Who Am I Punishing?
When I was young it was the telephone, time inside, or the dreaded television punishment that had us shaking in our boots. Three measly things our parents had to choose from to use as fear tactics to get us to behave. I can still hear my mom’s voice saying things like “That room is a mess! No telephone for a week!” This punishment never affected me too much. After all, our house was miniscule and for most of my life we just had one phone in the kitchen. The cord (although colossally stretched) didn’t reach my room and so privacy was nil. Therefore, I wasn’t a big phone fan. If my grades were less than what my parents expected, I would typically get grounded for five weeks. This consisted of the inability to leave my home, go outside or hang with friends until the grades were up. Secretly I relished this punishment. I have ALWAYS been a homebody and this kind of discipline tactic allowed me to sit in my cherished black pleather bean bag in the finished basement and watch TV for hours.
Back then, I guess the worst thing that my parents could do to me was to take away the TV. That was like death. No Little House on the Prairie on Monday nights? No MASH? No Wonderful World of Walt Disney? Even worse was not being able to watch my stories. (That was what my mother called them.) After all everyone knows if you miss a day of General Hospital you’d never be able to figure out what was going on because the plot was so complicated! (Snicker.)
Today however, it is different. There seems to be a veritable smorgasbord of punishment choices for mothers like me to choose from. No Facebook, no AIM, no cell phone, no computer, no texting, no Xbox 360, no Playstation3, no WII, no skyping, hand over the IPod Touch, give me the car keys, even the old standby, no TV. I could go on and on. My boys rue getting new privileges and toys because as they say, “I LOVE to take things away from them.”
I try to explain that I am not the one doing the taking but instead they are the ones making the poor choices that cause the privileges to vanish. They insist that I am the only mother who sees these new fangled toys and communication systems as things to hang over their veritable heads.
In a rather heated discussion between me and my 17 year old he insisted that taking away say the computer did not in any way coincide with motivating him to do his homework. He revealed that my tendencies to forbid the things that entertain him are not logical consequences for his lack of effort. Another startling revelation that came out of the argument (okay who am I kidding it was a shouting match) was that the very fact that I punish him in that way makes him dig in to the trenches a little deeper and refuse to do the very thing he is being punished for. He’ll show me. The problem is… as far as grades… he’s doing himself in. In reality the bottom line is that I have already taken and passed high school courses. His decisions-poor or good-affect his life, not mine. But isn’t it my job to be the guide when the decisions he’s making are detrimental to his future?
It is absolutely positively impossible for me to know that my son is down in the “Teenage Palace” playing on the Xbox with friends, chatting on Facebook, or simply watching TV when I know that his math teacher is afraid he might not pass the class due to the fact that he NEVER (ok, rarely) does his homework. Life just doesn’t work that way. We work first and play when our responsibilities have been fulfilled. Isn’t it my job as a mother to teach him that? Some say I should let him hang—that failing grades are the logical consequences of not doing school work. But the thing is failing grades have consequences too. No college, no scholarships = no empty nest for me. I want him to be successful. Surely teaching him to have some semblance of a work ethic is a necessary thing? Was that meant to be a question? Let me try that again. Surely teaching him to have some semblance of a work ethic is a necessary thing! (She says emphatically. Well sort of emphatically. Ok… you are right. I am just not sure.)
Here’s the thing: I vacillate constantly on this subject, not sure if I can find a happy medium. It doesn’t feel right to do nothing. My son has already proved that if that is the case, he’ll do nothing too… happily… with NO reservations. But it isn’t working with me on his tushy 24/7 either. All that gets me is a kid out for revenge on his nagging mother. Lately I have tried a sort of medium—A nonchalant mention to do his homework before playing here, a suggested nudge to do a weekly internet game for Spanish there. He nods his head as he confidently states, “Got it under control ma.” Then I hear the distinct tone of the Xbox turning on and the familiar murmuring of game communication with friends. I grit my teeth. I stomp around. I spout to whoever listening. I lock myself in my room for an hour or two hoping that at some point he’ll dive into the required work. I tiptoe toward the Teen Palace door and open it slightly. The sounds of guns and aliens and bombs and other video game noise fill my ears and make my temples throb. I tentatively ask, “Got that work done Aid?” “Nope!” He responds sarcastically. “Nope. I. Don’t.” And then I lose it. The rationality of letting him learn from logical consequences flies out the window. The temperance of taking a medium stance hides in a corner of my enraged mind. And then I do what so many mothers have done before me. I scream out that ancient aphorism used for hundreds perhaps thousands of years by mothers all over the world, “You are grounded!”
“From what!” He yells back.
“From the Xbox for a week!”
Hey! It could have been much worse! He could have lost the TV.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed.