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     Volume 7 Issue 48 | December 5, 2008 |

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Food for Thought

Disciplinary Dilemmas and Other Cautionary Tales

Farah Ghuznavi
Andrea watching TV.

I have been reliably informed that nothing brings out the fault lines in a marriage like the challenges of reaching agreement on how to raise the offspring of the aforementioned union. Not only does one have to struggle with the apparently limitless task of imbuing your children with “the right values” (i.e. your values!), but you also find out, sometimes to mutual detriment, about previously undiscovered differences of opinion between you and your spouse. The real challenge is to resolve those without your little angels realising and using the policy of “divided, they fall” against you…

Sometimes these difficulties may emerge when your child is still a baby. As it did for my friends - Kristin and her husband - Jan, who frequently find themselves with very different opinions about how their four-month-old baby Andrea will be when she grows up (!). A moment of harmony between these two very strong-willed individuals occurred when they were recently able to download advance episodes of their favourite television series “Criminal Minds,” which they could not wait to see. Apparently, the episodes contained some images so graphic that Kristin spent most of the time with her eyes closed. “But what about the soundtrack?” I asked her, “Didn't all the screaming disturb Andrea?” “No, no,” Kristin reassured me, “I made sure that the volume was lowered. And anyway, I had turned Andrea's chair away from the television screen.”

For anyone who thinks that this may be an unnecessary precaution, I should add that Andrea is the most alert baby I have ever met, and combines a small, but well coordinated physique with an intense interest in moving images, particularly on television. Just as I was allowing myself to be relieved that Kristin had taken the necessary action in this regard, her husband (who is rather more laid back) happily announced, “Oh no, Andrea had turned her head after you moved the chair, so she was watching everything!” And if they hadn't already been quite remiss enough in their parental duties, I should perhaps add that the episodes they were watching had been downloaded from a pirate website…

Moral dimensions are an intrinsic part of child-rearing (as Kristin and Jan can now testify!), and many parents choose to rely on divine guidance. But the role of God, and the mysterious ways in which He moves can create any number of awkward questions for parents. My friend Katy has been diligent in attempting to provide her children with a reasonably religious upbringing, and has dealt with the resultant questions with considerable grace and patience.

Alongside various moral and ethical values, she has also been working on a more temporal level to address concerns such as the need for her five-year-old twin sons to take regular baths. In this regard, germs have provided an important incentive to cooperate at bath time, and the boys are well aware of the role of these tiny creatures in bringing about tummy upsets and fevers. Nevertheless, Katy found herself flummoxed when five-year-old Chris recently asked her if there were germs in heaven, “because if there aren't any germs, Mummy, then does that mean that nobody takes baths in heaven?”

It must be admitted that parental duties can sometimes be very onerous indeed, as my friend Mai-Britt discovered when she went for a holiday in the family cabin in the mountains with her three-year-old daughter Stine. They had been shopping for provisions at a general store that was a twenty-minute walk away from the spot where they were staying. Inexplicably, but inevitably, Stine suddenly decided to throw a very public tantrum demanding to be carried home. Mai-Britt tried to explain that she couldn't carry her and the groceries, but her logic hit a stone wall. Stine was not impressed.

In the end, Mai Britt was reduced to walking back with a three-year-old who screamed all the way to the cabin. Nor did it end there. After the situation had been once again explained to an obstinate Stine, she was asked whether she would henceforth agree to walk alongside Mummy; she flatly refused. Left alone in a room to contemplate her mother's request, Stine decided to move outside the open doorway to a strategic point on the staircase which allowed her screaming to be heard in every corner of the building. In despair, and in order to convince the neighbours that she was not actually torturing the child, Mai-Britt sat outside at the cabin entrance, in the snow. A pair of strikingly healthy lungs allowed Stine to keep up the racket for almost two hours.

The next day, the situation repeated itself, with two small variations in that Stine's demand to be carried was issued at a different locale and her subsequent screaming session at the cabin lasted for a mere one and a half hours. The pattern continued thus, with each day seeing a small reduction in the length of the shrieking fit. Several years later, Mai-Britt recounts this story with a haunted look in her eyes that leaves the listener in no doubt that this was one of the moments in any parent's life that makes them wonder if continued contraceptive use would not have been a better option!

This example illustrates one of the most difficult dilemmas for any responsible parent the need to balance the profound love usually found in the parent-children relationship, with the need to take the occasional tough decision because in the long run it will benefit a child more than parental submission to their whims. I think that almost any parent struggles with the challenge of not spoiling their child by giving them everything that they want. And when they lose that battle, it can sometimes have peculiar consequences like the friend of a friend who was so doted upon during her childhood, that she did not hesitate to make singularly unreasonable demands of the adults around her. This included, on one occasion, an imperious command to restore the skin of a peeled banana!

Even worse, in the course of potty training, it led to regular and piercing queries about where the poop went when the toilet was flushed and why it disappeared occasionally, this was even accompanied by insistent demands to bring back the vanished materials.

Of course, these things are relative, and the situation was considerably worse for another set of parents who were puzzled by their young daughter's penchant for flushing her panties down the toilet. Despite all efforts to persuade her otherwise, she persisted in a high rate of re-offending, for no better reason than that she liked the sound it made (which was apparently considerably more interesting than when the toilet was flushed for any regular purpose…)

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