Mɛm-ɛ Is a Four Letter Word: Dictator vs Danny Tanner

Mɛm-ɛ (or mem-eh) means "hit" in Korean. 

Lately discipline has been an ongoing issue with our 3 year old. From birth, he was nothing but a bundle of smiles, joy, and unabashed love. Then, he turned two. Shortly after that, our daughter was born, and he entered into his full fledged terrible twos! Now he's three and I hoped the terribleness would last only a year but it looks like full steam ahead with no signs of stopping. I've been warned. I thought I was prepared for the exhausting tantrums, the persistent face-offs, the never ending time-outs, and the infuriating disobedience. Then throw in my son's abounding energy and each day is like hydrogen+oxygen+hot temperature (or hot temper) cocktail ready for combustion. My husband and I come from strict traditional Korean homes and not only that, we both used to work with children for a living (that's actually how we met). We were also pretty successful in working with kids. We made a pact before we got married that we would raise our kids right, mem-eh or spank, if we needed to, set clear boundaries, all the while teaching our kids that we love them. We would set them straight and not take crap.

Then, we had kids of our own and all went to @*^$%!.

My immediate reaction to his disobedience, his tantrums, and his strong will, is to grab the mɛm-ɛ stick and beat out his as-...inine ways. Suddenly the Korean red hot temper of fury overtakes my body. Usually, I can get my temper under control but we do spank our son and send him to a time-out to think about what he's done. Then he cries in time-out and says what we want to hear, only to have him do the same thing two minutes later. More tantrums, more crying, more spanking, time-outs and there goes the day.

At night, I lie awake in bed wondering if we did the right thing..

 "Maybe I was too harsh...maybe I could have handled that differently. I wonder what all these punitive actions are doing to him..." Often at those times memories of my upbringing start flooding my head and I recall wishing that my parents were nicer, more lenient, less hot tempered, didn't use the rice scooper or bap-sot to spank us.

I remember going to my friends house and their parents would say things like "go to your room!"... "is that suppose to be a punishment??" I wondered. Or my friends parents had a structure "3 strikes and you are grounded!" while the "structure" in my house was in the shape of a wooden spoon striking your hands.

I remember watching Full House and seeing DJ Tanner and her boyfriend Steve, while making out, accidentally run a cement machine truck through her kitchen. Later, when her dad Danny Tanner, goes to her room to talk to her about it, he's the one that ends up apologizing! I thought "Man, Danny Tanner speaks so nicely to DJ. He really understands how she feels. He never screams or hits... and he apologizes!" Then I would start comparing Danny Tanner to my parents.

"Why do my parents go crazy on me at times? All I did was carve my name into our piano with a safety pin, ran over our cable chord disconnecting our TV, and forgot to turn off the stove..."

"Why can't we just talk it out like they do in Full House? Why can't we have heartfelt conversations with music playing in the background and have it all end in a loving embrace." I promised myself I would be more like Danny Tanner.

I promised myself I would not inherit my parent's red hot Korean temper... YEA RIGHT!! 

Now that I'm on the other side of the coin I have a better understanding of why they reacted the way they did. My husband and I look back and we both truly believe that ultimately our parent's strictness and discipline was good to an extent (all trauma and therapy aside Jk!). Before we had kids we were set on being strict and disciplining our kids like our parents.  But then I see that I'm raising a 3rd generation Korean. In many ways he is learning Danny Tanner ways much earlier than I ever did.

 In preschool he learns about what is right and what is fair. He learns, he needs to speak nicely and use words, not physical force, to get what he wants. His preschool teacher doesn't raise her voice and speaks nicely to them. Often times when we yell at him for not listening for the umteenth time, he says things like "Be nice to me mommy! Don't yell, speak nicely!" he learns to "talk" if he doesn't like something, so he'll say "I'm going to talk to you, I Don't LIKE THAT!" I gasp.

From what I remember at 3 years old, I didn't have that same sense of entitlement that he does. Umma and Appa were the parents, I was the kid. If we acted out, we got beat. Simple. Part of me wants to beat that truth into his... head, metaphorically. I AM PARENT YOU ARE CHILD!....

But then...

Now I'm seeing that maybe what worked for me, isn't working for him. Maybe I need to be nicer... He is in preschool all day, then when he gets home our attention is divided between him and his sister. We don't spend nearly as much time with him like we used to. Maybe he just wants attention.  Maybe a little TLC will get him to come around. The Sun and the North Wind analogy comes to mind.

In a nutshell the story goes, the sun and the north wind try to see who is more powerful. They look at a traveler and decide whoever can get that traveler to take off his coat is the strongest.

So the north wind blows as hard as he can toward the poor traveler.  However, the stronger and harder the wind blows, the harder and stronger is the man's grip on his coat.

Unsuccessful, he lets the Sun have a go. The sun without much effort shines warmly on the traveler. He then willingly he takes off his coat.

This is a fable used to describe relations between North and South Korea (Sunshine Policy)...it says a lot considering its between a dictator regime and a democracy but anyways, I know that if I got rid of the mɛm-ɛ or the spanking, my son would let his recalcitrant ways run wild, I can see 10 years later he'd be on the fast track to becoming a ne'er-do-well.  But more so lately I've been trying to be more tender. Instead of quickly resorting to a spanking, a bit more explaining,  patience and tenderness. Surprisingly, sometimes it works! but only to a point. I'm constantly trying to balance my dictator upbringing ways to maybe being more diplomatic. I still hold fast to the dictator side... but see good in sunshine... in Danny Tanner. Its a tough balance.

Mothers out there, is there a light at the end of the tunnel? What did you do? What do you think? Are you more dictator or Danny Tanner? How.. HOW do you find a balance between the two?

my little bug

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