A Tricky Thing Called Discipline

. December 29, 2014.

One aspect of parenthood that you just cannot be prepared for is the constant second-guessing and questioning of your actions. How many times have we wondered, in the quiet of the evening, after some incident where we were our less-than-perfect selves, “I sure hope I didn’t emotionally scar my child for life.”

 Fear not, dear reader, for the reservations we have over our actions are the sign of a caring, sensible parent. It is difficult to navigate parental waters, what with the introduction of highly irrational beings into the household.

 Discipline is a tricky thing. My wife and I do not believe in corporal punishment, and this philosophy forces us to be creative. But creative discipline can be fun, as long as we understand the concept of poetic justice.

 When my kids bicker and fight and tease and annoy each other to the point where they need to be corrected, the punishment is simple — forced labor. I send them off to their rooms and tell them they have to clean them together. It’s perfect, really. They clean their rooms, I get thirty minutes of peace and quiet, and when they are finished they are friends again, a stronger friendship, forged by contempt for a common foe. Me. Evil Dad.

 This is fine with me, as one of my greatest aspirations as a parent is to have my son and daughter enjoy a lifelong sibling friendship. If my reputation has to take a bit of a hit for that to happen, so be it.

 Poetic justice can take many forms; my son has an active mind and loves mental puzzles. If he misbehaves, I play on his curiosity and skepticism.

 Me: That’s it, go to your room!

 Jack: For how long?

 Me: You can come back out when you have proven to me that numbers exist.

I suppose whatever we do to discipline our children, it has to be done either dispassionately, or laced with good humor. If you, as a parent, sometimes lament the fact that you might be doing this difficult task in the wrong way, the great philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau should give comfort.

 “A child will be better educated by a sensible though ignorant father than by the cleverest master in the world.”

 We should allow ourselves the freedom to be sensible though ignorant at times. We are all learning on the fly, this formidable yet fulfilling life as a parent. Besides, questioning yourself can only make you a better parent.

Jeremy Rosenberg, of Ypsilanti, gave up the corporate rat race years ago to become a freelance writer and graduate student, as well as a stay-at-home dad to his two children, Jack, 11, and Eva, 6. He also enjoys playing the guitar, letting his cats fall asleep on his lap, and trying to be a decent human being.