First, let me apologize for not giving you enough details upon which to base a recommended course of action. Actually, the answer you gave, even without specifics, makes good sense: go after the most serious problems first and then move down the line, without dropping the ball on the first set of issues.
I think this is why we seemed so overwhelmed by this - trying to fix everything at once was just too daunting a task. But by breaking it into discrete elements, it becomes more manageable and hopefully increasing the chances of success.
Let me give you a brief overview of what we are dealing with here. The boys are 13 and 15. The 13-year-old refuses direct requests to perform certain tasks that, to both his mother and me, are not unreasonable. He is extremely discourteous to his mother and contemptuous toward me. Last week, for instance, he cursed his mother when she asked him to clean up his room. I was raised in a conservative Christian home where behavior like this was unthinkable. Punishment, both corporal and non-corporal, was primarily my father's job and I see it here as mine as well; and my wife agrees. When I started dating my wife and first met the boys I was shocked by what their mother (and especially their birth father) allowed them to get away with. Believe me, I prayed long and hard before entering into this marriage.
Despite this, it's a decision I don't regret having made.
The older boy is running wild. He was picked and arrested by the police six months ago for drunk driving. Not only was he obviously under the legal minimum drinking age, but he also didn't have a drivers license or learner's permit. For technical and legal reasons which to this day remain unclear to me, the authorities decided not to pursue the matter and dismissed all charges with a warning Talk about fortunate consequences to bad behavior! He could have been killed. He could have killed others, including the other boys in the car. This is but a sample of some of the trouble he has gotten himself into.
Despite all this, I love these boys as my own. They are both bright and have lots of potential. They are our sons. But it breaks my heart to see a train-wreck approaching without taking some drastic steps to get things back on track. And I think adding the possibility of spanking to the mix here is definitely indicated. Sort of a "better late than never" situation. To me, this is a case for some serious "tough love".
You are correct that the problem has been the tolerance of bad behavior. I'm glad you are willing to take steps to correct the problem even though it is late in the game. It will be rough, but it is doable.
Your greatest problem is dependent on your sons' relationship to the birth father. Is he involved in their lives? Will he undermine you and your wife's efforts to bring discipline into your children's lives? Starting late in life is hard enough, but if you have someone who even unwittingly encourages the boys to misbehave the task becomes nearly impossible. As an example, children will play one parent off another and when one authority figure is out of the loop, it is tempting to "buy" the child's loyalty by claiming he wouldn't restrict the child in such a firm fashion. Soon the child wants to switch households to gain the perceived additional freedoms. I hope this is not your particular situation.
In regards to the fifteen-year-old, there is not much you can directly do about his drunkenness and drunk driving as too much time has elapsed. The best you can do at the moment is to severely restrict what parties he may attend and when he must be home when he does go out. Given the severity of the crime, I would put him on "probation" for a year. During this time he must prove himself to be reliable -- no drinking, no drugs, no sex, no driving without a license. I also would not allow him to get a learner's permit or a license until the probationary period is up. Yes, he won't be driving as soon as his friends, but that is the consequence of his breaking the law.
In regards to the thirteen-year-old, when a reasonable chore is assigned and not done, then privileges, such as going to a friend's house, playing video games, or watching TV, should be suspended until the chore is completed. Sit both of the boys down tonight and tell them that after careful consideration both you and their mom have decided that allowing them to scream and curse at reasonable requests are not good training for being an adult. Nor will they be allowed to treat their parents in a disrespectful manner. Any such behavior will subject to punishment.
When it happens, and it will happen again very shortly, ask your wife to let you know about a half-hour after you get home from work. (Give yourself time to unwind.) Select two punishments, one that involves some time, such as a grounding or temporary removal of a privilege, and the other that is short but painful, such as a spanking. Allow the boy to select which one he will take. If he violates the terms of the grounding or loss of a privilege, then he immediately receives a spanking, but the grounding or loss of privilege continues for the designated period. If either of them resorts to any violence, they should immediately be punished with a spanking.
Expect to be spanking fairly often in the short term as the boys push the limits to see if you really mean what you said. This will be followed by a lull as they regroup, which will then be followed by another round or two of pushing the limits. Eventually, things will settle down, but you need to get yourself psychologically prepared for a battle.
My wife and I would like to thank you so much for your godly counsel. We have just basically laid the law down to the boys to the effect that things are going to be a lot different around here from now on. They know what they can expect. They took it well but I also don't think they believed me, Please trust me on this: they both have a big surprise coming.
As to their birth father, fortunately, he is out of the picture - at least for the immediate future. He basically abandoned the family a year ago and is actually incarcerated at the moment, doing ten years for grand larceny. This does make things a little easier but as you say, it's going to be difficult enough anyway.
I agree with you, short term, I am going to be spanking our sons fairly often. In regards to that, my inclination would be to basically spank as my dad did. I need to get a rod of correction. I have read your articles and so I know what that means in terms of length, dimensions, and so forth. If these were your sons, how severe would you be? I am thinking in terms of number strokes, twice their age, but that may be a bit over the top. But over the top may be what is called for, at least initially. I am also thinking about having my wife leave the house for an hour or so when it happens so she does not need to hear any of this. That is a technique my dad used with my brothers and me - it got mom and sisters out of earshot, and allowed him to do his duty. What do you think of that idea? I wish we lived closer to Omaha so you could walk me through this the first time - have you ever done that with a novice in all this like myself?. Anyway, we will see how this all goes.
And please let me apologize once again for inserting my son's language into my previous message. I surely don't know what I was thinking or even IF I was thinking. It was just that I was so (and remain) grateful to finally, finally be able to talk to someone who makes sense out of all of this, that I just plum forgot my manners. I hope I am forgiven.
May God bless you and walk with you always.
My recommendation for the number of swats is usually ten at the start, though if you want to use the child's age, then this would not be so far different. Doubling this number shouldn't be necessary unless you find that the boys are unaffected by the spankings. And I would wait several months before making that decision. By spacing the blows a few seconds apart, you can get by with far fewer than you might have thought as each blow becomes more effective. See "A Series of Questions about Spanking" for more information. In addition, you will likely find at the very start that you may have to spank multiple times during the day. The smaller number will keep things from getting out of hand and if the boys don't learn their lesson quickly, then in a sense they are controlling the number of swats that they get.
For your part, try very hard not to take their misbehavior as a personal insult to you. You need to act as a neutral judge in these matters. Try taking the attitude that if this is what they want by their misbehavior, then this is what you are obligated to deliver. You may rather not, you might find it inconvenient at times, you are likely to feel sorry for them, but in the end, this will mold them into responsible adults.
Having mom step out of the house would definitely improve her emotional well being, though I would leave the choice of leaving or not to her.
While I have spanked a few teenage boys on behalf of their single moms when they got way too big for mom to handle, I have not walked anyone through the process, other than through notes.
The foul language was edited out and I definitely forgive you of the unintended offense. Profanity is more than a problem of politeness. It is something that has gotten way out of control in our society. See the article "Careful What You Say" to see why such language is condemned by God.