Many years ago I was waiting for my oldest son at his high school football practice in Vermont. As is my custom, I turned to chat with the mom beside me.
"Is this your boy's first year?" I asked.
"Well," she said, "it is his second year, but he was not here last year."
Something in her tone intrigued me. "Oh?"
"It is a little complicated."
I paused, wanting to know. I was glad when she volunteered the information.
"He was here his freshman year, but by the end of the year he had copped an attitude and decided to quit doing his homework; so we sent him to military school last year and now he is back, ready to do his homework." Ready to do anything, I thought.
Just like that. All in one sentence. All in one breath. No begging, no pleading, no bargaining. We're the parents, you're the kid. That's the way it is.
I know other moms like that.
One friend takes her daughter's make up. All of it. Sometimes for as long as two weeks. Brilliant.
Another friend lovingly serves her kid his least favorite food for dinner in exchange for a smart mouth.
But my all-time favorite method, which Emma told me about last year, is from the mother who accompanied her son around middle school for the entire day. He was acting up at school, the mother informed the class at the end of the hour, and she came to tell them that she hopes they don't do that, too. Smart Mama.
Well, Captain Fun doesn't allow the kids to talk back to their mother, so that is my number one defense. But I realize not every mom has that option, so here's my list:
Sentence writing: "I will not talk back to my mother."
Finger waving accompanied by the lecture: "I am NOT your sister, I am NOT your friend on the playground. I AM your mother, and (fingers snapping here in a Z formation) you will NOT talk to me that way."
And I have washed a mouth out with soap a few times. No kid of mine is going to speak to me with that attitude when I am washing their dirty dishes, noses, and clothes, I chide.
Be radical about making your kids respect you, and each other, at home. Be radical about making them respect other adults in their lives.
It matters. Ban the makeup, the car keys, the iPhone, the Wii. There is so much you can take away these days.
It isn't that shocking, really. It is how our grandparents raised our parents, and how our parents raised us. But somewhere along the way in this no boundaries culture of entitlement, we have lost the common sense approach to parenting: Mind your manners, watch your mouth, be considerate of other folks' feelings.
It is basic stuff. And if we don't take the time to inflict it upon our kids, no one will.
And that's when the real trouble starts.
"The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame."