By: Ted Peterson
I have avoided the subject of discipline, because it is a particularly treacherous subject even within the landmine-strewn subject of childrearing. A few days ago, however, a friend posted on Facebook a video of Bristol Palin, the loathsome daughter of the even more objectionable former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. One might’ve hoped that after 2008, the Palins would have entered the dustbin of political trivia together with other would-be vice-presidential families. But while you won’t find the Ferraros, Kemps, Stockdales, or Liebermans on basic cable, you will find the Palins.
Bristol’s new show features her and her equally vapid little sister Willow bopping around Los Angeles, occasionally with Bristol’s three-year-old son Tripp. Tripp was, you might recall, the subject of a scandal when it was announced shortly after John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his vice president that the family values conservative’s daughter was having a child out of wedlock. Bristol quite rightly bristled at the idea that being an unwed teen mother made her a whore, and then went on to do Dancing With The Stars and this new show to demonstrate what really makes her one.
Tripp is an adorable little moppet, even in the scene from the reality show which is getting the most recent buzz. In it, Bristol, Willow, and Tripp check into a hotel, and they notice that there’s a pool. Tripp immediately wants to go in, but for whatever reason – the late hour, the lack of energy, the logistics of schlepping a full TV crew down to the deck below – Bristol nixes the plan. I can empathize as the father of a three-year-old water baby myself.
“I hate you!” Tripp snarls, thwarted. Mikey’s never said he hated me, but I recognize three-year-old hyperbolic anger when I see it. Bristol and Willow look to the camera and titter. Not a great sound bite for their show, they’re thinking. Bristol meekly suggests that it’s not nice to say, and Willow throws out the idea of a time out as punishment.
“Go away, you faggot!” Tripp screams at Auntie Willow.
There’s little question how Tripp’s three-year-old vocabulary includes such invectives. Auntie Willow Palin herself called a classmate a faggot for posting disparaging remarks about the Palins’ last reality show on Facebook. Monkey see, monkey do.
There’s been a fair amount of discussion about Tripp’s word choice, but a side discussion among some of my friends on Facebook was about Willow’s suggestion of a time out and Bristol’s subsequent confession that she’s not great on discipline. Folks less amused and more angry about Tripp’s behavior, conflating his bombast with homophobia, have fumed that the child is due for a spanking, not a time out.
If it’s not clear from what I’ve written above, I’m no fan of any of the Palins, but neither am I a fan of spanking. Also in my corner on this is every modern, respectable pediatrician and psychologist in the civilized world. The jury is in and has been in on spanking for a long time, folks, and just because you survived it doesn’t mean you need to inflict it on the next generation.
There are worst things you can do than to spank your kid, but that doesn’t make it right.
People don’t know what to do with this information. In our foster parenting classes, it was explained that particularly because so many children in the system have been physically abused, any kind of corporal punishment was verboten and grounds for having the child taken away.“But after the adoption,” one fellow asked, “then we can spank?”
What a happy adoption day that family’s child must have had. Welcome to the family officially, kid. And now, drop your trou and get ready for all the whipping we’ve been storing up for months now.
The problem is what to replace spanking with. We’ve been ahead enough of the trend that my parents didn’t spank me, and their parents didn’t spank them. Considering we were good middle-class Midwestern Republicans, our whole rule system was a bit haphazard for the first couple years of my life. One of our family’s stories was in kindergarten, the teacher was talking about class rules. She asked the other kids what rules there were in their families. As they went around the circle, other kids volunteered what they could do, couldn’t do, with all the hows and whys and ins and outs you might expect.
When the teacher got to me, I couldn’t think of any rules in my house. She pushed a little more to have me think of something I knew I was absolutely not allowed to do.
“I am not allowed to … pee in the living room?” I finally suggested.
My mother who was present thought that was a pretty good rule. She was glad I had signed on.
Mikey knows that rule and a handful of others, but for the most part, we try to be flexible. When he’s at home, for example, he knows that he has to ask to get down from the table after dinner, and we may add some additional requirements (“Yes, you can get down after two more bites of spinach, and one more bite of chicken”), but when he’s having pizza with his friends at a birthday party and half the kids are already up and playing, we let it slide. The one thing we don’t let slide is when we’re the recipient of the corporal punishment we don’t indulge in ourselves.
It’s happened the last couple of days, usually late in the day, now that Mikey is weaning himself off naps. He’s a little more emotional when he would previously be philosophical about life’s little disappointments and annoyances. Mikey gets angry, and responds quickly with a smack, kick, or spit. We quickly take away whatever privilege he is or is about to enjoy – a cookie, a movie, a swim in the pool, a book. This turns the petulance into a full-blown tantrum, at which point, we walk away. No negotiating. Our only rule is nothing reinstates that privilege once it’s been taken away, even after the tantrum has passed, and apologies have been given and accepted, and we are all laughing again.
Frankly, we have it good. We have a son who is cool and happy so much of the time that when he melts down, it takes us a moment to wipe the grins off our faces and get to our battle stations. Part of the reason I didn’t want to talk about discipline is because I know the pro-spanking crowd will want me over their knee, but most of the reason is that I don’t want to jinx what’s been working well so far. Ever since we took one of her classes for credit towards keeping our foster license, we get Heather Forbes’ email from her Beyond Consequences group aimed at the parents of aggressive, violent kids. The emails always have guilt-inducing subjects like “Ted, Does Your Child Ever Scare You?” “Just Making Sure You Are Safe” and “It Isn’t Supposed To Hurt To Be A Mom.”
I know how lucky we are. But Dr. Forbes doesn’t advocate spanking, even for these most vicious of children. She advocates keeping yourself safe, and listening. Letting your kids know that it’s okay to be mad, but not okay for them to hurt us, or us to hurt them with words or fists.
Sounds like a plan -for you, me, and even Bristol.