Confessions of a Non-Punitive Parent

Last night, I had a dream that two of my kids wandered off somewhere they hadn’t told me they were going, I couldn’t find them, and they made us late for something we needed to be to.

Yes, my dreams of missing kids are not about kidnapping but rather making me late. Is that not normal?

Anyway, in the dream, I told them they had to be punished for this but I couldn’t think of a single punishment because I generally don’t punish my kids so I had nothing. That was the stress of the dream–trying to come up with a punishment. And that’s when I should have known I was in a dream because…

Confession 1: I can always come up with a punishment.

They run through my mind like a G-rated Dexter spin off where kids get their just-do.

Don’t think I’m non-punitive because I’m zen. I’m mad, frustrated, hurt, annoyed, inconvenienced, and disappointed the same as everyone else. I take some of the things my kids do–particularly to each other–personally. It is a choice to find a work around, not a state of being. I have decided to let go of the pattern of threats and punishments. Well…

Confession 2: I don’t always let go of the threats before they come out of my mouth.

I’m a talker. I talk things out. And that sometimes extends to saying, “if you don’t _____, I’m going to ____.” I often pause at the last part to think of the appropriately horrible thing I’m going to do to my child. Send them to their room without dinner? Take away screens? Make them scrub the bathroom? Usually this time to think lets me rethink and I say something silly to get us back on track.

If you don’t leave your brother alone, I’m going to… take your laptop and give it to a homeless graphic designer who just wants to make art. And be loved. Everybody wants to be loved.

If you don’t pick up your mess, I’m going to… send you to your room until your hair grows 20 feet long and someone can climb up it to rescue you. Because coming in through the window is the only way someone will make it through the hoarder-episode waiting to happen that you call a room. Because that’s a natural consquence and I never stop natural consequences from happening. Except…

Confession 3: Sometimes I block consequences and that’s not ok.


So, the flip side to this non-punitive parenting thing is that I also don’t shield them from consequences. Or, I’m not supposed to. If they forget something in a friend’s car, they need to call the mom and make arrangements to retrieve the item. If they pee on the toilet seat BECAUSE HOW HARD IS IT TO AIM, they wipe it up. If they double book themselves, they have to decide what to do about it and then make the uncomfortable call to cancel plans.

I don’t mean just my 15 year old. I mean my 8 year old, too… though if she is peeing on the toilet seat, we should probably see a doctor. But I digress.

An example of me doing it right: My 13 year old attends school (my others are homeschooled) and he recently had an issue with getting distracted on video games after school and not finishing his homework. Like, every day. I could have said, “no screens for a week.” And that would have fixed it… for a week. Instead, he and I discussed ways for him to have time to meet his homework-goals as well as his zombie-killing goals. He had no ideas. I had tons of them. We discussed it and he decided to do homework before screens but still have non-screen downtime immediately after school.

Sure, I could have come up with that without the help of a 13 year old. However, it was process, not product that mattered.

All of my kids should be taking on more and more responsibility as they get older but sometimes it’s just easier for me to do it. Easier to clean, dish out a consequence, send a text to retrieve a missing coat. So I do. But I shouldn’t. Consider myself slapped on the wrist. But in a consensual and non-punitive way. Wait, no. That sounds dirty. Forget the consensual discipline.

The reason I picked this path is because I want my kids to be the most perfect humans ever created, raised, and unleashed onto the world. The only tricky part is…

Confession 4: My kids are turning out just about the same as everyone else’s.

They’re pretty good at conflict resolution because, instead of punishments or lectures, they are expected to participate in the full process. But if you are reading this thinking this is the key to raising perfect children or if you are reading this thinking my kids must be out of control maniacs, you’re both wrong. They’re not perfect. They don’t have super powers. But they aren’t out of control either. They’ve learned right from wrong without being grounded. They learned self-control without me exerting control on them. They learned to share, not to hit, to be gentle to animals, to say please and thank you, and all the rest without time outs.

Why do it this way if the results are roughly the same? Well, let’s start with remembering we are raising people, not creating products. It respects them as autonomous people. It saves us from conflict. It preserves our relationship rather than put my children and I against each other. It helps them look at the world with a knee-jerk reaction of “how can I make this right?” rather than “how can I avoid getting in trouble?”

I’m not saying that if you do it another way, you won’t have a peaceful relationship with your children or that your children will work simply to avoid consequences. The biggest truth of all is…

Confession 5: No matter how much I really do think this somewhat radical idea could help you, if you ask me about this in person, I will simply say, “it works for us” and drop the subject.

There are other ways to get from point A to point B. You find your path and I’ll find mine. I don’t want to set myself up to be an advocate for something that I do the best I can, which is code for I’m not perfect. But mostly, I really don’t care to subject myself to criticism of how I raise my children. It’s too personal. That’s why I’m putting this on the internet because, as we all know, the internet is full of nice people who only ever leave helpful and supportive comments.

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One thought on “Confessions of a Non-Punitive Parent

  1. I really love this Charlie. I somehow missed it when it first came around, and Facebook just now suggested I like the blog’s page…so I found it. Right on time too. We had a horribly rough morning. One thing I struggle with is allowing natural consequences that are not consequences for me. For example, if we miss car line for preschool, I am the one that has to get four children out of the car…If we are late to elementary school too, again I have to get everyone out of the car to sign in. Gah. These are the moments I yell….Be late for school and suffer the wrath of mama (that doesn’t seem like a good natural consequence ;)…I’ll figure something out. I love your writing. Both here, and in your beautifully thoughtful posts on FB.

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