Teens, punishment, parenthood

21 Dec

I don’t have a teen at home anymore, but once upon a time, I was a parent to one of the most hard headed teenage girls ever to stomp through a house.  I watch her now, and I have a hard time putting this very likable young lady with that sullen girl I wasn’t sure I would survive parenting.  Maybe it was worse because I was a single parent, but maybe not.

Sometimes, when I was starting to wonder about my ability to cope, I’d go visit some other women I  knew that had teenagers at home.  It was my form of therapy.  After hearing their horror stories, and they had some real horror stories, I would go home thankful that she wasn’t violent, destructive, or involved in criminal activity.  I could appreciate our own personal brand of dysfunctional family where she’d learned not to push me too far.  Or not to get herself into anything that she didn’t want to face her Grandma about.

That isn’t to say she was an angel.  Far from it.  She was sly and sneaky, she’d lie to me in a heartbeat if she thought she could get by with it, she experimented with drugs and alcohol, and she had friends she knew I would never approve of…if I found out about them.  She was as defiant as any kid could be, but yet, there seemed to be a line that not even she would cross.  At the time, I wasn’t so sure of that either.

I can remember her coming into my office with her hair dyed emerald green.  I looked up as I heard the woman that worked for me gasp for air.  I stared for a split second at my formerly blonde daughter, and burst into laughter.

It was the absolutely most ridiculous thing I had ever seen.  It was also absolutely NOT the reaction she had been gunning for.  I was supposed to get mad, so she could get defensive.  Instead, her mother is doubled over in laughter.

I’ll admit, it wasn’t too funny when the “temporary” wasn’t so temporary and wouldn’t wash out.  I griped a lot as we stripped out the color in her hair then dyed it back to somewhat a natural color.  I took her to the beauty salon, and she got an attractive hair cut.  We had pictures taken too.

It was a good thing, because it wasn’t too long after that when she came waltzing in with her hair dyed a ridiculous black color.  I didn’t laugh over that, but just rolled my eyes.  She had dark skin…for a blonde, but this black hair looked as fake as anything could be.  I think my statement was that it looked “like something dead is perched on your head.”

But I endured.  She was doing the “goth” thing, and I’d make occasional remarks inquiring why she was going around wearing makeup that made her look like she was not only dead…but decomposing as well.  She didn’t think I was funny either.  The cheap jewelry with its black cords and thongs left a ring of grunge to match the rest, and that’s where I drew the line.  I had a green Scotchbrite scrub pad and I threatened to use it if she didn’t come out of the shower minus her ring around the neck.  Since she knew it was not an idle threat, the grunge ring disappeared rapidly.

Then there was the day she’d had friends over, drinking sodas and eating snacks and watching movies.  I liked her to do that, and was pretty liberal about it–my theory was that then I knew she was okay and who she was hanging out with.  It was worth a case of soda pop and bags of chips for that peace of mind.  It was late when everyone went home, which was fine too.  I knew all of those kids had enjoyed a safe evening of fun and were going home sober.

The next morning, the collection of cans stood on the coffee table.  That wasn’t a big deal, but I wanted her to clean up the living room, which I felt was a very reasonable chore for a teenage girl, and certainly nothing terribly strenuous.  All she had to do was get a trash can, pick up all of the cans, and vacuum up the bits of chips and what not from the floor.  It should have taken about ten minutes total.

At lunch time, I came in…and it was still a mess.  So, I reminded her, and of course got a “Okay, I’ll do it, just give me a minute” kind of reply.  She knew I’d be back in the late afternoon.  That gave her several hours to get her ten minute chore done.

And of course, she didn’t.  When the reminder at lunch was ignored, and I came in hours later to find the mess still there, I was…shall we say, “very unhappy.”  As I began chewing her out, she began running her mouth in the way that any mother of a teenage daughter knows is guaranteed to push that mother button from “very unhappy” to “You have gone to far” instantly.  I stepped towards her, and she took off running towards the door.  I guess she figured she’d finally found the “kill” button in her mother.

I grabbed a can and threw the empty soda can at her in sheer fury.  There was lots of ammunition sitting there, waiting.  I continued firing them as fast as I could as she ran towards the door.  I think she was terrified at that point, because it was completely out of the  norm for me.

I think I threw 10-20 cans, in very rapid succession.  Now if you have ever tried to throw an empty aluminum soda can with anything resembling force, you know that it’s impossible.  Granted, I had my own childhood history of being a “rock chucker”, and I’d continued “chucking rocks” with my son as an idle way to while away time on the desert, but throwing cans with force was not possible.

You’d not believe that story when you hear it from her today.  It made a profound impression on her that I lost my temper and began throwing aluminum soda cans at her. I knew at the time that it got her attention, because she was reasonably meek and mild tempered for weeks afterwards, and the cans were all cleaned up at light speed after I left to go back to work again while I cooled off.  As she tells that story as an adult, I threw those cans with enough force to leave bruises on her and I followed her out to continue throwing the cans, hitting her from 50 yards still.

Yeah right.

But it is a great story of losing your cool in a way that nobody got hurt but the point was made.  The aluminum cans couldn’t really hurt her, unlike if I’d started firing cans of food from the pantry or rocks from outside.  Sometimes, it’s necessary to really make a point.

On another occasion, Little Miss Muffet decided to do some drinking.  A lot of it, actually.  I was livid, by this point, she was a diabetic and she’d really pushed my buttons with the nearly suicidal amount of alcohol she’d foolishly consumed.  I didn’t know who had gotten it for her, but I would have happily choked them to death too.  We survived the alcohol, and the next day, punishment was delivered.

It started with her having to go to work…early.  She worked for me, and I found the most unpleasant and noisy chores that I could think of.  But, since she actually got a paycheck for that work, that wasn’t the punishment really.  That still had to be delivered.  I thought hard about it.  Creativity with Miss Muffet was absolutely required.  Traditional things like loss of privileges or grounding didn’t phase her–she regarded it as the price she paid for doing what she wanted.

I decided that the punishment had to be as severe as possible, with not only effort but a bit of embarrassment involved.  So, she was assigned to do five “good deeds” for someone, with some special conditions.  She couldn’t get paid for them, that was an obvious part of “good deed” effort.  She had to find her own good deeds–I had enough to do in a day as it was.  She had to tell the person why she had to do good deeds, and I had to be given the name, address, and phone number of the lucky recipient of her efforts.  She had two weeks to find the good deeds, which were to take her at least an hour for each one, and get them done.  I didn’t care what it was, whether it was taking out trash, cleaning a yard, washing a car, or running errands for someone…just she had to find them and do them, and I had to verify the deed and the fact she’d explained why she was looking for them.

It must have worked, not that she entirely stopped the drinking, but at least she didn’t come home incredibly intoxicated and sick.  She was at least sober enough to hide the fact that she’d done it…again.  I only found out about it after she was grown, so she did get better at being sly, which at least meant she wasn’t in danger of alcohol poisoning or a diabetic incident from the alcohol messing up her blood sugars.

Was I the perfect parent?  No, but who is?  She didn’t come with an owner’s manual, and sometimes I’ll admit, I was working too much to be a “good parent.”  I tried, I cared, and I worked hard to make sure she knew I was there and on her side.  And then comes the most wondrous moment of a mother’s life.

As an adult, she said she was glad I had been her mom because I was “cool” not like her friends’ moms.  The things she appreciated?  I didn’t swear at her or call her foul names.  She never felt as though I was glad to pawn her off on anyone who’d take her off my hands for a few hours or days, and said that she felt that mothers who did that were wrong.  She felt as though she was important to me.  She thought that it was a good thing that I taught her how to use power tools and fix things.  She liked the fact I’d do stuff with her, remembering the silly things like cooking on a rock that she wanted to do…and I did.  She remembered the few occasions when we’d have a “girls day” together, like the time I took her to see the mustangs that were being adopted and spent the day with just her, buying her a t-shirt and taking her to dinner (I think the whole day cost us $20, which was less than going to a movie and buying a popcorn & drink would have.)

Knowing that my aversion to letting her go with other people very often made her feel good about herself as an adult is kind of curious in a way.  I know I have known many mothers who were always looking for someone to watch their kids while they did this or that, but I always preferred to take her along.  She went to movies with me, out to dinner, shopping, camping, hiking, fishing, on vacations, to friends’ houses, dog shows, museums, literally everywhere possible.  Of course I had to have someone babysit when I was at work, as well as when I was dating, but otherwise, she was with me, and I usually tried to arrange with my mother for as often as possible.  I preferred that it was my mother who watched the kids–I knew she wasn’t going to do weird stuff!  It also meant that they were at home and had their normal routine, rather than adapting to someone else’s rules and routine.

I sincerely hope that she remembers how she felt about seeing her friends being subjected to obscenities and foul language from their mothers.  I see that often, and often it shocks me for that specific person to use that language with their children, as that person may rarely use it in other situations.  To me, it’s horrific.  How can you expect your child, no matter what the age, to respect you when you don’t respect them?

Respecting your children doesn’t mean indulging them.  It means validating their feelings, their desires, their dreams, their abilities, their hopes, their autonomy as an individual.  Sometimes it means saying, “I understand that you want to go there and do that, but the answer is no, you can’t.”  That is respecting your child enough to draw lines that are clearly there.  Sometimes, that respect boils down to an actual “I love you very much, but I most assuredly do not like the way you are acting/talking.”  It means teaching them the Golden Rule by treating them exactly the way you expect to be treated.

Now, being a grandmother, I get to watch her learn to be a mom.  And guess what?

My granddaughter didn’t come with an owner’s manual.

She doesn’t even have a warranty or a service plan option!


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