Like Those Parents In Utah, I Would Not Hesitate to Dress My Kid In Ugly Clothes to Teach Him A Lesson

If you’re trying to raise a compassionate person who treats other people well, a nice talk about being nice to other people is not going to do anything but convince the kid she’s gotten away with her bad behavior.
Publish date:
May 23, 2013
parenting, bullying, punishments

So I find that in parenting circles (and by parenting circles I mean people I know personally, as well as those I interact with online, including you), there are two distinct groups: those who are pretty old school with disciplinary matters and those who embrace a softer approach that is more in line with modern parenting philosophies.

I tend to fall more into the first category than the second. At least, that is how I see myself in my role as a mom. If you ask my boyfriend Jeff, I am not nearly strict enough with Oliver. If you ask other people, I’m probably way too harsh.

My own personal way of being a mom to Oliver includes: setting limits, administering consequences, and making clear that I am, in fact the parent, and therefore “the boss” -- while still letting him make his own decisions about certain things, like how to spend his marble money.

Someone (I think maybe even in the comments here at xoJane, I don’t remember) once said “I’m not raising a child. I’m raising an adult.” And that pretty much sums up how I feel about my role as a mom.

I want my son to grow up to be a compassionate human being who is also a law-abiding citizen, who knows his own self-worth -- but who is also wise enough to recognize that the world is a big diverse place and he and his opinions and his desires are not the only things on it. I don’t think this sounds extraordinarily harsh. Though now that I’m typing it out, that’s a huge responsibiltity, no?

Just last night, I went to the drugstore to pick up my birth control prescription, and as I was leaving, a mom was walking in with her two little kids (maybe three and five years old?). I could hear them whining from across the parking lot. After all -- three year olds ARE assholes. I expect that.

As I got closer, I could hear the five year old demanding popsicles.

“We ARE getting popsicles!” he shouted.

The mom said something like, “Oh honey, I don’t think popsicles. Maybe we can get some frozen yogurt instead.”

At which point the kid stamped and shouted “POPSICLES!” again (See? Total assholes). As they passed me the mom said, defeatedly, “Oh OK, maybe.”

We are all doing what we can. I don’t know what kind of day that mom had. Maybe she just lost her job and her dog died and her husband left her and conceding defeat to a demanding kid just made that one moment a little easier to bear.

But I will share with you now how I theoretically would have dealt with this situation, because I think it’s relevant to my views on that story about the parents in Utah who forced their daughter to wear ugly clothes to school as a punishment (we’ll get to that in a minute).

In a world where increasingly we see scenarios like the one above, or kids throwing rocks at pigeons while the parents stand idly by, I am probably considered a mean, mean mom. Because if my kid had demanded popsicles in that manner, it would’ve been the end of the discussion, just on principle. No popsicles for you, sonny. In theory. I’ve certainly had my moments where I give in because I just get tired of saying “no” all day.

A couple of weeks ago at the grocery store, Oliver was acting a fool in the cereal aisle, jumping around and singing, not looking where he was walking and then bumping into people’s carts, that sort of thing.

I snapped at him “This is a grocery store, not a playground” and gave him the mean mom face and he stopped. The lady next to us whose cart Oliver had just run into smiled at me, and the woman behind her gave me a look as if I had just beat my child in public.

I do what works for me, because I will get dirty looks either way. I know my kid and I know what will get him to stop running around in the grocery store. If I had a different kid, my way of parenting would be different.

With all this in mind, I could fucking kiss these parents in Utah who sent their daughter, Kaylee, to school in ugly clothes to teach her a lesson. Kaylee had been bullying another girl at school -- to the point where the other girl didn’t want to go to school anymore. What’s worse, when the parents confronted their daughter, she showed no remorse for her actions.

So they went to the thrift store, bought some ill-fitting garments, and made Kaylee wear them to school.

In my mind, if you’re trying to raise a compassionate person who treats other people well, and that person shows no remorse for their actions, a nice talk about being nice to other people is not going to do anything but convince the kid she’s gotten away with her bad behavior.

I mean, yes, it sucks to be the girl who was sent to school wearing ugly, ill-fitting clothes. I remember being that age, and writing mean things about my mom in my diary and applying so much pressure with the pen that I tore through pages. Ugh, I thought she was such a fucking bitch. Making me clean my room. Getting mad at me for not putting my dishes in the dishwasher. I mean gawd.

So I can imagine the experience was mortifying for little Kaylee, and also that she went home and wrote mean things about her parents in her diary.

But it also sucks to be the girl who is tormented by other girls to the point that you don’t want to go to school.

I’ve read some discussions online about this story, and it seems that they fall into those two groups: the old-school hard line approach, and the softer modern approach. And the former tends to champion the stepmom while the latter tends to worry about whether enacting such a punishment is doing more harm than good (including a couple of discussions involving the stigma surrounding poor kids who actually have to wear thrift store clothing -- not just as a punishment, but every day of their lives).

While I understand the sentiment underlying this view, and I think it's an important discussion, I also happen to heartily disagree with it. After all, these parents didn’t intend to make a social commentary on economic class vis a vis thrift store clothing, but to teach her daughter a much-needed lesson in judging another person’s physical appearance -- by forcing her to wear ugly, unflattering clothes. I dislike the term “teachable moment” but that’s what this is, I think.

For those who think these parents were being too harsh, remember: every kid is different. The punishment must fit the kid AND the crime.

So good job, mom in Utah. For the record, Kaylee said in this follow-up interview that she did learn her lesson.

Somer is on Twitter, and she won't let you leave the table until you eat your vegetables: @somersherwood