I’m not good at excuses or getting told off. It might be because my parents were lax. I remember my mother telling me off once, no doubt for being a right pain in the ass. The rest of the time? Zilch. Our requests to get grounded were met by, “Why?” Well, because everybody else is getting grounded, Mum! She didn’t buy it. I once told my dad he’d best put me in the corner. I hadn’t done anything too bad. I just wanted to show solidarity with my friends down the street where we lived in Los Angeles who went from one grounding to the next. My dad played along laughingly. I stayed in the corner for a couple of minutes and then went and sat down on the sofa with a book and without a reprimand whatsoever. Indeed, my two older brothers and I coasted through our preteen and teen rebellion doing most of what we wanted. But we knew right from wrong. We self regulated our actions without the fear of getting grounded or an earful. We called home. “Mum, I’ll be home tomorrow.” And we hung out at friends’ houses closer to the beach so we could go surfing at dawn.
Is this the right way to parent?
We got into trouble, sure. Shoplifting, swearing inappropriately (i.e., to an annoying kid’s mother) and throwing oranges at passing busses and cars. A driver once stopped after a glorious (for us) thud on his car and set out in pursuit of us vagrants. He found my friends and me in the garage and his stern face did the job. We got buckets of soapy water and marched behind him to sponge off the splattered orange. Busted. Now go home.
My three children, all under eight years of age, haven’t yet stooped to such antics. But they do get into trouble, and they get earfuls, repetitively enough that they’ve developed aversion mechanisms.
One is the art of wholehearted (and pleading) agreement:
“Of course, you’re totally right. That was wrong. I shouldn’t have done it,” my eldest daughter will tell us.
Another is the art of preemption:
My wife will say sternly to my five-year-old son, “Come here now!” He’ll enter the room saying, “I love you Mum!”
The third is the art of ignorance. Our littlest girl, who is nearly three, has mastered this art. Tell her off and she, aka The Rascal, breaks out into, well, song. “Give me freedom, Give me fire,” she sings as you look crossly at her for writing on the freshly painted walls. This is dumbfounding, to say the least. Our eldest daughter turns to look up at our what-do-we-do-now faces and says, “She is very naughty, but she sure is funny!”