I never should have emailed the photo of crayon marks on the computer stand to my daughter Kim after our Thanksgiving dinner last year. I was hosting 28 people, and occasionally sent my two daughters upstairs to check on the kids in the playroom. My office door was closed.
The photo was proof that I am not crazy for wanting six children under age twelve to be supervised. But it wasn’t long before the phone rang, making me sorry for trying to prove a point. It was Kim’s home line.
At first there was only frightening, sickening silence. Then, I heard my four-year old granddaughter Alexa crying, trying to talk. I couldn’t understand the words through her sobbing. What had happened? Was she hurt? Was the family alright?
Finally, Alexa was able to say between sobs: “I marked on your computer.”
“I can clean it off, thank you for telling me you did it. Just color only on paper.”
My daughter, who had me on speaker phone, interrupted before I could calm Alexa and reassure her it wasn’t a critical mistake.”You’re not the parent!” Kim said.
In the background, Alexa was crying louder than she had been when the phone rang. It was a distress cry, one that begged her mother to hold her and comfort her.
“You’ve already made her say it, punished her, and made her apologize,” I said.”Let it go.” Her concrete consequence was no crayons for a few days, but that would not cause such guttural sobs.
“You have no right to say anything,” Kim said.
“I was raised that way, having each mistake judged and punished as if the least annoyance were as horrific as a felony.”
“This is not your time to try to feel good about yourself,” Kim shouted. “I am the parent.”
“For the record,” I said, “it was marker, and I cleaned it off easily while talking to you.”
“It would have been nice to know that,” she said. I could taster the bitterness in her tone.
“I just did it as you called. “It’s drying as we speak.”
When punishment is relentless, it’s emotional abuse. It’s a consequence of trying to perfectly shape and control a child’s personality, especially when a child must parrot what the parent tells her to say. Perfection parenting has consequences: a child raised with such control will learn to please but might lack sincerity. Worse, she will hesitate to stand up for herself.