punishment are manifold; It usually isn’t effective long-term, it conveys fear and
anger instead of love and understanding, it rarely addresses the problem at hand, and when it does, it is usually the worst possible form of punishment a parent could use: “I’ll (whack!) teach you (whack!) not to (whack!) hit your sister!”

So we try to be creative in our discipline technique, as well as attempting to “make the punishment fit the crime.” At various times we’ve used time-out, fines, no desserts, grounding from TV, video games and after-school activities, and other methods, with varying results. While it’s not always possible to do so, I try to make punishment more than just something that the kids find onerous, but also a learning experience. One thing that’s worked pretty well is positive affirmations. Writing “I always hang up my towel to dry” 500 times did seem to help them remember that wet towels don’t belong on the bathroom floor. Requiring reparations is also effective, especially when you put some thought into it.

Silverwing and Willow were home from school Thursday and Friday last week because an epidemic of stomach flu had so decimated the ranks of both students and teachers that the local school board decided to give everyone a couple of days for R&R. We invited a friend to drop off her daughter for a sleepover, so we had a houseful of kids excited by their unexpected vacation and running wild. By the time I got off work Friday evening, Amber was just about at her wits’ end.

First thing was the oatmeal incident. Nothing major, just a mess from breakfast left out on the kitchen table. But they know better. Then there was the safety issue. I could be wrong, but is it too much to ask kids playing in the street to do so facing the traffic so they can get out of the way if a car is coming? Amberflame didn’t think it was an unreasonable request, but still got an argument out of it. The kids got into the candy without asking. They left doors open that are supposed to be closed, left lights on that should have been turned off, and left the hose running outside when they came in for a snack, after being
told to turn it off. Basically, they forgot everything they’d been taught in their collective 22 years.  Then, the final straw landed on the camel’s back.

It was an unusually warm day for February, reaching almost 70 degrees. The girls had been playing with the garden hose, making mud pies and spraying things we have stored in the garage (also after being specifically told not to), getting themselves soaking wet in the process. Finally, Willow came inside to change out of her wet clothes and warm up. After her teeth had stopped chattering and most of the blue had faded from her lips, she started back outside, still in the fresh outfit. Amber told her to change back into her play clothes if she was going to get back into the water, but Willow promised that she was just
going to stay on the porch and watch Silverwing and their guest.

Naturally, when Amber went out later to check on the kids, Willow was barefooted, soaked, out in the mud with the others. The scene, as I understand it, went something like this:
Willow: (Blank expression, totally oblivious of whatever could possibly be wrong)
Amber: “I told you not to wear that outside if you were going to get back into the water. I told you to come inside and change, if you changed your mind about staying on the porch. Didn’t I??”
Willow: “Uh. Yes(?)”
Amber: (brow furrows, eyes narrow slightly and pupils begin to glow an unholy red color)
Willow: “Um. I mean, Yes, Ma’am?”
Amber: “So then why didn’t you do it??”
Willow: “WellIwasgoingtobutSilverwingtoldmetocomeoutintheyardandItoldherwhatyou’dsaidandI neededtogoinandchangefirstbutshesaidthatdidn’tmatterandtocomeonoutanywayandsoIdidandI’msorry...”
Amber: “Both of you: In the house - NOW!”

The girls went inside and changed clothes, then decided to play quietly in their room. Amberflame went out on the porch thinking homicidal thoughts, taking the cordless phone with her in anticipation of my call for last-minute additions to the shopping list. I also think she may have eaten a couple of packs of cigarettes to calm her nerves, because by the time I phoned in she just quietly informed me that I’d have to kill the kids when I got home. While she explained why, I quietly made a few additions to the shopping list and told her not to worry, that I would handle it.

After I got home from the store, the girls were especially helpful with putting away the groceries, setting the table, cleaning up, and so forth. They knew what was coming, they just didn’t know when. Amber and I chatted as if nothing had gone wrong all day, letting them sweat a bit before mentioning the day’s events. Finally, we discussed history and how technology had changed the way we lived, how modern conveniences such as washing machines had made our everyday lives easier, and how we sometimes take things for granted. And with that, I told the kids that I had a surprise for them and brought in my last-minute purchases, a washtub, a bar of Ivory soap, and an old-fashioned washboard. When it finally sunk in that I wasn’t going to get mad and yell, but just have them wash their muddy clothes by hand, they thought, “Wow, this is going to be fun!”

They thought wrong. The novelty of bending over, sticking one’s hands into boiling water and scraping one’s fingers raw against a washboard fades quickly, especially when the Goddess in Her wisdom prevents our fruit trees from blooming too early by returning the temperature to more seasonal levels. Overnight, it turned cold. In fact, it snowed some Saturday. Wet clothing, thrown over the fence between washing and rinsing, froze in place. Ordinarily kids might be inclined to rush a job like this in such adverse conditions, but I’d also mentioned that they’d better do a good job because they were washing their
school outfits for Monday morning.  Finally after nearly three hours of backbreaking labor they rolled up the hose, dragged the tub and washboard, and themselves, up onto the porch and came in to thaw out in a hot bath.

I hope they learned a few things from this. I hope they learned to listen and follow directions. I hope they learned to appreciate having clean clothes to wear, and how much better it is to take care of them. I hope they learned to appreciate how people used to live before electricity and washing machines, and how modern appliances make our lives easier. I also hope that this will help them understand how we are responsible for our own actions. (And hopefully, that in a pinch they’ll know how to get their clothes clean and dry without electricity, too.)

Only time will tell if this lesson did them any good or not. But I do know one thing: They sure did appreciate the steaming mugs of hot chocolate that Amberflame had waiting for them when they got out of the bathtub!

Oakdancer - 2/10/01

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