Any mother could perform the jobs of several air-traffic controllers with ease.
-Lisa Alther

From "Bad Mommy," by Marti Attoun, Christian Parenting Magazine (May/June 1994):

I've finally figured out this discipline business. Time-out, positive reinforcement, grounding, no telephone privileges, no TV, early bedtime-they all work. The problem is that parents have been disciplining the wrong people-their kids instead of themselves.

Here's the scene: the five year old stuffs sunflower seeds up the cat's nose, and what does he get?

"Five minutes in time-out!" Mom shrieks as she falls on the cat and checks for a pulse. The five year old slinks away for five minutes of peace and quiet. He curls up with Thomas the Tank Engine and konks.

Mom, meanwhile, administers mouth-to-fang resuscitation to a stray. Who deserves the five minutes in time-out?

Parenting experts recommend one minute of time-out per year of child. According to this formula, I deserve thirty-nine minutes of time-out. Next time my kids act up, I want the punishment. All thirty-nine minutes of it.

Here are some more punishments I deserve:

No telephone. I fantasize about a day without telephone interruptions. No one could offer to send free burial-plot information, free books to review, free aluminum siding estimates or free family-portrait coupons. No kid could call and whine about forgetting his lunch money. "And I'm so starving I could eat a rat, Mom. Please, you've got to bring my money."

No TV. Every oddball in America has already been interviewed by Oprah or Donahue. As for the exercise shows, what's so great about thighs of steel, anyway? Seems like they'd be pretty heavy to drag around.

Early bedtime. I know some mothers who would stick sunflower seeds up their own noses if they could be guaranteed an early bedtime.

Grounding. Wow, I'd have to park the taxi-van in the garage and ignore requests for rides to the mall, birthday parties, guitar lessons, and the discount store to buy felt scraps for art class, then back again to get the embroidery thread to go with it.

Positive reinforcement. I can only imagine this comment, "Swell job you did with this beef noodle stuff, Mom. We sure do love your cuisine."

The more I think about discipline, the more I realize my kids absolutely don't need it. I do.

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