Thirteen-year-old Jack and I have always been able to bond, not just over the mother-child kissing of boo-boo’s or doling out of hugs after a meltdown, but because we have a lot of the same interests. Lately, Jack’s primary interest has been focused on all things computer. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with this interest. I love that he has a hobby that lets me bond with my son while we discuss digital life. I hate that his passion has also become a wedge.
At the end of the school year, Jack brought home a less-that-stellar grade on a final exam, and the Big Guy and I lowered the boom. He had already enrolled in computer camp (his first sleep away camp), so we let him indulge his obsession over the summer. When he got home, however, we made it clear that until a satisfactory first progress report came home from school, he was grounded from the computer. We live in the middle of the woods and any social event requires us to act as chauffeur, so traditional grounding is redundant. Jack’s obsession revived the punishment as a useful stick.
We’re not shy about removing privileges or assigning extra chores when the occasion arises, and, in the past, Jack has seen the error of his ways and usually accepted our punishments as just. Something about being thirteen, however, has made the enforcement of this sentence much less pleasant.
The punishment has inspired tortured looks of betrayal from my first born. It’s prompted legal arguments about the wisdom of ending the punishment earlier and, as homework requires more time on the computer, it’s also inspired him to attempt head-on defiance of the punishment. No longer are we the people he trusts without question. No longer is our judgement sound. In his eyes there is now the constant question that, if we are so wrong about this punishment, what other things have his parents been wrong about? I don’t think he questions our love for him, but, for the first time in our relationship, he’s actively questioning if we know what we’re doing. I have that question all the time (and I can write it because I know he doesn’t read this blog).
I remember my parents using similar carrots and sticks and how they became wedges as well. It didn’t take becoming a parent to see around the wedge, but I think it did take walking this mile in their moccasins to see that the wedge really brought us closer because at that point they weren’t trying to be my friends. They were being my parents. And that’s ultimately what any kid needs.