3+ME: Say what you mean. Mean what you say.

The kids are grounded.

We’ve never actually done that before, and I’m still not sure we’re doing it right.

Because in my mind, “grounding” means you’re stuck in the house except for school, and generally isolated from anything fun. It means frowns and awkward silence, and everybody keeping to themselves.

That isn’t what we’re doing.

Our method of grounding means zero screen time, extra academic time, and the removal of some toys.

We’re hitting pause on electronics for a while, spending more time on books and family stuff, while the kiddos are grounded.

We still hang out with the kids. We still play with the kids. We still have outright fun with the kids.

We just won’t use screens and certain toys, we told them — “for the next two weekends you’re at our house.”

And that’s part of the trickiness of grounding: They aren’t at our house all the time.

There are two different homes involved, and two different sets of rules.

We and the kids’ mom may have different interpretations of consequences, and honestly? That’s fine. What’s more important, I think, is that each household is consistent within itself.

If we say no screens in our house, we need to enforce that. If we say we’re going to spend more time practicing reading and writing, we need to follow through.

As my father-in-law used to say, the kids need to know that “we say what we mean, and mean what we say.”

And we almost screwed it up.

Barely a few days into our declaration of grounding, my husband’s phone rang. It was my stepson, at his mom’s house, asking for a favor:

“Hey Dad, can you drop off my laptop at Mom’s?”

The laptop is an old hand-me-down that my stepson never uses. But on this day, he was asking for it because it was his birthday. (Yep, his birthday rolled around right after we’d declared grounding. Ah, timing.)

He needed it, he said, to operate the present we’d given him earlier in the day — some VR something or another that involves a screen. (Yep, we’d still given it to him, with the intention that, even though he now possessed it, he shouldn’t be able to use it for the next few weeks, when with us.)

But now, he was at his mom’s, and told us the gift needed a laptop to function.

A laptop that currently resided in our basement.

“We gave him the present,” we reasoned. “And that laptop is technically ‘his,’ so he should be able to take it where he wants?”

But no, we realized. That wasn’t the right approach.

We had said no screens in our house. And that included, screens originating in our house.

While normally the kids are free to take their possessions between homes, this was different.

If they’re not allowed to use screens in our house, they shouldn’t be allowed to skirt that rule just by moving those same screens to a different location.

“Say what you mean, and mean what you say.”

My husband called his son back and explained it to him — that no, the laptop would remain at our house. If that meant he couldn’t use his birthday present until the grounding was over, so be it.

And as far as we are aware, my stepson took the news pretty well. When we saw him in person again a few days later, he was his usual happy self. No mention of the laptop. He did mention an Xbox gift card his grandmother had given him, asking why he couldn’t bring that to his mom’s. But when we explained it counted as screen-related technology, he accepted the answer.

“Kids will push to see where your boundaries are,” my mom told me later, “but really, they want you to hold your ground. And they’ll respect you when you do.”

The same proved true with my stepdaughter a few days later.

“We’re going to practice your spelling words from last week,” I told her.

“But I already took my test on those!” she said.

“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “We said we’d practice your schoolwork with you, and that’s what we’re gonna do.”

And we did.

And ya know what? She was fine.

Over the course of the next few days, we practiced writing, reading or math at some point each day. And every time, even when she got frustrated, she pulled herself through it. My husband and I were impressed at her positive attitude through it all, including a fairly time-consuming homework assignment.

I remembered what my mom had said. “They want you to hold your ground.”

And what my husband’s dad had said. “Mean what you say.”

The kids will be just fine.

Originally published in The Herald News on Marc 3, 2019.

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