Doghouses are very uncomfortable.

When you're in Orlando for a week, you get to witness a lot of poor parenting in action. Children doing whatever the fuck they want, while the parents are oblivious, or worse, they just don't care. This got me thinking about what my parents did to us to make us behave when we were small. It was a different time, but I think we need to go back to it.

When I was 9, and my brothers The Snitch and Houdini were 7 and 5, respectively, we spent a lot of time in the dog house. Don't misunderstand. This was not by choice.

Whenever we misbehaved, that's what my mother would do to us. She would give us one or two chances, and if we didn't behave, that would be it. In the doghouse we would go. Sometimes, it was just one of us, but most of the time it was at least two, because just as it takes two to tango, it also takes two to gang up on Houdini and tickle him until he pees on the living room carpet.

This was considered the worst punishment my mother could dish out. First came the standing in the corner. If that didn't work, she'd send us to her room (because our rooms were much too fun for the punishment to be effective) where we'd sit by the door dying of boredom and yelling "Can I come out yet? Can I? Can I come out yet? I'll be good, I promise..." until she threatened to spank us if we didn't shut up. If she let us out and we got into trouble again, it was the doghouse for sure. This was the straw after the last straw. Yes, I know that doesn't make sense, but work with me here. Basically, this was the moment when she handed off our punishment to my father, and washed her hands of us. She would scream, "OK, That's it! I'm putting you in the doghouse!" and we instantly became the best children on the face of the planet. But by then it was too late. We had received our warnings. We had squandered our chance to avoid our fate.

When that happened, there was only one thing to do: Beg. Beg as if your life depended on it, because you thought it just might. Beg because our father would be home at 6 pm, and if we were still in the doghouse when he came in the door, there would be hell to pay. At least that's what we believed.

Now, before you go thinking that my mother was the most heartless person in the world for stuffing her children into the doghouse, let me show you a picture of our doghouse:

It hung on the kitchen wall next to the phone. The hook inside the doorway of the doghouse was eventually replaced with a two-inch-long finishing nail, because the stock hook couldn’t easily handle all three dogs, which it was frequently called upon to do.

Most of the time, unless my mother was really pissed, we could convince her to let us out of the doghouse a few minutes before my father walked in the door. He’d normally call before he left work, and we knew that we had about 15 minutes to work on her. It was like being on death row and waiting for a pardon from the Governor. There was an almost palpable sense of freedom when it happened, and we were on our best behavior for the rest of the night, which was probably her plan from the beginning.

If you were in the doghouse and didn’t make it out before he came home, most of the time you would end up in tears, but not because of anything physical. My father was a master of psychological punishment. He was scary in a serious, stern sort of way, and he certainly wasn’t averse to a ritual spanking now and again, but he never really hurt anything but our pride. I can think of only once when he lost his temper and hit me upside the head, catching me a good one with his wedding ring by mistake. I can’t remember what I had done to deserve that, but I’m sure it had to have been spectacular. He apologized to me afterward, told me it would never happen again, and it never did.

Normally, our punishment was of the non-physical type. His usual way of dealing with our transgressions was to use logic, something with which we were mostly unfamiliar. There would be a conversation like this:

“Your mother said you were bad today. What did you do?”
“I got Houdini’s hair caught in the wheels of my race car.”
“So that’s why you’re in the doghouse?”
“No? Why are you in the doghouse then?”
“Because I did it two more times after she told me to stop.”
“Is that it?”
“No. He threw my car down the stairs.”
“So what did you do then?”
“I punched him pretty hard. In the butt.”

This line of questioning would continue for a while, but eventually we’d work our way down to the speech, which always centered on a common theme:

“Do you know how much your mother does for you and your brothers every day?”
“What does she do?”
“She cooks dinner and does our laundry and cleans the house and takes us places.”
“You made her cry today, did you know that?”
“Do you think that’s fair? That she does all that for you, and you make her cry?”
“I think you owe her an apology, don’t you?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t tell me, tell her. Come with me. You’re going to apologize right now, and then your mother and I will decide what your punishment is going to be.”

At that point I would usually start crying, and again tell him how sorry I was. After the apology, (and that was rough, let me tell you) he’d send me back to my room. A few minutes later, he’d appear at my bedroom door and just stand there, like a judge preparing to hand down a sentence. By that time, I was resigned to my fate, because (1) I knew the hardest part was over, and (2) I knew I totally deserved whatever it was.

So that’s the story of the parental discipline in our house growing up. I’ve never been arrested or in rehab, so I guess it worked. There’s still time, I guess. I can only imagine how much they laughed about it after we were asleep.

I can remember being in a crowded grocery store with my mother when she got pissed at Houdini and yelled, “If you don’t start behaving right this instant, you’re going straight into the doghouse when we get home!”

Today, screaming that sentence in public would definitely get you a stern talking to – most likely by social services.


  1. Anonymous10:12 PM

    We do something similar with our kids. When they act up in the car, we tell them if they don't calm down we'll put them in the trunk (or the roof depending on which vehicle we're in). We've never actually done it but it gets their attention every time.

    I just think many parents today are lazy. It's exhausting trying to stay on top of your kid's behavior but worth the effort.

    BTW, I'm another one of those Penney's converts who has been lurking for months. This is the only blog I read and it is consistently hilarious. I swear you could have been my neighbor and you think like I do (except for the piss-o-phobia, which isn't an issue for me).

  2. I LOVE IT! Where do you find those?!

  3. I was just discussing parenting/punishments recently. It is more difficult these days, and a lot of parents use that as an excuse not to do it. It's frightening! I love the doghouse!

  4. Anonymous11:00 PM

    I think you are right. Parents just don't pay attention to their kid's needs these days. Which is why we have toddlers out running loose long after what would have been my bedtime back in those days. Of course, I think my mother put us to bed early because there were so many of us (7 at the end) that she was just tired of us. And unfortunately, she was also fast with the physical punishment. Dad was the one we could manipulate, that is if he was home from one of his two jobs to support us.
    The one thing I hated was when my mother would accuse us of staying up nights thinking of things to do to embarrass her. We were just being kids. Of course, I shouldn't talk, I often think my service dog does the same thing, like not following a command when everybody is looking at me.

  5. Anonymous11:18 PM

    I recently made the terrible mistake of going into a Walmart. Everywhere I turned people were beating their kids or threatening to beat their kids or threatening to have their "baby daddy" beat their kids when he got home from the bar. It was very traumatic. So traumatic, in fact, I had to abandon my cart and leave the store. Just like that. Gone.

    Your doghouse seems mild after that experience. Or maybe it was the fact that in the parking lot, whilst leaving, I saw a man in a trench coat with his penis hanging out the front peeing as he walked through the lot. Without a car in the world. I'm sure I still have PTSD.

    On a side note, meatballs are the devil and deserve to be thrown. Whoever thought of mashing up crappy bread and crappy spices in rolled up meat was a sick person.

    Down with meatballs.

  6. Such a great story, as always. My mom always threatened with the wooden spoon, but only followed through once that I can remember. By then I had to have been twelve so it didn't really hurt. Why are parents such idiots these days? Even my sister spoils her kids something fierce. My mom would kick her ass if she were around to see that.

  7. My mom didn't fuck around at all. My brothers got the belt. They deserved it cuz they were always doing stuff like setting the coffee table on fire. None of them has ever been arrested (as far as I know). I love your childhood stories btw, they're so funny.

  8. great post. a really effective solution without beating the crap out of the little buggers OR letting them run wild. i call that common sense. i also call that understanding that your job as a parent is to avoid making obnoxious little pariahs out of your children.

  9. Cara - My mum threatened the wooden spoon too. And followed through on many occasions. My dad once hit me with a wooden clothes brush hard enough to break the handle off it. I've no memory of what caused this outburst except that we'd been out somewhere and the clothes brush was the first implement on hand when we got in. I do also remember the feeling of quiet satisfaction that I'd broken the brush though.
    For the most part discipline was my mums realm, as she was home and Dad wasn't. She never threatened us with Dad though, I think she felt that this would undermine her own authority.
    I like the dog house idea though. I just found out a couple of weeks ago that I'm going to become a dad, so perhaps this may join our repertoire of parenting tricks. :)

  10. I came from a family of spankers. If we didn't get home by dark or if we didn't sweep the floor, we got spanked. I mean bare butts with a belt. This only happened a handful of times in my childhood, but I knew never to misbehave because of the consequences. Kids these days have no concern for consequences. I think we need to spank the parents.

  11. "The hook in the doghouse was eventually replaced with an inch-long finishing nail, because the stock hook couldn't easily handle all three dogs, which it was frequently called upon to do."

    Classic. Picturing a very lopsided doghouse wall chart.

  12. Love your childhood stories, JV!!!
    My parents were divorced. Although my dad was involved and I saw him on the standard every other weekend schedule, most discipline was left to my mom. Since she was really busy, she didn't fool around. Her weapon of choice was either a fly swater or a wooden spoon. And she would not just get your once, she would literally beat my ass all the way to my room. I was a pretty good kid though, I don't remember that happening a lot.
    Now my kids really don't listen to me very well. But they listen to my husband. Lucky for me, he works from home and can help me with that part. We just have those roles, he is the enforcer and I am the nurturer.

  13. My sister and I used to bicker in the car all the time. My mom would always threaten to make one of us get out. We never believed her, until one day she did. Man, I still have the image of her in my head, furiously wrenching the car door open (imagine Annie Lennox with her finger stuck in an electrical socket), dragging my sister out by the arm, getting back in, closing the door, starting the motor, driving around 10 meters.... and then wordlessly leaning over to open the back door again. It scared the hell out of both of us, and was a pretty effective lesson.... for a while.

    My parents only very rarely got physical. When I was little, that was when I knew I had definitely crossed a line, and because it only happened around once or twice a year the gravity of it always remained impressed in my mind. But then I grew older and started realizing that they only lashed out physically when they were desperate and at their wits' end. That was when I started greeting a slap with a triumphant laugh rather than demurely backing down. I was an obnoxious child for a period...

  14. I had another thought on this.
    My husbands father died when he was really young, so he was raised by a single mother too. His mom is certifiable insane and I am not kidding even a little bit about that.
    Well, they had a deck off of the 2nd story of their house and from this deck she could reach a tree to grab a switch to beat my husband and his siblings. My husband told me that when he was about 10, when his mom was at work one day, he cut the tree down.

  15. Being a teacher's kid made it IMPOSSIBLE to get away with stuff 'cause my dad was used to thwarting his middle school students antics. My parents used smacking when needed, but not often. When I was little (like 5), I had the nasty habit of throwing a temper tantrum when I was told it was time to leave a party. Screaming, crying, the whole nine yards. After several tries at various punishments I was told that if I did it again, I was banned from the next party. Well, I didn't believe them, pitched a fit, and got left home from a cousin's christening. I never threw a tantrum again!

    When my brothers and I got a bit older, we used to get Squat Patrol. This involved no TV, no dessert, no computer etc. The time served was often (in our minds) disproportionate to the crime, but it usually worked.

    And having a parent tell you they are disappointed in you is the worst feeling in the world!

    Great stuff, JV! If you've never heard it, you should listen to Bill Engval's thoughts on parenting. (It's on YouTube.) Hysterical!

  16. Here's the link for Bill Engvall on parenting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKrNDzzyRQk&feature=related


  17. ahh the stern talkings to.. I remember as a kid.. my brother, sister and I weren't the worst kids but.. ok my brother & sister were awful but as the oldest it was apparently my responsibilty to keep them in line.. "Why did you LET them do that?!". Mom was the spanker.. & when that didn't work we'd get the wait until you dad gets home. My dad was the KING of lectures.. it got to the point where we'd just beg to be spanked so we wouldn't have to hear how horrible we were lol.. We KNOW daddy.. we're awful ungreatful wretches.. just spank us PLEASEEE

  18. My dad's most devastating punishment was, 'I'm very disappointed in you'. I would move heaven and earth not to hear him say that.

  19. Oh, the good old days of punishment circa 1978. My brother and I learned the first time we were "told", and that was that, none of this whining and tantrum-throwing you see nowadays! Getting told usually meant being held tightly by the wrist and having the back of your hand slapped. No belting (like the kids a few doors down), no grounding (like my best friend next door), and no "If you don't stop that right away, I am going to, uh, tell you to stop it again...and again...and..." (like the kids of today). Family road trips included a variation on the wrist-slap, namely my dad reaching over the front seat while still driving and aiming for whatever part of us he could clip with his driving gloves. We rued the day we got clever and pulled pillows over our heads before getting into a backseat fight. There is *nothing* clever about chuckling at your angry father and taunting "You can hit me but it's not going to hurt!"

    You are so right--olden days punishment hurt only our pride, which was enough of a lesson to make it sink in, "doing X, y or z is just not on."

  20. I could only push my mother so far and she would be pumped to swat the $%#@ out of me. I'd try to run away with her chasing me around the house trying to grab my ponytail. The once time she actually got hold of my poneytail she pulled on it so hard I came to a complete stop. It felt like the back of my head came off. When I came home from school the next day I immediately grabbed a pair of scissors and cut off my poneytail. My hair looked like crap after that but I felt like I won that round.

  21. Last resorts, in order:

    -Threaten the Wooden Spoon.
    -Actually use the Wooden Spoon. (Mom laid a piece of leather over your butt, so even though there was no pain, it SOUNDED really, really loud,)

    -Last resort (threatened but never carried out): Send us down the street to live with Mr. X. (Every kid in the neighborhood was scared shitlesss of Mr. X.)

  22. Besides being yanked up by one arm and "popped" on the butt in mid-walk, my dad only spanked me once. That's all that was needed. Not because it hurt, but because it hurt him so much to do it that he got teary-eyed. Even as a little kid the fact that I made my dad cry ate away at me ... and was an extremely effective deterent. Of course that all changed when I hit puberty and hated my parents, but it got them through the elementary years, at least.

  23. Dear Disciplinarian,

    As a child, I was beaten with a fish and then made to eat it. I believe this taught me both the pain and rewards of a good punishment. It is why I enjoy fetish bondage to this very day.

    Prof Scrub

  24. Oh, Nai-Nai! I too had my ponytail used as a "get over here now!" handle...

  25. My mom loved wooden spoons - until my brothers were old enough to play with Hot Wheels....then she switched to the orange plastic track....WOW!!

    In my mind's eye I can still see the welts they would leave.


  26. We too had the doghouse (same concept, different design) and my Mom has now replaced the names on the dogs with those of her grandchildren, but they NEVER get in the doghouse. My mother's way of warning us in public in order to avoid yelling was to snap her fingers. Whenever I hear snapping it makes me feel ashamed, guilty and foolish all at the same time. And guess what...I snap my fingers at my children too.

  27. Damn, hot wheel track? Why not just use a car antenna?

  28. Anonymous9:23 PM

    My wife's mom used the wooden spoon (broke one across her butt), hot wheel tracks and a hairbrush on her. I got it with the belt a couple times--that's all it took to scare me straight. We both swore we would NEVER hit our kids and we never have, except maybe a love tap on their (clothed) butt.

  29. I'm old enough that they still were able to spank in schools. Thankfully, I was never bad enough in school to get that treatment.

    Mom gave us a couple of chances to behave. The third time she would send us to get the wooden spoon or the leather strap. Usually that was sufficient, having to go get your own discipline device, would have up bring it back as slowly as possible and usually with tears flowing down our faces.

    She rarely ever actually used the devices, but would also use the "wait until your father gets home" on us. The last thing we wanted was to have dad disappointed in us!

  30. My parents didn't believe in grounding or spanking
    which may be why I was crazy in highschool....

    but I used to throw a fit every sunday at church, my mom finally got so sick of it she told me Jesus was disappointed and took me in a bathroom stall and spanked me..

    I'll tell you what, I never so much as whined in church again...

  31. Anonymous8:45 AM

    Jesus was disappointed...that is hilarious! My mother tried grounding us, and once I remember getting the "newspaper" the butt. My mom did the "I'll make you get out of the car" to my brother once on the way to Michigan, but he as such a little ass, he refused to get back in, and of course this was on a highway, somewhere in MI or NY. He started walking...I voted to leave him behind.

    JV, just to let you know...I started at JC Penny, but because of you...I sat on one of those pony ass exercisers in the airport the other day, and laughed my ass off as people watched. Didn't lose much butt, but couldn't not try it after your blog!

  32. We had "The Stick" growing up. It was kept in a cupboard and my mom would threaten to "Get the stick!" if we were misbehaving. There were 5 of us and when one got a spanking, we all got them. I don't know how my mother kept from going insane with 5 kids. I only have one and sometimes I want to set my own head on fire. "Wait until you father gets home!" was another doozy. My poor dad would come home, beat from working all day and my mom would be screaming, "wait until I tell you what these kids have been doing!"

  33. LOL. My dad had that dog house plaque in his shop. I'd forgotten all about it. Thanks for the memory.

    PS - I lived in Florida for ten years and can tell you that large groups of adults on vacation - basically all over the damn state - with children are a glimpse into the future and at the end of ciilization.

  34. The Stick {tm} -- I like that one. In grade school, we had the paddle. The one with the holes drilled in it to cut down on wind resistance. I got that thing once -- and that was enough.

  35. Anonymous6:38 PM

    Remember the wooden paddles with rubber balls connected to them by strings - the kind you got at birthday parties? My mom would immediately cut the ball off the paddle whenever we brought one of these toys home, and then store it in a drawer for our spanking.

    I have a vague recollection of my dad (mom and dad were divorced) keeping a thick, shellacked paddle in his basement where he would spank us. And, I swear to God he used to nick that thing every time one of the four of my siblings or I got it - like notching a belt.

    I've chosen not to have children. Maybe this is why?

  36. Anonymous8:30 PM

    i was a good kid, never spanked or punished. if anything, then some disappointed look from my mother and that was enough.

  37. My brother wasn't born until I was 10, so we didn't squabble. I terrorized him, the poor kid. I was the complete dictator of him. Yet he loved me and still does.

    My parents got by on threats. I guess I was a little wuss, cause they always worked.

  38. Most excellent post. I like the doghouse idea. It gave you time to ponder your fate. It gave you fair warning that there would be consequences to your actions
    (which is usually where I find most parents today miss the boat.)I like the stern talking to- even better on your parent's part- I think parents today have attention deficits of their own.

  39. Anonymous11:13 AM

    I have a former friend who has a bad habit of looking for another kid/person to blame for her kids shitty behaviour. Her reasoning is that it wasn't HIS fault he acted up, it was because he was reacting to so-and-so and he doesn't like what so-and-so was doing. The last time something happened she blamed it on my husband. Instant end of friendship right there.

    The schools do something similar, they have frogs or stars or sticks that are moved from green, to yellow and if you really mess up, to RED. That's a fate worse than death if either of my kids come home and their frog/stick has moved to red. If I want to get my kids attention I produce a wooden spoon and ask who wants to get beaten first.

  40. Anonymous6:17 PM

    I must be sick cause i'm sitting here reading and thinking the dog house thing was litteral and hey that's not so bad.
    What's the worst that can happen? Little hair on your clothes and some humiliation. I guess I should never be a mom.
    It's interesting how large the wooden spoon beating group is. Add one more!
    Great post.

  41. Your mother was a smart woman! ;) What a great tool to use and very effective!

  42. My girlfriend called my one to day to ask if it was a bad idea to put an offending child into the dog's crate. The crate was in the kitchen area where the child could be seen and it was quite large. I thought it depended on what the child had done and when she told me I thought perhaps sometimes it was best to put the child away for her own safety.

    She didn't really put the child away but we got a good laugh out of it.

  43. My dad had a belt with a big "Jesus" belt buckle. For years I thought the people at church were crazy for saying they can't wait for his return. I was constantly trying to stay away from him!

  44. I got the strap once... and I never disprespected my parents 'majorly' again. I was 6 and decided one day to take off and visit a friend across town. My parents must have been frantic and losing their minds. I never felt the need to write a book.
    I've never hit my child but I was always very strict and firm and now at 12 I have a very responsible girl with the occasional eye roll because I'm delusional about cool stuff :)
    On the other hand I have a friend that believes her child should fully explore his boundaries by touching everything. He is a sweet funny boy but has turned into a bit of a 'brat'. He has broken her laptop, 2 cellphones, a dvd player, bolts when out in public... etc. He screams if he doesn't get what he wants now. She came by at Easter and he screamed when I put my cellphone up out of his reach. She said can't you just let him have it until he forgets about it - NO fkng way! I'm sorry she's a good friend but she's a lazy parent. The walmart experience (LOL at the peeing man sorry that is too funny) is the other extreme and I tend to avoid that place for that reason too.
    Cheers to 'good' parents who put their kids in dog houses when its needed the most.

  45. Another great one! I love reading your crazy childhood adventures. No more bending those waxy trees, LOL!

    My mom used a belt, wooden spoon or a wood breadboard (small cutting board like they have at the Outback restaurants). She hated to spank us but she would forget that she grounded us, then get mad when she realized she had allowed us to do the forbidden whatever. With the spankings, she could get it done right then.

    I was a pretty good kid and was told more than once that I was harder on myself than she could/would ever be. My brother, however, well he'd sometimes laugh at her when she spanked him. I would later ask him in disbelief why he'd do that when it caused him to get spanked more. He said that they didn't hurt when he did it...I think he was on a mad control high and it numbed him, LOL.

    Over the years we would have a good laugh reliving the moment when the breadboard broke into 3 pieces at the seams. My mom was using it as a cutting board surprisingly enough and dropped it. When it broke, she yelled out "David, I used this so much on your behind that it got weak and now it's broken. Lucky you!"