On Suitable Punishments for Your Child Other Than Murder

On Suitable Punishments for Your Child Other Than Murder

By Stacey Gill



Don’t hassle me. I already have kids for that.


I’m writing this in desperation, in the hopes that I may glean some advice from the veteran mothers out there who have struggled and come through similar hardships, possibly even find an answer to a very troublesome question, one that has plagued me for years. This question has come into particularly sharp focus again recently, and I thought others in the wake of a lengthy and trying spring break may be grappling with the very same issue. My hope is that upon open discussion we will share our experiences and, ultimately, learn from other another, finally solving how best to handle this most difficult of situations. One in which you might want to murder one of your offspring.

I’m confiding in you (and Facebook) because I’m at a complete loss. I have no words for the rage-fueled frustration I feel at the hands of my children. I did, however, have many, many words on Facebook the other day, and since I have no intentions of writing them all over again in a clear, concise, coherent post, I’m just going to transcribe my Facebook exchange here. Don’t hassle me. I already have kids for that.

“What do you do when your kid swears all spring break long he doesn’t have homework then on the first day back to school you get a note from the teacher saying he didn’t do his homework?”

It was a cry for help, I’ll admit. I really didn’t want to have to kill my son. I was hoping for other feasible solutions to this vexing and chronic problem. And the people of Facebook had some mighty fine suggestions.

“First,” my friend, Erica, wrote, “the Xbox controllers go in the trunk of my car.” Wait. What? Trunk of the car? Like a mob hit? She continued, “The cell phone gets a new lock number that he doesn’t know, and I hide the remotes for the TV/cable box.” That ought to do it.

“We got the same call today,” she added. Oh, thank God.

I had considered the X-box. It’s my go-to toy, and I explained I was going to take it away, but, really, I blame my husband. He should know better than to take my son’s word for it.

I should probably note my husband posed the homework question to our son around 11:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday, an hour before guests were due to arrive. As I stood at the kitchen counter chopping vegetables, I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply and continued on with the prep work. I figured I’d check his assignment book later that evening, but it was a long day at the end of a long week at the end of a long life of kids bouncing off the walls for exactly 11 years straight, and I forgot.

Erica wasn’t done though. She had much more to say. “I never check grades online. I never even registered to have access.” Never even registered? I pondered in wide-eye wonder. I didn’t know you could do such a thing. Erica, did you ever know that you are my hero? You are everything I wish I could be.

Erica continued. “My stance is simple. He gets the grade he earned. I won’t intercede on his behalf. If he fails, it’s on him, and then he’s REALLY in trouble.” Oh, man, I wouldn’t want to be in that house when that goes down.

But, Erica, was onto something. Because, really, I like nothing better than swiping that Xbox control right out of my son’s unsuspecting hands when he’s incurred an infraction. Still, I’m telling you when I picked him up from school that day and saw the sad look on his little face from the hour-long test prep session he just endured following a long day of school, and I was driving him straight home to meet with the math tutor for an hour, I just couldn’t do it. I thought the Xbox penalty might push him over the edge. It could crush him because nothing, NOTHING, is more devastating to that kid than losing his Xbox. It’s pretty much the only thing he has to live for, and, I thought, 11 might be a little too young to break a person.

While my son certainly can be maddening, he’s genuinely a good kid. When he makes mistakes, they’re relatively honest ones. I know it may not seem like it in this case, but it’s true. When you ask him something like, “Do you have homework?” he checks with his brain and gives the first response that pops up. He’s not lying, per se, it’s just that his brain immediately thought “no,” and that’s what he went with. And being a kid, he doesn’t feel the need to check his backpack or assignment book or anything that might actually provide him with the correct answer.

Even on this account Erica weighed in with some solid advice. The whole problem, she noted, might stem from an innocent mistake on my part, one with an easy solution. Perhaps I was posing the wrong question. Perhaps asking when they will be doing their homework as opposed to if they have homework would be more productive. With just a slight alteration I could sidestep the whole tantalizing opportunity for deception and lies.

Good thinking, Erica.

So for now he gets to keep Xbox, but he’s sure to mess up again, and then I’ll be ready.

What would you do? Take away the Xbox? Confiscate all the Easter candy? Kill your kids? What?

Stacey Gill is the mastermind behind the humor blog, One Funny Motha, and co-author of the upcoming parenting humor anthology, I Still Just Want to Pee Alone.  Her work has appeared on such sites as The Huffington Post, BlogHer, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Mom365 and Mommyish. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

The Demons of Time Management

The Demons of Time Management

By M.M. Devoe

Messy BoyI know I’m not the only mom out there with a boy who can’t remember to bring his homework home, but sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who can’t figure out what to do about it.

I have tried everything: begging, rewards, threats, charts, teacher intervention…everything. My son still regularly comes home, tells me he has reading homework, and then discovers he has left the book at school. Or at piano lessons. Or worse: he has no idea where. He always looks overwhelmed and surprised.

At least three times a week.

So I attended a two-day, ludicrously expensive organizational skills workshop for middle-school kids. It was lousy. They gave no practical advice at all, but they did make up some really long, pointless, and impossible-to-recall names for “creatures”—the voices in your head that keep you from being organized. I had to rephrase everything I learned in a coherent way before I could even understand it. And now I understand it. We are possessed by demons.

So let me save you all $700.

There are four ways kids get in trouble over homework:

The Memory Demon says, “You can remember this; don’t bother writing it down.”

The Clutter Demon says, “You don’t have time for filing and organizing right now; do it later.”

The Gamer Demon says, “You have plenty of time to do both; so do the fun thing first.”

The Time Demon says, “You don’t need to plan; you’ll just do it.”

Apparently, kids like my son have real issues with organization because the voices in their heads are so confident. Demons! Demons! Constantly telling them those lines. So the Memory Demon whispers and my son doesn’t use his planner, doesn’t write down assignments because he’s positive he can remember the first assignment, maybe he’s even excited about it; then the second one comes, and when the third is assigned, there just doesn’t seem time to write it all down, but that’s ok, he knows he’s got three assignments….

“I’ve got three assignments,” he brightly announces after school, slamming an empty backpack on the floor.

“What are they?”

“Uh…” His eyes dart wildly, “History, I think?”

Then the Clutter Demon speaks and he won’t store or transfer papers to the proper place because he figures he’ll do it just a bit later, same reason he doesn’t organize or put away important items in their proper places.

“Hey, Mom,” he shouts across the house, “You have to sign this permission slip!”

“Stop shouting across the house. Just bring it to me.”

“I didn’t want it to get crushed, so I didn’t put it in my backpack. There’s a smushed banana in there.”

“So where’s the slip?”

“What? It’s … I don’t know. Somewhere. I might have left it in the gym.”

Next, the Gamer Demon takes charge: “I don’t have much homework, I’m going to play Minecraft for a while.”

Four hours later …”Are you still up? It’s 10:00!”

“But I’m doing homework!”

Kids do not know anything about time estimation, have no concept of how long something might take, and can’t stop in the middle of a fun activity to take on a really dreary one.

The Time Demon runs it all: kids have no idea how to break down tasks into steps and plan what they need for each step. To them, an assignment to read a book is going to take the same amount of time as a science fair project or a math worksheet. Actually, the worksheet is probably shorter, so they can play a video game first.

See how the demons work?

All of this is normal. These are skills that need to be taught … it’s not instinctive. Some people never learn it for themselves—how many adults stay up late reading a good book and are surprised when it’s suddenly four in the morning? (Guilty!) Who knows a good guy who swears he will take on the short job list … as soon as he watches the game? How many of us run out to the store without a list because it’s just three items—and come back without one of them? Sound familiar? It’s just demons.

I’ll leave you with one piece of practical advice that another mom told me: replace the standard three-ring binder with a tabbed accordion folder with an attached cover flap. Active kids like my son tend to tear papers and then they get lost because what normal mom has those little hole reinforcers on hand, or time to put them on? Our kids want to get it right—and sometimes it’s just about handing them the right tools.

But how do I conquer the Clutter Demon? The workshop said I must teach my son to organize better.

Oh, gee. Thanks.

M.M. Devoe is a NYC-based author whose fiction has won or been shortlisted for 23 literary prizes. She is anthologized alongside Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood, and has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Pen Parentis and is a Columbia University Writing Fellow and MFA. Find her at www.mmdevoe.com and Twitter @mmdevoe.

Illustration by Christine Juneau