It felt like everything in my life was getting out of hand.
You know that moment when you suddenly realize that your children are treating you disrespectfully, and although you aren’t sure when and how it happened, you know it’s your fault for letting it get this far?
Yeah. That moment sucks.
That reality hit me smack in the face recently, when my oldest child crossed the line in a big way. Now, there’s a huge difference between things getting a little out of control, and the universe screeching to a halt, taking you by the shoulders, and yelling “DO SOMETHING BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!”
I’ll skip the details of what happened; suffice it to say that a series of unacceptable events unfolded — ending when the universe shook me out of my stupor. In that moment, it clicked in my head that while my son may struggle with a temper and emotional outbursts, he didn’t have enough respect for his mother. He needed to be reminded who is in charge. He needed to be shown that it is not okay to treat his parents like a peer. It’s fine to be upset; it’s not fine to lose control.
It’s my job to teach my children self-control, and sometimes those lessons have to be taught creatively. I remained calm throughout the ordeal with my son, but I had to dig deep to keep my emotions in check. And later on, after my husband came home, I fell deeply into a cocktail.
Being a mom is hard.
Fighting back tears, I called my friend, whispering from the front yard as the kids played inside.
“He doesn’t respect me,” I told her. “HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?”
I’ve always prided myself on being a hard-core mom: requiring my children to use their manners, hold doors open for others, say “please,” “thank you,” and “yes ma’am.” Their teachers always tell me how polite and kind they are, and yet, at home, it’s a different story. Summer break is practically here — I had to do something to regain control of my household.
It was then that my friend made a radical suggestion; something so crazy, but so simple: take every single thing out of my son’s room. Empty it out completely, while he was at school, and explain that he was going to have to earn back his belongings, one by one.
“Take his bedroom door down if you have to,” she said.
It was shocking, really, how simple the idea was, and I wished I’d thought of it sooner. I don’t have any friends who have completely stripped their child’s room of everything from curtains to socks. Was that because it was crazy? Would it work? I was desperate enough to find out.
The next morning, I hugged and kissed my children and sent them off to school. I was still upset over the previous day’s events, but my resolve was beginning to wane. Was this too harsh? Would it warp him for life? Self-doubt crept in as I began packing boxes. Packing up my child’s entire bedroom was an emotional journey that I hope to never have to repeat again — at least, not until he leaves for college.
I left my child with a pair of pajamas and one school uniform. Everything else — every poster off the walls, every book, every single LEGO … E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G — was packed away. His room echoed.
It was one of the hardest things I’ve done as a parent, but I also don’t want my kid to end up in military school. This is the time for him to learn the hard lessons, when it’s safe. After all, it takes strong people to raise strong people.
I’ll be honest, though, my own mother thought it was too extreme. My mother-in-law looked at me like I had two heads. My friend’s mouths dropped open when they heard. My husband was in awe that I literally took everything out of our son’s bedroom.
“When you said you’d take everything, I didn’t realize you actually meant everything,” he said.
“I don’t do things halfway,” I replied. “You know that.”
That night, we explained to our son what the family rules are and posted them at eye level, in the kitchen. By following them, he would earn his stuff back. And I have to say, once the initial shock wore off, he took his punishment surprisingly well. As long as he shows self-control, kindness, and respect, then I will continue to slowly return his stuff. He studies these rules every day and we all talk about what they mean. I see him struggling, and I praise him for trying to do better. I see the internal battles. I know them well.
Self-control is a hard thing.
It’s been several weeks, and he is slowly earning his stuff back. I give him one or two things a day — he comes home from school and finds a picture back on the wall or more socks in his drawer. Tonight he got a few books back and I said, “I’m proud of you for earning this back.”
And then, there was a moment I will never forget. He looked directly into my eyes and said, “This punishment sucks, but I understand why you did it. I’ll never forget it.”