“Wait, what? You took off her door? Like, literally?”
Yes, my friends. We literally did. We told her that she didn’t deserve privacy and went on to unscrew the hinges to her door as she sat at her desk, crying and tears streamed down her face like a waterfall. I waltzed into her room singing “love is an open door” afterwards, but she was not amused, unfortunately.
Sounds rough, doesn’t it? Well, what can I say? Sometimes we just gotta parent.
Let me tell you what happened.
We have observed a strict “No watching Netflix or Youtube Alone In Your Room” for quite a while. When they break this rule, their phone and other gadgets will be confiscated indefinitely. We’ve grown to trust them because this has happened several times. That’s right, we have confiscated their phones so many times I have lost track.
One night, about three months ago, Budhi suggested that we watch a family movie together. As we cozied up on the sofa, our eldest said that she’s sorry that she won’t be able to join movie night because she just remembered that there’s assignment she needed to submit that night. Of course, Budhi and I immediately excused her and nodded proudly at each other in awe of how responsible she was.
A few minutes into the movie, I got up to grab a drink and suddenly thought of my girl. “The poor thing is up there in her room doing some work while we’re down here enjoying ourselves,” I thought. And with that I went up to check on her, even just to say “Hi!” But alas, as I neared her room, I saw her watching Netflix on her phone so cozily in her room. WTF GURL?
I tried to stay calm and used everything I had in me to not scream at her in surprise. “Excuse me, what are you doing?” I managed to say.
“What? I’m allowed, right?” She said, confidently too, I might add. Got me doubting there for a second. Wait, wait. Did we say that she can watch in her room?
“Ummm, I don’t think so, babe. And besides, you said that you needed to go upstairs because you had assignments to submit? Why are you here watching all by yourself?” I said, trying hard to mask the disappointment in my voice.
“Oh okay, fine. Here, take my phone,” she said nonchalantly, as she waved her phone in my face. “But wait, before you do, can you install Whatsapp on my laptop? Since you’ll be taking my phone, I might need to chat on my laptop.”
Then all hell broke loose. GURL OMG GO WASH YOUR MOUTH! SO RUDE! IF YOU HAD SAID THAT TO MY ASIAN TIGER MOTHER YOU WOULD HAVE NEVER SURVIVED TO SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY! I erupted internally. Internally. I said all of that internally. Because I promised myself that I would watch the words I said to my children in anger. And I was all feeling all kinds of anger at that point. I mean, GURL BYE!
I took her phone, but said that I was not done with her. I went downstairs; she followed. She sat down on the sofa to join our movie night, as if nothing just happened. MAN, I WAS SO TRIGGERED! I got up and told everyone that movie night is over. Budhi pressed pause almost immediately as he had felt the tension all over our living room and I sent the kids straight to their rooms so I can process what had just happened.
Budhi and I have always strongly believed that the punishment for breaking rules we’ve set in place must be painful to be effective. Not necessarily physically or even just mentally painful, but a punishment must be “felt”. Pain is different for everyone, even my children. So, we’re careful to not set the same standard for each of our kids. I think what triggered me most was that our consequences to breaking that particular rule was no longer effective for my eldest daughter and I guess that riled me up a little bit because I didn’t know what to do next.
Anyway, Budhi and I discussed it and we came to the following conclusions:
- Privacy is a luxury reserved for the trustworthy,
- If she wanted to watch Netflix or anything in her room badly enough to break the rules, then maybe we should allow it, without a door!
I don’t think that I’ll forget the way her eyes lit up the next morning when we told her that, “We’re really tired of having to remind you not to watch anything by yourself in your room. We put the rules in place but you keep on finding ways to break it, and we’re tired of it. So, we decided to just let you do it… you can watch in your room…” my voice trailed off, because HER EYES LEGIT LIT UP, YO! “But, we’re taking your door OFF…”
MIC DROP. SUCKER! Honestly, sometimes parents are no better than bullies.
“I’d rather you take my phone, Mom. Please let me keep my door. I won’t break the rules again, I promise,” she said as tears started welling up in her eyes.
“Well, I’d rather you didn’t break the rules, but… here we are.” And less than an hour later, Budhi was carrying the door out of her room and into the garage. It was all very dramatic; almost like every action played in slow-mo so that every emotion can be etched into our memories.
That day was the hardest for her, it seemed. I think she spent the first few hours mourning the loss of her door before starting to worry about how she would sleep that night as turning on the AC would be a total waste of energy. She ended up asking her brothers if she could sleep over in their room as she carried out her punishment; they responded with a list of do’s and don’ts for being a “good roommate”. I remember M3 telling her, “This is a fart zone, so no complaints if any of us farted.” I’m pretty sure that’s when things seemed to fall into a lower point for her.
It was hard watching her grieve her door for the days that followed and I wondered if we were being too harsh on her. But in order for consequences to be effective, we also need to be consistent. So, I’ve learned to look for the silver lining.
To be quite honest, I actually loved this rare opportunity for the boys to exercise being the bigger person – kindness for M3 and a little assertiveness for M2. This incident gave M2 the chance to express his discomfort in words whenever he felt it (because M1 is naturally more dominant than he is). It also gave M3 the chance to learn to share (because he’s just as strong-headed as she is). And generally, this taught the three of them about boundaries and personal spaces (or lack thereof in M1’s case) and that really changed the dynamics between them.
Anyway, the same way Budhi and I believe that all punishments need to be painful to be effective, we also believe that it must have an endgame. So, what was the endgame for this particular consequence?
We had a conversation about trustworthiness and asked her to define, personally and in her own words, what it meant to be trustworthy. Clearly, she couldn’t meet us at our level of expectation towards trustworthiness and hence, the reason why she kept on breaking it. But we want her to set a new definition, one that she would be able to fulfil and not break. We told her that whatever she defined, we’ll take it, and that would be the standard of trustworthiness we’d adhere to from here on out.
It took her a while to put a definition together, which we appreciated, because she really put her thoughts into it. She had emailed us her definition of trustworthiness and we had a deep conversation about it afterwards.
She got her door back last week. While she said that it wasn’t much of a big deal, deep inside, I know that it definitely was.
That night, after we saw her sleep in her own room with a door, we cheered each other for a job well done, because despite of what my children may think, tough love is tough on us as parents too. As we waited for her to deliver her part to the endgame, we didn’t know whether what we were doing was effective at all. Were we simply being harsh for no good reason? Was she even learning anything, because she’s starting to get comfortable? It was a whole soup of self-doubt, especially on my end. But consistency is the name of the game, and we gotta believe that every consistent effort and every consequences given, will pay off later on when my children are trustworthy human beings.
I can only hope.