Saturday, February 15, 2014

Re-Setting The Family

Our 3' snowman is almost covered with snow.

Yesterday, I got mad. Not “clean your room” mad, but “this is THE LAST STRAW” mad. It was my second day in a row shoveling snow (my third time in two days, after Mother Nature dumped 14.5 inches on us Thursday) and my fourth time shoveling this past week. Because my husband HAD to work from home, I had hoped that the children, especially the Teen would have automatically pitched in. They had not. The boy was consumed his video games. It was a pattern that I had seen increasing over the last few months and I wasn't happy about it. Our lives seemed to revolve around whether he was in the midst of a game, which lasts about 40 minutes, or about to go into a game. Yesterday, I had asked him to help me right after breakfast because it was garbage pick-up day and we needed to dig out for early pick-up. “I'll be right out, Mom,” he'd said. Thirty minutes later, I was still outside, alone and in the cold. I had had it.

The ensuing row was epic. There was a lot of yelling (me), a lot of crying (him), and even more yelling (him). Both kids finally came outside; the Boy admitted that I shouldn't have had to do it alone, but he said he had wanted me to wait "until after his game had finished."  Yeah, unacceptable. I called a family meeting for that night so we could draft a revised list of Family Rules.

The concept of Family Rules had been introduced to me some years ago by a psychologist at a parenting seminar I'd gone to. In it, the doc had said that if you have an agreed-upon list of rules with set consequences, it makes it easier for kids to adhere to because:
  1. The rules get printed in black and white and posted on the refrigerator and in several rooms, therefore, they serve as a constant reminder of how we choose to live.
  2. There are set repercussions to breaking them which all can see.
  3. They pretty much pertain to everyone, even adults, so the kids know that they're fair.
  4. The kids are asked to sign off on them, so there's no doubt that everyone agreed to them.
  5. It makes parenting easier, since behavioral parameters and repercussions have been set by the unit as a whole (meaning, I don't have to come up with them on the fly).
We had set rules several times over the years, but as the kids had gotten older, I'd become lax with enforcement and the needs of the family had changed. Yesterday's episode solidified the necessity or some new law-making.

We convened the Family Meeting when my husband got home. My husband is very good at presiding over these meetings, not because he's “the Head of the House,” but because he's more balanced and removed from the day-to-day rhythm of the house than I am. To prevent interrupting, he grabbed the ketchup bottle and explained, “Whoever holds the ketchup, has the floor and is not to be interrupted.” The kids, of course, immediately skirmished for the condiment. Dad stepped in and handed the bottle to me. I explained my position and thus began a lengthy, heated discussion, mostly with the Teen. Diva was amused because she wasn't in trouble, but had some salient points, and in the end, we all saw something I don't think we'd seen before: that even the kids were aware that we just were not communicating well as a family and they missed it as much as Mom and Dad did! We all agreed that we needed some new guidelines.

Here are our parameters for drafting Family Rules:
  1. There should be a few as possible. Too many are hard to remember and are less likely to be followed.
  2. They should be framed in a positive light. If they're negative, then you have members just looking for infractions; that's not a good way to live. If we draft them with the true purpose – to enhance communication and reinforce the values of the family – they become an asset, rather than a liability, to the unit.
  3. Everyone must understand them, even the youngest member.
  4. Everyone is accountable. Consequences of breaking them pertain to all family members.
  5. A certain amount of flexibility should be expected. Circumstances change and the rules should be flexible enough to “go with the flow,” yet rigid enough to insure structure.
  6. Everyone must sign off on them.
  7. They will be revised periodically to meet the needs of the family.
  8. No one leaves the table until the set is complete.
Here's our latest set of Family Rules as written in italics. My notes clarifying them are in parentheses. 
  1. We love and support one another. If someone asks for help, you help them within a mutually-agreed upon period of time. (This means the kids don't have to jump when I ask for help, but they will help within a reasonable amount of time. So when Junior asks me for 40 minutes to finish his video game, I can say “no” and he needs to respond.)
  2. We value what the other person says and will listen to each other without interrupting (a challenge for the 8-year old).
  3. We need to connect with each other, therefore, meals will be eaten at the table (not in front of the TV or computer – a nod to me as well as the kids).
  4. To enhance sleep, no video after 9:30pm. A 10 minute grace period may or may not be offered (so the Boy can finish a game) and anything over that 10 minutes will be deducted from the following night's video time.
  5. To also enhance a peaceful bedtime, all chores must be done before 9:30pm (this means the Teen is will not rushing to do them before bedtime).
  6. Reading is a wonderful thing, so everyone will spend at least 20 minutes of their time at home reading.
  7. Our time together is precious, so the children will play or read together for at least 10 minutes a day; if it's reading, that 10 minutes contributes to the aforementioned 20 minutes of daily required reading.
  8. The cat NEEDS to be played with, so each child will play with her for at least 5 minutes each day (otherwise she goes nuts at night).  
Consequences of violating these rules are suspension of video privileges or correction as determined by a parent or, in the case of a parent breaking the rules, a child. Consequences must be related to the infraction.  For example, a chore not done will be replaced with 2 more;  if someone doesn't get off video, it means they will lose twice as much the next night, etc.

*Weekend video rules may nor may not be extended at the discretion of the parents.  

If you think drafting family rules might help your family, here are some resources to look at:

I woke up this morning knowing there would be less yelling due to our new structure and I was right. When Junior balked at running some errands with us, we invoked Rule #1 and he immediately complied. A few hours ago, he went to a friend's house with the understanding that, per the Rules, he must be back in plenty of time to do today's chores.

The Rules do not eliminate all yelling, but past experience has shown me that it does cut down on everyone's frustration and agitation significantly because we all know what's expected of us. If you choose to draft Family Rules, please check back in here and let me know if and how they worked for you.

Thanks for reading! I'd love to meet back with you here in day or two when I'll provide some suggestions on what to do with leftover Valentine's Day candy. It'll be SWEET!

Our backyard with more than 14.5" of snow. 

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