There are many parents I admire, but none do I admire more than my own. As I’ve become a parent myself I have reflected many times on their parenting and have stood in awe at what they’ve accomplished. All of my siblings have grown into incredible people, accomplishing great things and raising terrific families. I can’t help but think that my parents had a lot to do with that.
Naturally, I’ve wanted to get some of their “magic fairy dust” and use it in my family. So, I’ve copied some of their ideas and they’ve worked, to some extent. But, this past month, I learned a family secret that has helped our family immensely. And, risk of letting the cat out of the bag, I share it with you in hopes that it can help you and your family.
My parents were just in town. While they were here, they accompanied my husband and I to a “Strengthening the Family” class we were attending. During the class discussion about how to best get kids to do what you want, my dad said something profoundly meaningful. He said, “We simply set the standard and then trusted our kids to live it”. I reflected on that for days to come, and realized he was right!
Somehow, we knew the standard in our family. We knew what we stood for and what was expected of us. And, without a whole lot of constant discipline (at least in our teenage years), we stood up for our standards. Now, that seems like too much of a dream world, I know. Too much fairy dust. But, honestly, as I look back I realized that the times when I most wanted to go against our family standard, two things came to mind. One, I live by a higher standard and I don’t want to jeopardize that. And, two, my parents trusted me and I didn’t want to break that trust.
How did my parents instill that in me? First, they taught us the standards. And, second, they trusted us even when we weren’t so trustworthy. YES! Even when we weren’t so trustworthy. And, by so doing, we learned to be trustworthy because we didn’t want to break that trust.
That’s very different then what we would naturally do as parents. My tendency is to trust only if there’s proof they’re not lying! All that does is breed dishonesty. Crazy.
My parents left town and I still found myself contemplating my dad’s words. But, then I realized something. My husband and I had standards that we expected our kids to live by. All of our discipline and rules reflected those standards. For example, one of our standards was honesty, so our children were punished for dishonesty. Another standard was kindness, so they were punished for hitting, kicking, etc. We knew what we wanted, but did they? NO! I couldn’t believe it. It seemed so unfair.
So, we followed 4 simple steps and have seen a HUGE change in our family.
- Call a family meeting and decide your family standard as a family.
- Decide as a family what areas your family needs to improve on and set rules to coincide.
- Decide as a family what the consequences should be for breaking those rules.
- Write down your family standards, the rules, and the consequences and post them where everyone can see them.
- Use the charts and measure yourselves by the standards.
Setting your Family Standard
First, we called a family meeting. We started by asking, “What does it mean to be a ‘Smith’? (or ‘Johnson’ or whatever the case may be). We talked about the boy scout law and how boy scouts are loyal, trustworthy, courteous, etc. Then, we let the kids come up with a list of what a ‘Smith’ should be. I was amazed by their answers. We came up with a great list together.
Set Family Rules
Next, we talked about some of the things our family needed to work on to reach those standards. We asked the kids and they came up with a great list. In fact, it was too long for our liking, so we helped them narrow it down to the most important. They then set the rules. These included, “No hurting other people”, “Talk only with respect”, etc.
Decide on Consequences
Next, we let the kids pick the consequences. This is important. If they decide the consequences, they’ll be much more likely to abide by them. Now, to be honest, my husband and I were ready to veto any consequences that were obviously ridiculous. I thought they’d go easy on the consequences, but they didn’t. They picked some really good, logical consequences and we kept every single one.
Display your Standards, Rules, and Consequences
Finally, the last step. We typed up our standards and typed up our rules and let each child hang them in their bedroom. We hung another in the kitchen. Periodically, we’ll also recite our family standard, “A ‘Smith’ is fun, obedient, kind, respectful, loving, honest…..” It’s fresh on everyone’s mind and serves as a constant reminder of who we are.
So, what has changed? Everything. All of us, including my husband and I, seem to naturally be living closer to the standards we set. There is much less fighting and much less yelling at our house.
When things do go awry (which they always will), we simply have the kids refer to the chart. For example, when my son called my daughter a name the other day, I simply had him check the chart. It read, “I will speak with respect….If not, I will say three kind things about the person I offended”. He read the chart, turned around, and said 3 of the kindest things about Elizabeth. I was stunned and so touched. She smiled and off they ran, happy to be friends again.
It’s been 10 days since we first made the chart. Perhaps it won’t always have such a profound effect on the kids, but based on my parents’ record, I think it will last for years to come. People like to be held to higher standard. I think we yearn to be the best we can be. And knowing what the standard is may be half the battle.
Congrats on your work as a parent. You’re doing a great job. It’s the best work you can be doing right now. Keep it up!