My oldest daughter asked me: How come we don’t get punished?
I answered honestly. “Consequences make a lot more sense. Spill the milk; clean it up. You’re fresh-mouthed and bratty? You’re tired. Early bedtime.”
Now, I confess to stretching the bedtime thing a bit thin.
“Problem with chores? You must be tired. Get some rest.”
“Can’t seem to find your manners? Look for them under your bed. Good night.”
“You don’t like my cooking? Good night.”
Okay, maybe not that last. But seriously, it makes more sense to me to sit down with them and figure out where they went wrong than it does to send them to their room and let them stew, hating me and feeling persecuted.
We have a dog, Tucker. Great dog. I’m very attached to him, in fact, and he’s attached to me. As in, at the hip. Literally. He’s a German Shepherd Dog mix, which means he’s smart, obedient, and sort of a one-woman-man type of creature. Devoted. But still a dog, meaning that he tends to forget he occupies space.
Therefore other creatures in the universe who might want to get close to me – for instance, creatures to whom I gave birth – often find themselves needing to wrestle their way around a seventy-pound lump of fur who thinks he’s a twelve-pound lap cat.
My youngest started behaving weirdly. Ordinarily a very good kid, she was now Trouble. As in, Setting the Kitchen Table on Fire, Trouble. (This is true: I have the seven-inch burn mark to prove it.)
One day I heard whimpering.
“Who locked Tucker in the other bedroom?” I asked when I came downstairs. Tucker, of course, being, as I mentioned, a dog, was already licking her face.
Tucker Dog’s thought processes go something like this:
What a narrow escape! I am SO glad to be out of that room and back with everybody else. I forgive you, I forgive you, I forgive you!
The youngest’s stony, I-can’t-hear-you, I-feel-horrible, why-won’t-this-dog-stop-forgiving-me stare gave her away.
“You know, darling,” I said, sitting down quietly next to her, “if the house was on fire, and I had a choice between saving you or Tucker, you know what I would do?”
“Yeah,” she said sullenly.
“I would save YOU,” I said.
“You would?” She was clearly surprised.
“Sure. I love Tucker a lot. He’s a great dog. But there are a zillion dogs out there, and I can always get another dog. I can never, ever get another you.”
She threw her arms around me. That was it, all right. Trouble was over. I’d have to do this again, and again, I knew. But this was it.
“Listen, though, kiddo. Next time you’re mad at me, be mad at ME. Don’t take it out on innocent Tuck. That’s a bad road to go down, if you know what I mean. I don’t want to have to go back to the shelter and have to find one of those dogs with a spiked collar that will swallow you in one bite, you know.”
She got a little stony again.
“It’s a JOKE.”
“Two bites, at least.”
Tuck sealed it with even more forgiving slobber.
That’s what it’s really all about: dealing with the crime, not meting out the punishment. After all, what’s our goal, anyway? If they stray or stumble, help them up off their knees, and guide them the few baby steps they’ve taken back to the right road, before they get too far into the dark woods.
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