Notes from the Good Jailer

January 10, 2012

On Sunday, I went to a friend’s house to play mah jongg.  My friend’s daughter is Mouse’s best friend.  When I walked in, Mouse’s friend said, “When is Mouse free again?  Monday or Tuesday?”  I said, “Tuesday.”  She said, “You know, she said you’re a good jailer!”

I got a huge kick out of that.

Then friend asked, “Is she allowed to eat dinner with you guys?”

Huh? “She’s grounded, not ex-communicated!”

Mouse kept up her good attitude throughout the grounding.  She requested computer-permissions for her homework, and returned it to the hallway bench without being told when she was done. She didn’t complain one time, and was generally fun to be with.  She complained about being bored once, but I went off a bit on how many things she could be doing.  Once I got down the list to “cleaning your room . . .” she buttoned her lips and found something to do (paint her nails . . . )

Here is one story, and I know that some parents may disagree with my handling of the issue.  I’ve shared it with some friends, and they all agree that my compromise was sufficiently harsh and distasteful so as to avoid being deemed permissive:

Every year, our elementary school (which is a K-8) has a “skate night.”  The local skate rink is reserved for our community, and the skating is free.  This year, it feel on the Saturday night of Mouse’s grounding.  She asked me if I could PLEASE let her go.  “It’s my last year, mommy!  I’ve gone every year! And now I’m in 8th grade, and I really don’t want to miss this!”

Every year, if she has gone (I dispute that claim . . .) it’s been with a friend.  Because skate night is often from 5:30 – 7:30, and I am at work until 6 or so.  And we used to not have a car, and it’s not a public transit-friendly location.  I’ve never been to skate night.  And my impression of skate night is that it’s designed for the 1st- 4th grade set, not the 8th graders.  But I cannot deny that over winter vacation, Mouse and her friends chose to ice skate almost every day.  And then posted about it on facebook:

Nevertheless, skate night wasn’t something I was feeling particularly generous about.  “You are GROUNDED,” I reminded her.  “But it’s SKATE NIGHT!” she wailed.

And I laughed.

I guffawed, actually.

She got mad at me.  “I understand if I’m grounded, but I really don’t appreciate you laughing at me! Please just answer my question, don’t LAUGH at me.”

(I love that my kids can put me in my place. I apologized and did not laugh again.)

David and I thought about the situation.  He said, “no way,” and I thought, “maybe there’s a way to make this work for her.”

While pondering, I told Lemon – “Skate night is on Saturday, and Mouse is grounded.”  Lemon laughed (she guffawed, really, showing the proximity from the apple to the tree), and said, “oh my god, you should make her go!”

I laughed very hard at that.  Mouse wasn’t around to hear.

Then I went to the dentist.  She said, “how are the girls?”  I said, “they’re good, but Mouse is grounded.”  She said, “Mine is grounded, too!”  Her daughter is 15, and came home well after curfew with no phone call.  She is grounded for a month.  My poor dentist wasn’t sure what to do, because her daughter’s best friend’s Sweet 16 party fell during the grounding.  I said, “maybe you can trade — let her go to the party in exchange for some chores.”  “No,” said my dentist, “she’s too old for that.  She’ll do the chores and then later decide she can break curfew every night and just do chores.”  I said, “Maybe you can let her have that one night off, in exchange for an extra week of grounding.”

My dentist’s eyes sparkled.

I kept thinking about the trade-off idea.  I came up with what I thought was a pretty harsh trade-off.  I presented it to David.  He sighed and said, “Fine, I do think that’s fair. But when we tell her, we need to tell her that this is not an option in the future!”  I said okay.

That night at dinner, I told her:  Your infraction was serious.  I am not okay with what you did. But I understand skate night is [snarfle] important to you.  So I have a deal that you need to choose whether or not to take.  If you would like to go to skate night, I will drive you and drop you off at the moment it starts, and I will pick you up at the moment it ends.  You will not get a ride from a friend, or give a friend a ride (thereby extending the reprieve).  In exchange for this limited outing, you will, for a full week, set and clear the table each night for dinner (we usually all take care of our own selves), and you will empty the dishwasher.  This means you need to get up early and do it before school.  If you complain or whine about these duties even one time, you will have additional grounding time.  If you are running late for school, you will not be excused.  You can take the school’s consequences for being late, or you will have additional grounding time.

Her eyes kind of bugged out of her head, and she asked for permission to make sure her friends were really planning to attend before she agreed to my terms.  Within 30 minutes, the agreement was made.

She had fun at skate night.  There was a slight blip where the event was extended to 9 p.m., and her freedom was not. She didn’t complain, though – she just told us in a matter of fact way.  And even though it’s now in the distant past, she is continuing with her chores without complaint.  Having chosen to take the deal, her punishment is now lasting almost 2 full weeks, rather than 1, but it was her choice.  I wasn’t going to give in without some amount of discomfort.

So I sort of caved, sort of didn’t.

Any thoughts?



  1. I really like the compromises that you came up with for both you and the dentist. I hate it when I have to be the enforcer and it messes up something important–particularly if it affects up somebody else’s life (like a party that you have already RSVP’d or a team event). Now I have a feasible work-around.

  2. I think it was a fair compromise, personally. I’d like ot think I’d have handled it similarly.

  3. I don’t normally comment, just stalk; however, as a parent of my third and final teenager, and only daughter, I wanted to say that I find life is always about compromise. There are rules in place for reasons and there are consequences for those rules. Real is not black and white so I wouldn’t call it caving. I call it compromising in the gray zone.

  4. I think it sounds totally reasonable, and the fact that she didn’t complain about missing the extra half hour shows that she was still taking the punishment seriously.

    I am so not there yet with my kids (not even school-age yet), but I think it differs for each kid — if you have the type of kid who shrugs off punishments very easily, maybe compromise is not a good option, but it sounds like your relationship with Mouse allows for compromise without caving.

  5. I actually read this, and read all your “discipline” posts, as a kind of how-to guide. My kids are wee, still, but I like the way you seem to relate to Mouse and Lemon. My parents were way too strict for my tastes . . . but I don’t want to overreact to that and end up being too permissive a parent myself. I feel like you hit a great balance, here and often. I know it’s tricky sharing these things with the wide world, but I really appreciate that you do. It’s like virtual mentoring out here!

    • It may get tricky to keep sharing, depending on what the girls are up to. So far, there’s nothing scandalous or even all that embarrassing. Their transgressions are age-appropriate and mild. Mouse knows I blogged about the story, and while she did roll her eyes at me, she didn’t protest. She may like less that I shared a photo of one of the “multiple times” that she fell on the ice . . . 😉

  6. I think you are brilliant and I’m going to file the compromise idea away in my brain for future use.

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