The art of parental consequence


“Mom, have you seen my monologue for the school play?” My 15 year old son, Levi, asks in a quasi panic mode. “No,” I reply. “Did you leave it on the floor of your room?”

“Yeah, I did.” He’s already starting to sound a bit sassy. “It was here this morning when I left for school.”

“Oh, bummer.” I say, trying to muster up all the empathy I can find. “I must’ve tossed it when I threw out everything on your floor this morning when I gathered up your sheets for the laundry.”

“You threw  it out?” He whined, “How could you do that? Now I wont be able to audition for the school play. I can’t believe you would do that.”

“Gosh sweetie, I am so sorry. I can’t always tell what’s garbage and what’s important. Maybe it would be better for you to pick up your room on a daily basis. Anyway, I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”

Levi moped around the house for the next few hours periodically  giving me dirty looks whenever I crossed his path. I remained upbeat and detached. I was in teacher mode and I could not let my emotions get involved.

Finally I see him scurry into my office to use my computer. He furiously types in something and I watch his eyes light up. “Got it.” He says victoriously. I couldn’t resist. “Got what, hon? What did you find?”

He then goes on to explain that he went to the play publisher’s website (Samuel French) and searched for the title of his school play, “The Elephant’s Graveyard.” by George Brant. “Luckily,” he tells me, “They had a few sample pages of the script and my monologue was in the sample. Isn’t that awesome?”

“Your monologue was in the sample pages?” I disbelievingly replied. “You’re kidding. Well…that’s great. Just great.” He printed it up and went ahead memorizing and putting actions to the words for his upcoming audition.

Now normally I want to see my kids succeed. I want them to be happy, to do all of their homework, to get good grades, and of course to be cast in the school play. But I was seething. How does a kid get this lucky? The audition is tomorrow. He loses the monologue which he needs for the audition. I try to teach him a valuable lesson. But the one page he needs seems to magically appear for him to save the day and undermine the lessons I’m so desperately attempting to instill within him. What’s a parent to do?

One week later:

Levi didn’t get the callback for the school play. He was moderately disappointed. I feel slightly responsible. But the truth is he didn’t prepare and that wasn’t because of me. Maybe next time he’ll work harder, start earlier and be more responsible with his materials. Or…maybe he’ll just join the speech and debate club which will probably serve him better in the long run.

His first dance


“Whose problem is it?” My husband, the pediatrician, patronizingly posits.

“Look, I know it’s his problem,” I say, already on edge from his tone of voice, “I read all the ‘Love and Logic’ books too. But sometimes a parent needs to step in and avert an impending disaster.”

“You need to let him fail, Debra,” He councils.

“But this is such a bad idea!” I assert. “He’ll be totally humiliated and then…well, he’ll be scarred for like ever!”

“If you take this on as your issue,” he warns, “You are robbing him of an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson.”

At that point I wanted to slug him. Instead I furiously stormed out of the kitchen and rushed into his office where I began to systematically rip the pages out of each and every “Love and Logic” book I could find. All the while yelling at him, “I hate this ‘Love and Logic’ crap! This whole notion of natural consequences sucks. If it’s all about letting your kids fail, then what do they need parents for in the first place? Let’s just step back a bit further and really let him make his own choices…”

After I vented, I took a deep breath and looked seriously at my spouse. “How can you set our son up for this kind of devastation? Don’t you care about his feelings at all?”

“Debra,” he voiced in a genuinely warm tone, “I don’t want him to suffer any more than you do. But you told him it might be better to ask the girl to the dance in private instead of doing it in front of the entire sixth grade class. Didn’t you?”

I nodded sheepishly.

He continued, “And he decided he wanted it to be big and bold and dramatic. We have to let him do it his way.”

That’s when I realized I hate being a parent. I never should’ve gone down this path. It’s painful and frustrating and there’s virtually no positive reinforcement. My kind, sensitive, thoughtful 12-year-old boy is about to ask a girl to his first dance ever in front of his entire class and I can’t convince him to change course. And spousal support? Ha! My husband behaves as if he’s Switzerland during World War II.

The following day was grueling. I didn’t mention the dance invitation that morning en route to school. It was none of my business. Not my problem. If my adoring little boy got his heart stomped on by some brazen hussy, it was simply going to be a natural consequence that would teach him to be more cautious in exposing his sentiments in the future. Surely that lesson will serve him well in the long run.

I picked him up promptly at 3:15. “How was school?” I nonchalantly queried.
“Oh, it was okay,” he contended with the neutrality of a poker professional, cards close to his vest.

“Anything out of the ordinary occur?” I tried not to sound as pathetically desperate to know the story as I obviously was.

“No. Not really,” he replied matter-of-factly. “Just your average day.”

I bit my tongue, literally, to keep myself from uttering another word. Suddenly he chirped with excitement, “Oh, mom, I almost forgot. I asked Jessica (not her real name) to the dance this afternoon.”

“Oh you did?” I casually inquired. “So…how’d it go?”

“It was amazing! I played this One Direction song at the end of Spanish called ‘That’s what makes you beautiful,’ and I told her I wasn’t Nile, but I’d still like to take her to the dance if she’d go with me. The whole class was cheering and saying, ‘Say yes. Say yes.’ It was such a cool feeling to have everyone wanting me to succeed. And she did say yes, which made it even more cool.”

OK, I did not see that coming. My whole body heaved a heavy sigh of relief. Thank heavens that catastrophe was averted. We pulled into the driveway and I saw a series of texts had come in from my husband. “So?” “What happened?” “Did she say yes?” “Is he okay?” Well, how do you like that? Mr. “I’m so uninvolved emotionally and capable of keeping my feelings out of the situation” is actually waiting on pins and needles to know the results from today’s event.

I started to text back the good news when it struck me that it wouldn’t kill my husband to wait a few more hours to learn the verdict from today’s challenge. After all, I wouldn’t want him to take things on too personally and rob my son of his learning experience.
I texted back, “He prefers to talk with you in person.”

Yes, I know it was a bit childish. O.K., maybe even passive aggressive to purposely lead my husband astray like that. But it wasn’t a lie. Not really. Just a…a…an extension of the truth. And one that cheered me immensely over the course of the afternoon. Honestly, can you blame me? It’s not easy being married to a professional parent who always seems to have all the right answers.


Doesn’t he look like a challenge?

“Going my way home?” my impish 8 year old son, Eli, asked as he leaned thru the passenger side window of my car after happily bounding off the school bus yesterday afternoon. His grin warmed my heart.

“No silly,” I chirped, “We have to go pick up your brother at school. Hop in.”

Then he flashed a mischievous smile, turned tail and ran away from me at lightning speed.

OK, I was stunned. And I mean stunned like a deer who had just been shot in the chest by a tranquilizer gun. All the other moms at the bus stop looked at me with embarrassing glances, trying not to actually meet my gaze. Inside my head, I heard them snickering about my parental ineptitude. I tried to make light of the situation. “Ha ha,” I chuckled, “He just loves to race me home.” The awkwardness was palpable.

I drove away and as soon as I was out of their view, I pulled over and tried to catch my breath. I rationally weighed my options. I could go immediately home to rant, rave and revile my youngster for publicly disobeying and humiliating me. Then I could physically imbed him into his car seat and embark upon the trek to his brother, Levi’s, school to retrieve him. But I gotta tell you, that didn’t sound all that appealing to me.

Instead, I began driving slowly away from my home where I imagined Eli victoriously awaiting my arrival for our scream fest. No, I was not going to play the scene out like that. I carefully considered what potential perils Eli might possibly encounter as he sat locked outside our house for the next 45 minutes. I admit I had visions of an errant mountain lion meandering past and eating him, or a band of gypsies kidnapping him at gun-point, but I figured that the odds of either of those things happening in our well-patrolled, gated community with plenty of neighbors within ear shot, was more than unlikely. Besides, when is the last time you saw gypsies packing heat? The greater threat seemed to me to be withholding the valuable lesson that this opportunity presented for my child to learn about natural consequences, responsibility and respect.

Sitting outside the house alone was a small price to pay if it taught my boy that it is not okay to run away from me or directly defy me like that. Sure he might be scared. He might cry. He might even fear abandonment for his impulsive behavior. But as a staunch believer in behavior modification and “Love and Logic,” this negative consequence naturally follows the poor choice he made. The only way for him to internalize that lesson is to truly experience an unpleasant outcome that naturally emerges out of his rash and impulsive behavior.

I picked up Levi and raced home nervously. When I pulled up to the house, I expected to see my tear-stained youngest son regretfully pouting outside the front door. But he wasn’t there. It was either the gypsies or he’d figured out where the spare key was hidden. I began to panic and ran inside the house. I hurried down the hall towards his room but slowed my pace and nonchalantly passed his doorway to see if he was there. I spotted him peripherally and continued walking. He was hiding under his covers awaiting some horrific consequence, I imagine. I said nothing.

Later that night he came to me and apologized. We talked about it briefly and I let him think that it was over and all was well. Unfortunately this weekend is the Diamond Back game he’s been waiting for months to attend. When it comes time to head to the ballpark, the babysitter is arriving and we’re going to have to explain to Eli that we love him too much to risk losing him at such a busy stadium. Since we can’t trust him to not run away from us, he’ll just have to stay home with a sitter while the rest of us enjoy our peanuts, popcorn and crackerjack.

I don’t look forward to his reaction. He’ll be angry. He’ll be crest-fallen. But I believe in my heart that he will learn how to better control his urges, how to respect his parents, and that his actions have very direct and relevant consequences.

A spoonful of chocolate helps the medicine go down

What mom? I didn't have any chocolate. Really.

Ah, “Love and Logic,” the parenting protocol based on natural consequences. Where you don’t fight. You don’t negotiate. You don’t even engage in power struggles. You simply allow consequences to occur as they would in real life. Sounds fairly simple. Until it involves the dreaded, delectably delicious cocoa bean.

Seriously, I stumbled into hell on this lesson. My 11 year old son, Levi, was in his school play last week. As a special opening night gift, we gave him one of those ginormous dark chocolate bars that realistically could serve as dessert for a dinner party of 40 people. We’re not usually big fans of food rewards, but we made an exception this time and he was elated.

He carefully gnawed away at it over the week, demonstrating remarkable self control. He never had more than a square at a time, only allowed himself his small portion after meals, and generously shared with all who asked. Everything was going splendidly. Until the other day.

As we were leaving for school, I noticed a hunk of chocolate in his hand. “Not in the morning,” I gently reminded. “O.K.,” he answered. He then proceeded to bite off a chunk of it, his back turned to me, and pretended to return it in its entirety to the fridge. My 
“Love and Logic” voice kicked in. “Ohhhhhhh…,” I softly murmured. “Bad choice.”

Now my children have learned to dread these types of soothing sighs and understated comments about their choices. They know that when they hear those, the other shoe is surely going to drop, even if they can’t predict when, where or how. Levi started back-pedaling immediately. “What?” he challenged, “I put it back. Come on, mom. What did I do?” Like a well scripted actor, I merely repeated the lines Id been rehearsing for all these months. “Not to worry, sweetie.” And off to school we went.

When I got home later that morning, I knew what had to be done. I also knew that given my affinity for the dark, rich indulgence, this was going to be a challenge. But I powered on, opening the fridge and directly confronting the thick, Belgian, beauty, stoically staring back at me with those wide, innocent squares, and sweetly alluring scent. I cradled it into my arms, my heart filled with as much sorrow as Abraham must have felt on Mount Moriah as he prepared to sacrifice his beloved Isaac. “No,” I lamented as I dropped the edible delicacy unceremoniously into the garbage can. There was no turning back.

No one ever said motherhood was going to be easy. But I never imagined It would test me like this. One can only hope that lessons of this depth will need only to be learned once.

Save the socks!!!!

That’s it! My 9-year-old son has left his last pair of dirty socks on the living room floor! I’m serious. I’ve had it. It suddenly dawned on me this morning. I’m an idiot. I am constantly asking him to pick up his socks. I try to be nice about it, try not to harangue. But NOTHING works. Every morning I find a myriad of socks on the floor throughout the house. For a while I just picked them up and threw them in his hamper myself. At least then I didn’t have to look at them and be annoyed all day until he came home from school and I forced him to pick them up and put them in the laundry. But no more.

I am collecting the socks from this point forward. So far I have 7. (Not sure how that happened.) And here’s the fun part; when he runs out of socks, he runs out of socks. I don’t have to yell at him or be critical or even upset myself over it. I simply pick up the socks, put them in a bin in the back of my closet and wait patiently to see how he reacts when he has no more socks. (Technically, I should be throwing them away each time I find them. But I can’t quite get myself to do that. So I’m hiding them away and pretending they no longer exist.)

Frankly, I’m taking a sort of perverse pleasure in imagining his reaction the day he runs out of socks completely. “Mom,” he’ll undoubtedly shriek across the house, “I don’t have any socks to wear.”

“Wow,” I’ll say calmly with the pathos of Mother Theresa, “That’s a bummer. What are you gonna do about it?”

“What do you mean?” he’ll stammer. “Where are my socks?”

“Gosh honey, I have no idea,” I’ll empathetically respond. “Where did you last leave them?”

In my fantasy, he flashes back to every moment he carelessly jettisoned his socks across an otherwise neatly kept room in the house and immediately realizes the error of his ways.

“Oh mom,” he’ll say with complacency, “I guess I’ll have to go to school without socks today.”

“I guess so, sweetie,” I’ll warmly agree.

And here’s the really hard part. I will then have to seal my lips and say nothing more. That’s what my “Love and Logic” tapes say. Let him come up with a solution. (The only one I can think of is having to use his own allowance to purchase new socks.) And thus, he deals with the consequences of his actions. Period. End of story.

Until of course he leaves the new socks strewn across the house. My belief, however, is that he’s an extremely smart boy and will eventually learn how to be responsible for his personal items.

Please tell me this is going to work.