Little Friends – Part 2 (Consequences)
Tonight my sweet boy, the child that left my safe and warm womb six years ago, is going to bed without dinner for the first time in his life. Oh, we’ve threatened in the past, begun the punishment only to find an alternative and bring him humbly back down to the dinner table. But not tonight, this was a real punishment and he will survive it, hopefully with a little wisdom to fill his mind, if not his belly.
See, we had the same friends, you know, the ones from last time, over tonight. Because of the older brother, we have had to implement a rule at our house. “All toy trades have to go through an adult.” We made this rule because the friend is three years older than my son and uses this to his advantage. We’ve seen items leave this house in the name of trade with little to show for it on our end. I won’t go into his motives, I try to give the benefit of the doubt. I’d like to think he’s trying to be fair, but…
Anyway, this particular evening, my son and he were playing in their usual way, enjoying themselves with cars and Lego bricks to their hearts’ content. I began making dinner and gave a ten minute warning for getting everyone to their respective homes. After the friends had gone home, I told the kids dinner would be ready soon and was glad that this time there had been no crying or potential maiming.
Still excited about their play date, the kids started recapping their afternoon. I just listened and continued with dinner preparations when my son excitedly mentioned that he had made a really cool trade with his friend. Warning bells went off! Calmly, I asked what had been traded and why it hadn’t gone through mom or dad, as the rule of the house states. I saw his little face begin its transformation from happy to worried. “I got a car track loop and I gave him the tree track.” Ok, I didn’t know what this meant but went along, “and talking to us first, what happened?”
Now his face had truly fallen, he knew an explanation was required and it probably wouldn’t end well. “We were in the basement and he asked to trade. I told him we should talk to someone but he said let’s not and just do it.” I can tell you that I lost it. I could tell he saw his future in my face. With that calm that only a mother on the verge of a breakdown can achieve, I said, “So, what you’re saying to me is that you asked to speak to an adult but he said no and then you didn’t make him talk to us anyway?” I wanted to get the full story and have him process what had happened.
He nodded and then the punishing part began. I told him he had to go to bed right then, no dinner, no story. I said his friend would not be able to come over for a while, we would discuss length of time later. I said I loved him but was truly disappointed that even though he knew what the right thing to do was, he went along with his friend’s bad advice. I told him that he has the right to make trades, boys being boys, but that rules still need to be obeyed. We talked for a long time, longer than he cared to listen, maybe that was his true punishment.
That night, it didn’t take long for him to fall asleep. Exhaustion from his play date and fatigue from our talk contributing in equal measure. Meanwhile, his father and I were left with the day’s pieces, reviewing and feeling bad for what we’d done to our sweet boy. Because no matter what my children do, how badly they behave, at the end of the day I am left to worry about their future, their outcome. I punish because I love them. I want them to grow up to be healthy, productive, loving members of our greater society. Yet, it is still the most difficult thing I have to do, mete out punishment.
I try to weigh the outcome, the learning, to the punishment. I want to be wise and caring and loving all at the same time. A tall order that leaves me overwhelmed. I want my children to know that it hurts to watch them suffer but that I will do it anyway if it means they grow up to be better for it. I can’t control the other boy’s behavior. He shares blame in the situation but in the end life is about choices and my children need to know that. I do feel bad though, because my six year old doesn’t have the street smarts of a nine year old. Still, I believe in him and his strength of character, and yes, that includes bearing the punishment.