Before I became a dad the notion of corporal punishment made me think of a gag from Woody Allen’s 1971 farce “Bananas.”
“I think [my parents] hit me once, actually, in my whole childhood. They, they, uh, started beating me on the 23rd of December in 1942, and stopped beating me in the late Spring of ’44.”
As a dad of two young sons, that scene doesn’t seem so funny anymore.
Punishing my sons is one of the toughest parts of parenthood. How could I reduce their sweet, joyful faces into a mask of tears for simply being precocious? Can’t I overlook that insult, the broken promise, or the milk that spilled after I repeatedly warned what would happen if they ate cereal in the living room?
My boys vowed the infractions would never happen again, and darn if they don’t look sincere.
That isn’t good enough. I have to be the judge, jury, and executioner of kid-friendly punishment. It’s my job, but I don’t have to like it. That leaves a series of choices, none of which I find appealing.
My own parents spanked me a few times, but never with malice. I rarely rebelled, but I suspect the old saying, “This will hurt me more than it hurts you” applied to Mom and Dad. I know it works overtime on me.
I’ve spanked my sons only a couple of times and just felt awful seconds later. It’s out of my discipline repertoire, and good riddance. I reserve it now only for life-threatening scenarios, like if one of my sons dart into the street without looking.
That leaves Plans B, C and D, and they often feel just as hopeless.
Time outs are our weapon of choice. The boys’ bedroom transforms into a gulag, albeit one with Avengers sheets and a stack of Dr. Seuss books for repeat offenders to browse. Our kitchen timer serves as the warden, and its beep like that last-minute call from the Governor.
Other punishments include taking away toys, not allowing the neighborhood kids to come over and bounce on our trampoline, no stories before bedtime and reducing their candy allotment. The latter may require a re-reading of the Geneva Convention according to my wailing sons.
It is heartening to know just how quickly kids bounce back from punishment. Their water works can lift with one good distraction or a well-time fart joke – yes, I’ll stoop to that level if the situation demands it.
Those teary reactions can serve a purpose.
Sometimes your children will tell you whether the punishment fits the crime. If we sagely deliver the smackdown, and the fountain of tears is brief, then we know we didn’t inadvertently lower the boom. The worst-case scenario has us Googling “water damage” for fear our sons will flood us out of house and home.
No matter the punishment, bringing discipline into my sons’ lives will never be easy. The ramifications of letting one too many miscues slide, though, is too punishing a thought to consider.
Photo credit: Klobetime via Flickr