Tough Love

So Friday we brought the hammer down on Harrison. He’s ten and fifth grade has been academically wonderful this year. He’s been responsible and made the honor roll (a first) and we really love this kid. There is laughter every single day with him around and I thoroughly enjoy being his mom.

Until this month. For some reason he’s been handing us an assortment of really stupid lies. It’s starting to be a habit and I’m worried about it.

I went in with him last Monday to get something from the classroom and had a little chat with his teacher. Apparently he didn’t just drop the ball on his big term pioneer report due at the end of the quarter, he didn’t even show up for the game. He got a big fat zero and took his social studies grade from an A to a C as fast as you can say Lewis and Clark.

We had a very pointed discussion with his teacher and he hemmed and hawed and tried to be a victim until I pinned him down and made him apologize for his overall lack of responsibility. It was hard, he didn’t want to say it. He committed himself to a new leaf and we moved on.

Thursday morning I went through his backpack and found two unfinished worksheets.

“What are these?” I asked.

“Oh…uh…those are from last quarter, they don’t count.” I watched his nose grow 14 inches and tried again.

“Okay, I’ll just email your teacher and clarify that math 5.5 and 5.6 are no longer due.”

“Oh, wait, let me look at those again.” Seriously. “Wait, I think we did 5.7 yesterday so those are probably still due.”

I did not explode. I did not rip his ear off. I did not huff, puff or kick his butt to the bus stop. Why? Because his sweet father intervened.

“Okay,” Jason said placing a firm hand on my shoulder, “Thank you for telling us the truth, son.” Forced truth. “Today after school at the library while you wait for me, you will have just over an hour to finish both those worksheets. That’s plenty of time, right?”


“Good,” Jason said. “I will check them as soon as I pick you up.”

At 6:00 I picked Harrison up from basketball practice. “So,” I said, “Let me see those worksheets.”

“Oh…um…I didn’t have time–” you know the rest of this. But did I yell? No. Did I maim? No. Did I take away his birthday or his dog or his bed? No.

“Look,” I said, “We have scouts so you will have to get up early and do those in the morning.”

“No problem, Mom. I’ll do them.”

The next morning he did not finish the worksheets in time for the 7:15 bus ride so Jason offered to take him in an hour late.

And Harrison? He closed himself in his room and I caught him using a calculator. My patience was about tissue thin at that point so I  demanded he sit in the middle of the family room and work on his homework  where I could see him.

And what do you think he did? He sat there and pouted and cried and accused us of overall child abuse and lamented his horrible life. When the hour was done I went over to check his work. “Where’s the other sheet?” I asked.

“What sheet?” he said.

“5.6? The OTHER SHEET?!”

“There was no other sheet.”

And that’s when my son officially played his last card. If you have kids who have lied to you–repeatedly about the same stupid thing–you know that there comes a point in every situation when their right to breath comes into question. Unfortunately for Harrison he had the nerve to yell back at me. He apparently forgot that his father was home and that we own the air he breathes.

By the time Jason was finished with the you-wouldn’t-exist-if-it-wasn’t-for-your-mother-and-me lecture Harrison was a quivering mass of fifth grade humility. He came downstairs all puffy eyes and gave me a very penitent appology.

And that’s when Dad sold the farm and solidified our position of authority in his little life. “You,” he said to Harrison pointing a finger at him, “Will not be going to school today. You will stay here and work. You will work all day and earn your place in this family. You will do every single thing your mother asks and you will say ‘yes Mom’ and respect her. Is that understood?”

He responded with some unintelligible groveling and I added to his pile. “The only things you will say to me today are ‘Yes Mom’ and ‘please come check this’. Got it?”

Grovel grovel grovel “Yes Mom.”

Harrison worked from 8:00 to 3:00 with two ten minute breaks and a short lunch break. He deep cleaned both my fridges, swept our front entry steps, cleaned the garage, washed all my windows…you get the picture. I made him listen to my old Bounce Back tape from the 80’s–a corny motivational ten step tape to help people feel better–the entire time he cleaned the fridges. I put it on four times in a row, he started it by himself the fifth time.

At one point he brought me a note asking if he could please talk out loud for a moment (for the record, it wasn’t easy being firm all day when he had such a good attitude but it was imperative that I follow through). I granted his request and he burst into tears and told me all about school and how he’s having trouble with friends, then asked, “Can I have a hug?” Seriously, I love this kid.

At the end of the day he was whistling and smiling and just before we got the little kids from the bus he said, “You know Mom, that felt really good today. I got a lot done and I feel so much better.  And that tape really helped.” Then he sat down and did BOTH his worksheets with no arguments.

It was tough love and it was so worth it.


  1. Laughing outloud. “Did I take away his birthday, his dog or his bed?” Lol. I’ve got a kid pulling the same stunts over here. I might have to implement your program.

  2. I’ve always wanted to do that, but then I’m afraid they would want to stay home from school like that every day.
    Was to stick to your guns, Annie. And good job being on the same team, Jason. Muy importante.

  3. Awesome.

  4. I love it! That was about the age when my own son was mouthing off, so he “left” our house and I “rented” out his room to a guest. He thought it was so great on day 1 that he didn’t have a bedtime or come in for dinner with the family, but by the 3rd day of not having any of the family rules or privileges (eating with us, getting hugs good night, family prayer and scriptures, etc.) my husband took up our house phone and said he had a call. He held up his own cell phone to his ear and and some said he wanted to come home. My husband then kindly told him the what for and the next morning after settling his bill ($1.50 a day for room and board), he was able to come home. That was 4 years ago and he is still doing well in remember that lesson.

  5. If you could see me, you’d find me doing a standing ovation. Well done, Mom. I think dishonesty is one of the hardest things for me to deal with but I love how you handled it. Well done.

  6. I love your posts! 🙂 We had a similar problem when Scottie was a little fellow. We finally nipped the lying by telling him that the next time he lied to us, we’d lie to him. A few days later he tells us a lie. Later that day, he and I were in the BX. Scottie sees a Spiderman action figure and asks for it. I tell him, “If you’re a good boy all through the store, you can have it.” He carried that box all through the store and was the poster child of “good boy”. When he put the box up on the counter to be purchased, I told the cashier we wouldn’t be buying it. Scottie reminded me of my promise and I simply replied with, “I lied.” It just about killed me to do that to him, but he finally understood what we meant when we said that it hurt us when he lied. I’m not saying the next fifteen years were lie-free, but that obvious just-for-the-sake-of-lying phase he went through ended real quick. Wish I’d thought of your idea. Slave labor would have been a welcome break. 🙂

  7. Laughing too much over “we own the air you breathe” and force feeding him the Bounce Back tape. Hey, that thing is addicting, not to mention that it has the single best song on the planet around #4 “Love Yourself!” Boy I wish I still had a copy.

    Great job on giving him the ol’ what-for. He knows it’s coming down on him by both his mom and dad. Tell Jason….A+ parenting. Love you all!