She would look at you with those eyes.



Cut. Throat.

That's how my mom shut down all kinds of kid shenanigans The Look all but screamed, If you don't stop it right now, I'm going to (insert indictable child abuse offense here). The mere threat of bodily harm made me straighten up and fly right; Bettye had to beat my behind one time only for me to know she wasn't to be played with. Shoot, even kids who weren't her kids knew that when Deaconess Millner gave you The Look you best get back on the good foot, lest she take you down into the church basement for a little talking to that maybe involved little talking and a lot more hand movement than you'd care to experience.

The Look was no joke.

I tried looking at my kids that way. They laughed at me.

Tried spanking them both, too. Mari looked at me with a fear in her eyes I never want to see again; truly, I'd rather be respected than feared by my eldest daughter. When Lila got her butt smacked, she damn near giggled in my face. Or maybe she cried. Then went right back to what she was doing, like my hand never connected with the fatty part of her leg. Which is the equivalent, in my book, of giggling in my face.

Basically, the childrearing techniques that worked for Bettye don't necessarily work for me and for good reason. My mom, along with my father, raised two children in the era of Reagonomics, stable factory gigs, good health benefits, and New Edition. Child Services would doggone near high-five the ˜rents for tapping that butt. Today, we moms are trying to survive the policies of The Decider. Competing with Lil' Wayne lyrics. And working hard to raise up smart, well-behaved, conscious children, sans the beat downs despite the odds. And without DYFS breathing down our necks.

Somehow, my mother figured out how to discipline us without the benefit of Scream-Free Parenting coaching, without a parade of child-rearing segments on The Today Show, without a subscription to Parenting magazine. I think my brother and I turned out pretty okay. But there's something to be said for some of these new-fangled techniques we loudly, resoundingly rail against in the company of our parent peers and especially our own parents, but secretly practice behind closed doors. I readily raise my hand and admit that I give Mari and Lila the straight ice grill when they cut up in front of old black folks you know, to make it seem like I'm capable of laying the smackdown. But at home, when the over-50 crowd isn't watching, time-outs and talking tos are practiced regularly. Even crazier, sometimes it actually works. Take, for instance, yesterday morning: I was packing Lila's backpack and discovered not only was she trying to smuggle her Nintendo DS to school, she's swiped an entire pack of Now & Laters from my private candy stash. Had it all up in the front pocket, like it was hers.

Now please understand, playing with my Now & Laters is like playing with my emotions.

But I didn't trip. When I was six, that would have been grounds for a sound butt whooping, but all my 6-year-old got from me was a firm, You know you're not supposed to take your games to school, and you didn't ask to have any of my candy, which means you stole it from me. So now you don't get to take snack to school, and you don't get to play your DS for three days. Now eat your cereal.

Well you would have thought I'd skinned her with a foot-long switch; the tears were flowing like The Nile down into her Cinnamon Toast Crunch. But when girlfriend realized I was unmoved by the drama and unbowed from my punishment pronouncement, she shut up the noise, ate her cereal, accepted her fate, and, as we walked hand-in-hand to the bus stop, she apologized for ganking my stuff.

And just like that, the drama was over. No cowhide needed to be swung. No shoes needed to be flicked. Nobody had to go out and fetch a branch off the tree. I didn't have to mean mug or even raise my voice in anger (my one crutch I'm really trying to work on the yelling, y'all, honest!). She got a simple punishment. And it was over.

If only it could be this easy every time.

We'll see.

In the meantime, I'll be practicing The Look in the bathroom mirror. You know, to break out in case of emergencies.

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  1. Chocolate Covered Daydreams

    I grew up with the old fashioned butt beatings (not real beating but whoopins) too so when it came time to discipline my daughters, there was the choice to discipline the old school way or to use the new techniques, time out and counting from 1 to 3. When I discovered that time out and 1,2,3s did nothing for them, they were spanked. But, you know what? They very rarely got spanked!
    I’m not saying that time outs won’t work for your daughter but I do admit that those old fashioned spankings shed new light on doing the same thing all over again.

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

  2. Tia's Real Talk

    Too funny. Well whoopins dont work. They just take the pain and go back to the same ole mess. Punishments and time outs puts things on their mind. Looks don’t work for me, they will just look at me back. lol Try placing them on the wall with both arms up and one knee bent. Gets em everytime!

  3. OMG Dee….me and my staff were just talking about how our misbehaving childhood ‘shenanagins’ got us in deep water (as my mother used to say). We went around the room and talked about their methods, nodding and reflecting. My maternals used to keep a rice paddle spoon in the purse. They used to just SHOW it if we were out and we instantly behaved like Santa was doing the naughty list.

    GREAT Post! (per usual 🙂

  4. "Playing with my Now & Laters is like playing with my emotions." I'm with you on that one … lol.

    When I think about, punishments are pretty effective. As a kid, I would rather endure a few stiff slaps with the belt than be barred from the television and playing outside with my friends for two weeks! Man, talk about cruel.

    Good luck!

  5. One day at a time, mom. One day at a time.

    (you rocked. )

  6. I truly feel like the old way of child rearing was best. I have mastered “the look” and my kids respond very well. As a matter of fact, they know that I have not truly unleashed my wrath and they don’t want to find out. My kids how their dad and I grew up so they avoid any foolishness. Now hopefully we will make it through the teen years! I remember the teen I was. I am VERY AFRAID!!

  7. Liberal I am. Bona fide I be.

    I am going through the same thing. If I swat (what I call it) my oldest’s bottom, she laughs. IT doesn’t phase her. Time out doesn’t work. I am still trying to figure out this mom thing with a 3 year old and a 9 month old…HELP PLEASE. SEND HELP. SOS.

  8. Thanks Dee for bringing so many memories to my mind. I have three children ranging in ages 5-19 and I have to admit my eldest definitely got more spankings than my 2 younger children. My two younger children will get 3 warnings, the look, and if they still don’t behave then a spanking is in order. My 8 year old daughter only needs to see the belt and she is off and running, my son who is the youngest is tough I have to exert a lot energy to get him to respond.
    I think we all have to do what works best for you and your household. I believe at certain times the talking and time outs are appropriate however, there are other times that a good old-fashion whoopin is necessary.

  9. My mom used “The Look” too. I’m 37 and it still works. Not for me, though.

    But, the power of the DS, Playstation and Wii is mighty! Take those away and you’d think the world was ending.

    It’s a work in progress at my house. Glad to hear that I’m not alone – not that I wish madness on anyone else … but you know…

  10. My son is a challenge to discipline. He’s 2 now, but when he was around 13 months, swatting did absolutely nothing, except to make him start hitting. So we stopped that. Around 18-19 months it started working a little bit when he was out of hand. I try not to do it too much though.

    But I have a feeling that as he gets older, he’s going to get a few whoopins. He’s really stubborn. I think corporal punishment must be combined with talking, time outs and love.

  11. mama's got moxie

    ha!! this is why i LUV you and this blog! this is such a great topic. disciplining my son has been such a learning experience. initially i thought, well, i’ll tell him to do something and me being the mommy figure and all, he’ll quake in his boots and do it! if not, he’ll get the wrath.

    i never expected to be confused over exactly what “the wrath” should be. i initially thought i had a good idea of what my parenting style would be, but then the monkey wrench (you know, the child’s strong-willed personality) got thrown into the mix and it’s a totally different story.

    who knew that i’d have a child who’s stubborn and mouthy at times? who knew that the first few times i popped him he’d respond with, “you need to tell dutch sorry!”? huh???!!! i’ve fussed at him and told him sit down because he was just being off the hook that he’s looked at me and said, “you don’t talk to me like that, mommy! that’s NOT nice!!” what?? this was NOT a part of the plan. he takes MY words and throws them back at me. and he’s three!!! who is this child?? haha…

    i remember sitting back laughing at all the talk of “time outs.” time outs?? yeah right, you better whoop some tail! oh silly naive little me. i’ve popped dutch’s butt (he always reminds me he doesn’t have a “tail”), but it usually only works for like 3.67 minutes and then he’s back to committing the same offense.

    i rely heavily on talks, time outs and taking things away from him that he enjoys (like his favorite dvds) to get him to straighten up because those are the only things that are really effective. not to say that he doesn’t still get popped from time-to-time ’cause oooo…that mouth is something else!

    i’ll admit i was the QUEEN of punishment! trust me, i would’ve much rather had my tail spanked and been sent on my merry way than not be able to go outside with my girls for a week. and my mother was creative. “oh, you want to talk back to me?? i need you to write the definition of respect 100 times.” (she once worked as a sub so i can thank the dc public school system for that one.) we laugh now about the time when i was about 10 or 11 and responded with smart mouthed, “do you want that in print or cursive?” and she said, “BOTH!!” she also made me do book reports as punishment. (i can’t wait until dutch can write!! haha…)

    i think you have to do what works for you and your family. spankings don’t work for every child. time outs don’t work for every child. and i must say that i envy those whose children crumble under “the look.”

  12. Those little ones can be very smart and they figure out just how far you will go, real quick. I think variation is a good strategy. A little of this and a little of that for the degree of the offense, lol.

    When Miss J gets in trouble she will tell me, “I just don’t have control over my mind”. Meaning she didn’t know why she did what she did. Providing etiologies already.

    I am sure you will find a happy medium that works well for you.

  13. Oh good lawd. Im so glad that you wrote this post.

    As a mom-to-be I know that this whole discipline thing is something that we will have to sort out. While both of us come from good ol beat-fearing households this will be tough one. For me “The Look” was all I needed to stay on the straight and narrow. I feared the beat so much that for the most part I was pretty good. “The Look” was important, because you knew what would happen if you didnt behave. Does that still work your “Look” is threatening some quiet alone time??

  14. the prisoner's wife

    yeah, i don't have much of "the look" either. i practice hard though, especially because it seems to work in my classroom. i practice timeouts & slight spankings. my son is a toughie though & at 3 my mother is big on spare the rod and getting him trained before he's 5. i guess i'm new-fangled because, my reply is always he's 3! and she looks at me like i'm crazy and talks about him acting a fool at 13. i figure somewhere between now and then he will have developed a rational side, in which talks will actually mean something. he hates time out though, and i can usually get him in line with the threat of a time out. so we'll see..

  15. I grew up in a loving family, but my parents also spanked…way too much. I know that it is one thing they look back on and regret very much. While I loved my father very much when I was a child, I also had a great fear of him as well.

    When I look at my husband, I respect him more because while he can really “lay down the law”, I know that I’ve never seen fear in my children’s eyes when they look at him.

    Now with me, I’ve tried everything and usually time-outs are more effective than any other punishment I’ve tried. They truly hate to be separated from the family and it doesn’t take too long before they are ready to apologize and be reconciled again. Most of all, I’ve learned that every one of my children are different and unique and not every discipline will work the same with each of them. As a parent, I guess we never stop learning!

  16. Yay! This was lovely to read. I stopped hitting my kids in 2000 and haven’t looked back since. When I knew better, I did better. I’m so happy for you and your kids.

  17. What a great topic to post on because I have been dealing with the same issues now raising my 3 year old and 21 mo old.

    As a child I always got a “whoopin'” and always with belt–I really feel that it didn’t help me in any way and I am dealing with things now as an adult that I could’ve learned when I was a child. I grew to be sneaky and never learned my lesson. Now in defense of my Mom–she learned from me that whoopins weren’t the way and she has never given my younger brother a whoopin. (Go Mom!) 🙂

    Now with my daughters I battle that because that is the only discipline I have known, but I would never hit my girls with that look or even that feeling in my heart. I don’t want my girls to fear, hate and love me all at the same time.
    I have swatted my oldest daughter before–just when I was at my wits end and didn’t know what to do. I really regreted it even though she basically laughed in my face. After I talked with her and told her that mommy made a mistake and that I would never give her a smack on the butt anymore. Since then we use time outs and just plain reasoning and common sense. I am raising a curious child and nothing she ever does is done purposefully. She is still learning her way in the world and I want to be able to guide her and teach her right from wrong without using physical discipline.

    It is time that we break that cycle…I know that “whoopins” are the way of my mom and my Grandma (and way back to slave days), but that doesn’t mean that it has to be the way now. We have to model the way we want our children to carry on our legacy. Keeping our families together and starting new and positive parenting techniques.

  18. Jewelry Rockstar

    I use a mixture of everything. I take away privileges, yell (which is the one I hate the most), spank, talk to, reason with, encourage, praise, reward, everything. I think the best discipline is consistency. Honestly, I haven’t mastered that. I am working toward it. If I can be consistent then I probably wouldn’t have to yell or spank. I am consistent in who I am as a person, and what I believe in. I am hoping that at the end of the day, my children will learn what they need to from my example.

  19. I struggle with discipline. I love creative consequences and they work for us a lot, but I’ve swatted butt before too.

    With you on the yelling, I’d love to cut it completely, for that’s when I’ve lost my cool (and control of the situation), not when I give a quick tap on the rear.

  20. I was smiling and nodding through this whole post. Why is it “the look” worked so good for our parents? Funny how my dad only had to whollup me one time and I never stepped out of line again! With my own kids…each would respond to a different kind of punishment. With me son…all I had to do was say “I’m disappointed with your behavior” and you’d have thought I skinned him alive. He would cry and promise to straighten up..and danged if he didn’t. My youngest…one small whap on the behind and she was back in line. My middle child….a threat of sending her to her room and closing her door would make her beg for mercy. You just never know what button needs pushing…but when you discover that magic button. Boy oh boy does it make the job of parenting easier! As usual I love your post. I love your blog!

  21. Renée aka Mekhismom

    We talked about the look the other day. I am working on mine but my son is still young so discipline is a challenge. I like the way you addressed Mari perhaps that will work with Mekhi in the future. Until then, a mix of time outs, the look and I have to admit a bit of yelling, will have to do.

  22. Discipline has been a real challenge in this house lately. I have raised my voice and spanked a butt a few time here lately to no avail. Time for me to find something new or they will be the ones giving me the eye.

  23. No–not the Now and Laters!!

    I must say that I have “The Look” down to a science. When they see it–they know I mean business!

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