Monday, October 26, 2009

But really, *what is* punishment anyway?

The only form of "punishment" we used on the kids for a few years was talking. We would talk to them. Sometimes they would respond or talk with us, but mostly they remained silent, nodded their heads, looked away, or just cried even if they weren't in trouble.  My husband mostly would talk to them. Sometimes the talks were lengthy and important. Sometimes they were shorter and to the point. That was it. We told them we talk with, not yell at.

Then we realized the older daughter was having severe issues and didn't care about what we talked about, even though she would cry or nod and seem to be understanding. It was either all an act or she just didn't care, or could be both. We realized she would sit through the conversation, then go do whatever it was again. Then she started severely embarrassing and hurting her sister and completely ruining entire days, nights, or events for everyone- And given the small amount of time a partial custody father has, ruined time is literally painful. Then she stopped respecting every adult on our side of the family, and showed how much she didn't care about them. Around that time, we also realized that after years of being yelled at- she just didn't care unless you scared her like her mom does.

We refuse to simply yell like insane people over little things as punishment. We know they have grown up with it but we want to show them you don't have to yell. We'd point this out- that we don't just yell at them but try to talk to them. When we saw it wasn't working at all for the older daughter, my mom, a MFT, recommended removal from events or special activities.  Before an event, we warn her that if she does _____, then we will leave, go home, etc. If she hurts or uses others or doesn't listen to adults, she will not get to do the next event or fun thing. So at a church Christmas party we were so excited to take the kids to (at a Pastor's house, mind you) she attempted to make everyone miserable.  She was immediately removed from the event in front of everyone, her younger sister crying her head off from the humiliation she was served by her sister's hand in front of everyone at the party, and she went straight to bed when we got home.  Then one night, months later, she lied so much and about something very serious that she did get a little bit of yelling and the computer taken away. It was something serious enough that my husband just had to get through to her. Still, his yelling is simply raising his deep voice. I don't know that he really can yell... When she road her bike into a blind turn street, he yelled. Yeah, he yells when they run into streets... But a stern father's voice can be the same as yelling to a child because of how much power it has. Inside a house, that's all a child could need when they really need to know its serious. She knew how badly she'd crossed the line, and her behavior has improved overtime from the consistent event removal promise and our years of (compulsive) lying intolerance.

Somewhere along the line, the kids were convinced that our "talks" about things were lectures. So then they started telling anyone who matters how our lecturing bothered them and somehow hurt them. Yet, their mom's style of harsh punishments continued, and no one heard about that. The children's psychologist told my husband that the children "really don't like [our] lectures", in a disapproving tone at the beginning of the summer. My husband then asked her if she's heard about their mom purposely ignoring them, screaming her head off when they'd done nothing wrong to the point of making them cower, shake, and hide. No, of course not. She seemed rather surprised.

So, there's a difference in visions in punishment between the two houses... There also seems to be an acceptance of what biological moms are able to do for punishments, even if completely demoralizing and insane, versus what a partial custody father is allowed since he's not the primary parent. Most people assume a father is more harsh, except anyone who has grown up with a somewhat psycho mom. (Not referring to my own. In my 20s, I've had a lot of friends talk about how insane their mom is and how they don't want to be like them- and many of them realized why their parents got a divorce now that they're adults. I also work with high school youth, and many will tell you about the games their moms play on them or their dads.)

I see moms in stores grab their children, and quite literally throw them around. I see moms in public scream cuss words at their children, or completely ignore them- letting them physically destroy a store or even hurt their younger siblings (including babies). Then I know what my stepchildren have told me: they are simply used to the screaming from their own mother.

Let's put this back in perspective. I have a good example from my husband and youngest stepdaughter. He asked her one time why she claimed I was mean. She said that it was because one time, years ago, I had told her to eat with her utensils. ...Think about that for one second... Somehow, when I tell those 2 kids whom I've lived with for 3 years to stop something they already know they shouldn't be doing, I get a strong sense from some other adults that I do not have the authority, they think I am doing it wrong, or I should be more loving. And yet, I know that these same people are aware of how their actual mom punishes them.

When we were married, my husband asked me to help him. He asked for help parenting. He specifically stated he did not want me to sit in a corner and let him do all of the parenting. He said he would help me, and that I could only do what I was comfortable in doing. He said he trusted me and wanted his girls to be raised with someone intelligent and different from their mom (therein lies the ultimate problem, doesn't it?).  As situations came about, I had to take on more and more responsibility and authority.  Only natural, considering these 2 children live with me regularly and I care for them quite often. As I got to know them, I felt more comfortable. And what my husband and I have seen is that I only look harsh out of context or false twists of words. The children were encouraged to tell their mom bad things about us, and to please her, they spent years telling their mom things I never said.  Then, to garner sympathies from other adults and continue loyalty to their mom, they have exaggerated things to make me seem like a thoughtless stepmom who doesn't know them or understand them.  This works on many adults who already believe stepmoms are harsh or don't understand children.

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