Summer 2012

The Corrections: A Three-Generation Roundtable on Punishment in the Home

The look, the voice, the threat

Jeffrey Kastner

When the look, the voice, and the threat are not enough. Courtesy Ann Clayton.

If the majority of people manage to avoid the experience of punishment in a penal setting, no one is likely to have escaped it at home, where the long arm of parental law inevitably reaches out and touches each of us at some point. From corporal punishment to time-outs, grounding, allowance docking, and other tried-and-true methods, the world of domestic discipline has its own familiar rhythms and codes. Despite the cottage industry of books that propose to new parents various pedagogies of punishment and penalty, chances are that most of us take our cue in such matters (for better or worse) from our own guardians. To further explore the potential lineages of disciplinary techniques, Cabinet’s senior editor Jeffrey Kastner convened a multi-generational roundtable drawn from members of his own family—including his parents, his brother, his wife, and his two children—to discuss their own experiences of being punished, and then punishing in their turn, through the years. The group met at the home of Kastner’s parents, south of Minneapolis, Minnesota, on the day of their fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration.

Jeanne Kastner: I was born in 1939 in a small town called Shawano in northern Wisconsin, and I was the oldest of three children. I grew up in a family where there was a fair amount of violence: not involving the children, but between my mother and father. Going way back, my father’s father was very violent—I recently learned that he once picked up a milk pail and hit his wife on the head with it. I don’t know if this happened with the children. My father came from a family of six boys and one girl, and all his brothers also abused their wives to some extent, from what I understand. As a child, though, I don’t really remember being spanked or even grabbed roughly. There is one instance that comes back: when we were quite young, and my sister and I shared a bed. My father came in after we had been in bed for quite a while—he had probably already told us to settle down a few times—and I remember him grabbing each of us and giving us a little swat. But that’s about it.

Jeffrey Kastner: Punishment is not always physical, though. Can you remember other methods of punishment that your parents used?

Jeanne: I think I was punished verbally, and that would have been mostly by my mother.

Jeffrey: What does it mean to be punished verbally?

Peter Kastner: You once told me she had tones that she would use, that by the way she would say certain things—the way she would say your name—that she was indicating that you had

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