The sound of a punch. A hard punch that came from the living room. And I was in the kitchen, where I couldn’t see it, just heard it.
The Ex: WHAT WAS THAT?!!! WHY DID YOU DO THAT?!!!
I moved into the doorway to watch the scene. The Ex was towering over a defiant Evan, who stood there refusing to cringe. Sean was crying as he stood up, still holding his Wii remote.
Me: What did he do?
The Ex: (turned to me) HE PUNCHED SEAN! FOR NO REASON! OUT OF THE BLUE! (It’s never out of the blue.) (He turned to Evan) GET OUT OF MY SIGHT! GO TO YOUR ROOM!
No. That’s not how it works in my house.
Me: Evan, get to time out.
I pointed to the chair.
Evan sulked to the chair.
The Ex: THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH! HE PUNCHED SEAN!
Yes, I got that. I heard the boys arguing as they played video games. I had noticed recently that they’ve been turning to violence to solve their issues more and more. I just read an article talking about the importance of parents moderating conflicts between siblings to help them learn better conflict resolution skills. So I knew it was important to deal with this.
I watched as The Ex started walking towards the time out chair, yelling at Evan. No, no. Not in my house. This is not how we discipline in my house.
I walked over to stand in between The Ex and Evan. Keep your arms at your side. Don’t cross them. Look him in the eye. Don’t break eye contact. Look at me. Pay attention to me. I’m the one you want to talk to.
Me: He’s in time out, The Ex. We’re not suppose to talk to him when he’s in time out.
The Ex: I WILL TALK TO HIM. WHAT HE DID WAS DISGUSTING! HE KNOCKED SEAN OVER! HE KNOCKED THE WIND OUT OF SEAN!
Me: (looking over at Sean) Are you ok?
Sean: NO! He hit me!
Me: I know. (I looked back at The Ex) I understand. The consequence for hitting is time out. For seven and half minutes.
The Ex: MAKE IT TWENTY!
Don’t roll your eyes. Don’t roll your eyes.
Me: That’s too long. It won’t work.
The Ex: IT’S NOT ENOUGH! WE AREN’T STRICT ENOUGH! IT NEEDS TO BE A BIGGER PUNISHMENT!
By “we,” he means “me.” I am the one who disciplines the most. I am the one who is blamed. But I will not punish my child. I will give consequences. I was about to cross my arms and tell him so, except I realized that would be wrong.
Me: Let’s discuss a better consequence then.
The Ex: I’ll think about it.
Me: You have seven and a half minutes. I think we should go into the other room.
I walked out of the room and into the kitchen. I set the timer. The Ex stalked in behind me.
The Ex: I want something big. Something that will last a couple of weeks. Something that will influence his birthday. Something that will make a lasting impression.
You want to punish him. I felt calm. It was weird. Maybe because I didn’t witness the action. Maybe because I was sure of my actions and discipline techniques. Maybe because The Ex could no longer make me cringe like a child.
Me: We need a consequence that equals the action.
The Ex: We need something he won’t forget. I want something big and lasting.
I shook my head.
Me: It has to be now and immediate. Anything that last for weeks won’t affect his behavior. He won’t connect the consequence to his action.
The Ex: Are you saying an eight-year-old won’t remember what he did? I bet if you asked him what he did yesterday, he could tell us.
I doubt that.
Me: No. I’m saying that after today he won’t be able to match the consequence to his action. He’ll match it to us and resent it.
The Ex: Then we’ll remind him every day.
Me: It won’t work. Read the literature. That’s not how a child’s mind works. I understand you want a bigger consequence. So what are your ideas?
The Ex: Let’s give his allowance to Sean.
Me: No. That doesn’t fit the action. “The punishment must fit the crime.”
I hate the word “punishment.” I could hear my parenting teacher. “Punishment hurts. Discipline teaches.”
Me: He should do something for Sean.
The Ex: He should give Sean one of his birthday presents. We’ll let Sean pick.
It’s worth mentioning that Evan’s birthday was less than a week away.
Me: That doesn’t seem fair. And it’s too far away from the crime.
Not to mention it was cruel. It was giving Sean too much power. It was hurtful to Evan.
The Ex: We’ll let Evan work for Sean. Whatever Sean says Evan has to do.
Don’t roll your eyes.
Me: Sean will take advantage of it. He’ll manipulate it and work it to his advantage.
Sean would be corrupted with power and make Evan pay. It will teach Sean a better idea of revenge.
The Ex: You think Sean would abuse that?
Me: Yes. Yes, he would. How about Evan does Sean’s chores for a week?
The Ex: Good idea. And give Sean his allowance.
Me: No. No money should be involved.
The Ex: We need something more.
I looked around the family room. It was littered with toys.
Me: He can clean up the family room without help as soon as he’s out of time out.
The Ex: Ok. I’m good with that.
The buzzer rang. We walked back into the living room. I moved slightly faster, taking the inside track to the time out chair, beating The Ex to the lecture. He sat down to watch Sean play video games. I crouched in front of Evan.
Me: Do you know why you’re in time out?
Evan: Because I hit Sean.
Me: Was that respectful?
Me: Was that kind?
Me: Was that understanding?
Me: Was that thoughtful?
Me: Was that-
The Ex: Good idea, Sean! Fae, let’s add no video games for a month!
Christ! Do you not listen to a word I say?! What did I say about length of time? And letting Sean pick the consequence? Are you out of your mind? I know I shouldn’t undermine you, but-
Me: (I looked at The Ex) No, we agreed to a different consequence already.
Sean: How about-
Me: No, Sean. You’re not the father. You’re not the parent. You do not get to help in discipline. (I turned back to Evan) Was that helpful?
Me: So where in the rules is it ok to hit someone?
Evan: No where.
Me: You have to apologize to Sean. Then-
Evan: I just get so angry that I can’t help it! I have to hit him!
Me: (The Voice) No! (Back to regular) No. It’s ok to get angry. We all get angry. But we have a choice on how we handle it. We are never compelled, never forced, to hit someone. We are never compelled, never forced, to do anything by our emotions. It’s ok to feel them. It’s ok to act on them. But we chose how we act on them.
Evan looked at me.
Me: You will apologize to Sean. You will do his chores for the week. And right now, you will pick up all the toys in the family room.
Evan: But Mommy!
Me: Go apologize to Sean.
Evan walked over to Sean and mumbled, “sorry.”
Me: (ignoring the advice of my parenting teacher) A real apology. Sean, I’m sorry for . . . .
Evan: Sean, I’m sorry for.
Evan: I’m sorry for hitting you.
Sean: It’s ok.
Me: Now to the family room.
And then Evan moped and whined and cried and whined and complained.
The Ex: What are we going to do?
Me: (shrug) We let him act this way. Hold on. (I walked into the family room and looked Evan in the eye.) This will get done before you play. If it takes until bedtime, fine. If it’s not done by bedtime, then you’ll do it tomorrow. Then you’ll have to do it with your brothers messing it up.
He started to pick up toys. The Ex came in. I raised an eyebrow. “I’m calm.” He talked to Evan about the hitting people. Then he started to help Evan pick up toys.
Are you kidding me?!
I called The Ex’s name. He looked up. I shook my head once. He got up and left the room.
With no one looking, I leaned against the wall. God, parenting is hard.