Emily Parnell — Making a punishment fit — and restore — the crime

05/22/2014 11:16 AM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

Running the in-home justice system is no easy task.

Being the policewoman, detective, prosecutor, defense attorney, juror and judge for both sides of each and every crime can be downright exhausting.

Usually, the perpetrators are caught red-handed. I find an electronic device on when it’s supposed to be off, a fight in-progress, a cookie stolen or a shady explanation for a situation that doesn’t seem quite right. I whisk it through trial, gathering evidence, hearing both sides, interviewing key witnesses. The juror decides who is (most) guilty, and the judge, ahhh, the judge. That’s where I always break down.

The judge’s job is to come up with the appropriate consequence. The one that will bring justice, right the wrong, teach the lesson.

I have a list of sentences I can issue. Probation with loss of electronic privileges is usually my first choice, followed by chain gang activities such as raking or toilet scrubbing, on to bedroom incarceration, at which point, I often draw a blank.

Most frustrating of all judiciary situations is when punishing a child’s wrongdoing throws an enormous monkey wrench into the family plans, as was the case last weekend.

It was a case of sibling squabbling, and nobody was entirely in the right. My son, however, pushed to anger, did something mean to his sister. He put a plastic helmet on her and knocked on it.

A number of consequences immediately popped into my mind. None of which I wanted to see through. We had fun plans lined up through the following day, but canceling them for him meant messing up not just our family plans, but the friends who were also involved.

Finally, I looked to my daughter’s 8-year-old wisdom. I told her a definition of justice I’d once heard, that justice is restoring the imbalance to neutral, erasing the crime, making whatever was wrong right again.

“Figure out what you need your brother to do to make this right,” I told her. She looked at me, baffled. “Make him a list of things you need him to do for you – maybe he can help you clean your room. When you’re satisfied, I’ll be satisfied, and we can go on with plans. Otherwise, he can’t go to the party or bring his friend home.”

She ran off with a piece of paper and set about writing the list, then gave it to him. I observed as he worked on it.

Clean my room. (Much squawking followed, and he angrily stomped in to start — then complete — the task.)

Be nice to me forever and ever. (He moaned, but said he’d try.)

Draw me a picture. (The dynamics between them began to change as he drew her a puppy.)

Walk the dogs with me. (Off they went, leashes in hand, down the street and back.)

Play with me. (They ran off together, laughing.)

Ask mom if you can still go to your party and have your friend over. (I said yes.)

By the end of the afternoon, justice had been served. The imbalance in their friendship had been restored, their moods rehabilitated and the scales tipped from anger to friendship. It was a list I would never have thought to write. But I’m intrigued by the strategy: Justice — a restoration of the good.

Overland Park mom and 913 freelancer Emily Parnell writes for Diversions each week.

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