Archive for the ‘Week 8: Privileges & Responsibilities’ category

Unpleasant surprise

May 31, 2009

I was feeling so, so proud of the girls. They didn’t cry, they didn’t moan. They showed incredible courage today. Fenner said, “This stinks,” and that was it. And at bedtime she handed me her Nintendo game with a smile. I’m truly blown away and inspired by all three of them.

So after I said goodnight to all three girls, I had a little spring in my step. I thought to myself, wow, with TV not even being a choice, I can do all kinds of other things with my time. Jerry and I can hang out and read together, or I can clean my office, the choices are endless! I was feeling very good … until I went downstairs to the living room. Jerry was sitting there … watching TV.

He looked at me. “Uh…helloo?!” I said, eyebrows raised. “What? … What is it? … Are you saying that because I’m watching TV?” he said. My mouth hung open. I said, “We promised we would all do this part together.” “But we’re the adults. Why should we have to do it?” he said. “Are you kidding me? We sat together right there and I said, ‘Why don’t we do this no TV thing together as a family?’ and you said, ‘Great! Let’s do it. I don’t need to watch TV.’” “Did I say that?” he said. “Yes. You did.” He picked up the remote and turned off the TV and stared straight ahead in silence. “I can’t believe this attitude I’m seeing,” I said. “What?!” he said. “You agreed to this, and now you’re all pissy.” “No I’m not, don’t assume that.” “Well, what is it then? You sat there and agreed and you were enthusiastic about it, and then you come down here and just blow it off and act like you forget what you said? … I need commitment. I need follow through. I need someone who keeps their word.” At that I walked away. I was getting more and more upset and I needed to go cool off. I continued my way into the basement with an armful of clothes to put into storage. I put the clothes away and stayed down there for a while, breathing and thinking.

After a while I thought maybe writing would help me process what just happened. I went back upstairs. Jerry was reading the paper near the kitchen. My laptop was next to him and I quietly picked it up and walked toward the living room. I heard him say behind me, “Are you going on your computer?” I walked back toward him so we could keep our voices low and not disturb the girls. “Yes. Is there a problem?” I said quietly. He stared at me and then said, “No, no, I guess not. Just wondering.” “Um, do you not remember what we talked about with the girls about you and me still being able to do work on our computers?” “No, yeah, I guess I do.” I took a deep breath and said, “And we sat right over there with them today and said, ‘You know what girls? Not watching TV for two weeks is hard, so daddy and I are going to do it with you.’” “Yeah, I know I said that, and I agreed to it, but after thinking about it, I don’t think it’s such a good idea.” “Because … ?” I said. He answered, “Because we’re the adults here. We don’t have to show anyone we can handle it. Why should we have to go through it?” I paused, working hard to stay calm. Then I said, “It’s an act of support. Those girls have been amazing today. Nobody cried, hardly anyone complained, Fenner just handed me her Nintendo upstairs. We’re saying to them, we know this is hard and we’re willing to do this part with you. I was looking forward to being TV-free together as a family. Here we are trying to raise our girls to keep their agreements and do what they say and you just blew it off like it didn’t matter.” “Alright, alright, I’m sorry.” “I hope you are,” I said. He winced and said, “Well, I’ve had enough of this talk,” and started to open the newspaper again. I thought for a moment and then said, “What you did tonight really hurt.” As I walked away he said after me, “I said I was sorry, what else do you want me to do?” I didn’t answer.

As I typed my anger began to fade. A few minutes later, Jerry stuck his head in the living room. “I’m sorry honey. … I do support this,” he said. I stopped typing and my eyes teared up. I looked up at him. “Thank you,” I said.

The talk

May 31, 2009

We did it! We started the clocks. We sat down with the girls and explained it all. All I can say is, they took it amazingly well. There were a few that’s-not-fairs, a couple I’m-bored-of-talkings, and lots of questions.


But, like Vicki says, this approach makes sense to kids. At one point Charlotte looked at us and said, “I know what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to make us cooperate and be respectful, and be nicer to each other.” Bingo.

Here’s my script, which I stuck to pretty well:

Guess what? We have been making more mistakes. For years now, we have been giving you privileges without finding out first if you’re ready to handle them. We’re really sorry, because it’s taken us so long to realize this that now you’ve gotten used to having these privileges and that makes it harder to have to give them up while you show us that you’re ready for them.


With these first 2, you’re almost there. You’ve been on time most every day, and you’ve been getting your homework done without any reminders, and you’ve been going to school every day.

‘Be able to go without’ for TV/computer means you can entertain yourself in other ways without complaining or bugging other people. We know how hard that can be, so daddy and I are going to do it with you. (Daddy and I will still use our computers for work and paying bills etc., but no games. Also, iTunes and homework – ok)

We have ‘Follow through with agreements’ on there because when you do earn your TV etc. back, we’re going to agree on how much is too much, and we’ll know we can count on you to turn it off when you reach that limit.

See what it says here about demonstrating cooperation and respect? First we want to say thank you because since we started this program, we’ve noticed a lot more cooperation and respect. So you guys are already half way there with that one.

For example, Charlotte, I’ve noticed that you have been a lot more calm and quiet in the living room when other people are trying to watch TV. And also, when Fenner kicked you yesterday, you did not kick her back even with all your karate training. That took a lot of self control.

Ellen, you’re being more helpful. When Charlotte forgot to set her alarm on Wednesday, you were willing to go wake her up. And I’ve noticed that you’re not yelling as much. That takes patience to keep your voice low even when you’re frustrated.

Fenner, you’re helping out more too. You took the garbage all the way to the top of the driveway – in the rain! And you were willing to help Charlotte get the oven set right, and remind her to use a potholder so she wouldn’t burn her hand. And the other day, when Ellen tried to help with the timer, but Charlotte didn’t want help, you made an effort to explain to Ellen why you thought Charlotte was upset.

So we’re seeing a lot more cooperation, respect, and self-control, and we want to say thank you for that. We’re a lot closer to our goal than we used to be.

What is our goal?

We want our home to be a safe place where you can be yourself and people accept you for who you are. We believe that relationships with the people we love are to be respectful. That means no hurting with hands, feet, or words.

We want:
ZERO hitting or kicking other people
ZERO name calling
ZERO yelling at other people

What else does respectful mean? Let’s play a game. I’m going to say things to daddy and you guys say either “respectful” or “not.”

1.    Who cares? None of your business, you dummy!
2.    That looks like fun, I would really like a turn. Could I have a turn please, when you’re done?
3.    Gimme that, it’s mine! If you don’t give that back, I’m going to go to your room and break something!
4.    Oh, darn, I left my special thing out here on the table, and now you’re having a turn, but I’m not feeling ready to share. Could I please have it back? And when I’m ready to share I’ll let you know.
5.    Look at this, look what I have [Have Jerry hit the thing out of my hand]
6.    Oh, I see. Thanks for showing me.
7.    Get away from me!!!
8.    Could you please move? I’m really needing a little more space.
9.    I hate you, you stupid dummy-head!!!!
10.    Ooooooo, when you do that I feel so angry, I need to go outside and scream!

This is not easy. It’s not easy to live in one house with four other people.

When do you feel like yelling or hitting?

So when _____ happens you feel you have a right to _______

If that’s true, then we can’t, in good conscience, let you visit with your friends as long as you think it’s ok to do that.

Show us you can make a different choice for 2 / 3 weeks.

We need to practice in the family.

For these first 2 you’re a team.

For this one, everyone’s on their own … for now.

Anyone who tattles goes back to zero.

If we happen to hear or see any of this stuff we talked about, you go back to zero.

We don’t really want this job, so we’re not going to work very hard to be good at it. So we’ll try not to, but we’ll probably get it wrong sometimes, like who did what to who. And if something unexpected happens, we might decide to just put everyone back to zero, or not, we don’t know.

•    Follow orthodontist’s orders.
•    Clean pet cages regularly
•    Practice personal hygiene – shower/bath, brushing

We appreciate so much what you’re already doing, we have confidence that you all have what it takes to do this next part too.

We are ready to say yes to these things as soon as you show us you can handle them.

The clock begins after the FAMILY MOVIE WITH POPCORN IN THE LIVING ROOM!!!!!!

Along the way we asked for questions, thoughts, more ideas and examples, etc. Now, it didn’t go totally smoothly. There were interruptions, distractions, people getting up from the table, and plenty of commentary (wish I had a tape recorder for some of it). But considering what they were hearing, we got through it with flying colors, and they’ve been giving each other reminders that indicate they heard every word we said.

There’s always tomorrow

May 30, 2009

We’ve had way too much going on in the past couple of days, but I think now we’re finally ready to present our list of privileges and responsibilities to the girls … tomorrow :). The delay is part caution and part time to think with a dash of procrastination. Change is hard, and this feels big. Seven weeks of dismantling all our dysfunctional patterns was big too. But this part is actually more work. Now we have to keep our eye on the ball called, ‘What do we want instead?’ That takes thought, self-reflection, honesty, and courage. Not exactly a walk in the park.

I’ve got it all written out, like a script, because I don’t want to forget anything. Jerry and I went over it together. He said, “This looks, great. It all makes sense to me.” So we’re on the same page. That’s key.

We also talked about being careful to avoid slipping into lecture mode. This part is not punishment. And, I’m realizing, it’s not even about consequences either. The tone and the atmosphere of this approach is completely different. More like, “We cannot wait to say yes to these things as soon as we know you’re ready, and we are so excited to witness all that you are capable of! Show us, show us, show us more!!” And when someone stumbles, no one’s in trouble. They just need more practice before we can say yes.

And when they do stumble, we’ll be ready with our new encouragement skills: “Hmm, what tripped you up? … What might you do differently next time? … I did notice that it’s getting easier for you compared to last week.” … etc.

And we’ll have our own stumbles too. We’ll forget, and feel confused, and say things like, “I don’t know yet, I need to think about that.” None of us have done this before. We can let it be messy.

Tomorrow will be interesting…

ps This is Fenner’s last year in elementary school. I’ve been feeling slightly nervous on her behalf as she faces such a big transition and remembering what middle school was like for me (not the greatest). Yikes, my first born in middle school. My daughter who whispers when she’s upset, and who, as a toddler, would crawl around acting like a puppy to avoid conflict, or curl up in a fetal position in the corner of the room when she felt stressed out. And yet, I see her rising to the occasion before my eyes. When we drove by her new school yesterday, she said, “I can’t wait to go to middle school!” Music to my ears.

Then, this morning, Charlotte asked her for help with the oven. She helped her out and Charlotte said, “Thanks! Thank you, Fenner!” Fenner shrugged and said, “Charlotte, I won’t always be here to help you, you know.”

She’s slowly becoming ok with it – the realization that someday they will all be out on their own. Thank goodness we have seven more years to practice!

A reason to change

May 28, 2009

Kind of a tough day. But it’s getting me in gear for following through with our P&R plan. Even though there has definitely been more harmony in our family lately, they still need motivation to practice self control.

This afternoon I had to pull the car over. They were fighting about what music to listen to. “Charlotte, why do you always want to listen to that?” “Yeah, we’ve only listened to the other CD like two times! And we’ve listened to yours like ten … please Charlotte?” “No. … Stoooooop! Don’t doooooo thaaaaaat!”

I have no idea what one of them did to Charlotte, but she started crying hard. I pulled over, got out and told them to let me know when they were done fighting and I would keep track of how many minutes it took and subtract that from their bedtime visit.

Immediately Ellen cried out, “We’re done, Mom, we’re done!” “Yeah, we’re done,” said Charlotte, working very hard to stop crying. “Ok, what agreement did you come do?” I asked. “Um…not to listen to any music,” said Ellen. They all stared at me expectantly. “Ok,” I said and got back in the car. A minute later Ellen said, “Charlotte you can listen to your CD, just use the headphones.”

Meanwhile, Fenner had bought a new shirt that came with a little pink scarf. During the ride home, she said she didn’t like the scarf and asked Charlotte if she wanted it. Charlotte did. Back at home, we had all just finished eating dinner and Charlotte was tying the scarf around the post at the bottom of the stairs. Fenner walked over and tried to grab the scarf. “No! It’s in a family space and I’m having a turn!” yelled Charlotte. I looked away. The next thing I heard was Charlotte spitting at Fenner. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw Fenner lunge at Charlotte and kick at her hard. Her foot hit Charlotte’s stomach. Charlotte started wailing. Fenner and Ellen looked at me. I kept my eyes down, forcing myself not to give Fenner a dirty look. Then I walked upstairs and went into Jerry’s office. I sat, put my head in my hands, and took some deep breaths.

Fenner and Ellen were downstairs talking quietly and laughing. I could hear Charlotte calling for me. Then she said, “Mom? I stopped crying …” She still sounded sad. I took another minute to totally compose myself and then went back downstairs. “Hi,” I said to Charlotte as cheerfully as I could. In a shaky voice she said, “Mom, will you play a game with me?” “Yes. As soon as you do your reading homework with me.” “Ok.” We sat together on the couch and read. Charlotte had some writing work to do too and while she was doing that, Fenner walked by with the scarf in her hand. Impulsively I said, “Fenner, I thought you gave that scarf to Charlotte.” “I wanted it back. … Is it ok? Am I allowed to do that?” I didn’t answer. Charlotte said, “Well you could’ve just told me that!” “Well you didn’t have to tie it around the post!” Fenner retorted. Charlotte didn’t respond and Fenner went upstairs.

Bedtime went smoothly and we managed to end the day on a good note. But after today, I can’t wait to give them a good reason to stop the violence and find a better way.

Devil’s in the details

May 27, 2009

Ok, so we decided not to address the candy/tooth-brushing issue at this time, and for now we can’t think of any other privileges to add to the list. We know that earning the privilege of eating out will be addressed down the road … just not yet. With Jerry’s traveling, our meal times and routines are so irregular that we’re just not ready to go there.

So to begin with, our P&R list is shaping up to be:

Revised P&RCompliance with orthodontia treatment will be discussed as one of our agreements, as well as what their daily ‘screen-time’ limit should be after they earn the TV/computer/Nintendo privilege.

I was going to sit down with the girls tonight to discuss all of this, but I balked. This is pretty big stuff, and I don’t want to cram it in between gymnastics, dinner, and bedtime. On top of that, Jerry’s away on a business trip until Friday. I thought I could do it without him, and I could. But I don’t want to.

Friday night has a lot going on as well, so I’m hatching a plan in my head for Saturday: Pancake breakfast, leisurely P&R discussion, and a farewell-to-TV family movie together in the living room. That feels right to me.

Meanwhile, I keep mulling over what timeframes to set for earning each privilege. I think I’ve settled on using weeks as the unit of time. About one week for all of them to earn a later bedtime seems to be working fine, so we’ll stick with that. Two weeks seems like enough to ask for them to go without their beloved TV and Nintendos. (As much as I love to veg out with TV myself after they go to bed, I’m really looking forward to this. Yes, I enjoy TV, but it also has me reading less and staying up too late. Plus it seems like Ellen has that Nintendo in her hands almost constantly. Time for a break.)

Then there’s the visiting with friends. Vicki had an interesting suggestion for this one: that we separate Fenner and Ellen from Charlotte in terms of timeframes and how this one is earned. In other words, Fenner and Ellen’s timeframe will be one week longer – three weeks instead of two. If Charlotte trips up, only her clock starts over, not everyone’s, and if either Fenner or Ellen trip up, then the clock starts over for just the two of them.

We’re going to try this for two weeks and see how it goes. I’ll explain that the different timeframes are based on their ages, and if they complain, I’ll blame it on Vicki. 🙂 No, really, I will.

Having them all on the same team definitely has its advantages, but separating them for this one presents some unique challenges, and we want to see who might rise to the occasion. To put it simply, who has the strength and skill to walk away from a fight?

For example, if Charlotte tries to pester Fenner to the point of hitting Charlotte and losing her friends privilege, how will Fenner respond? Will she be able to contain herself and walk away? Likewise, if Ellen is in Charlotte’s face criticizing her, will Charlotte turn the other cheek? If not and Charlotte hits and/or yells at Ellen, will Ellen yell and hit her back?

What feats of self-control might we witness? There’s only one way to find out…

Morning trip-up

May 27, 2009

This morning was gray and rainy and by 7am I was faintly aware that I had not yet heard Charlotte get out of bed. At 7:10 I got up and when I came out of the bathroom, she was there getting dressed. I looked at my watch and wondered whether she already knew the bus had gone by now. Then I heard Fenner and Ellen downstairs:
“Where’s Charlotte?” asked Fenner.
“Upstairs asleep somewhere,” answered Ellen.
“Go wake her up!”
“I already woke her up and urged her to get ready!”
“Hurry up Charlotte!”
“I’m hurrying as fast as I can!” called Charlotte as she went downstairs.
“Why are you late?”
“Because I was sleeping and I forgot to set my alarm and I missed the bus and your talking is distracting me!”
“And you’re going to wear those pants?” sneered Fenner.
Charlotte ignored that and tried to focus on making her lunch.

The neighbor came. Fenner and Ellen got in. The neighbor and I chatted in the driveway. No sign of Charlotte. The neighbor went.

Interesting that Fenner and Ellen are willing to wake Charlotte up, but they have yet to offer any help with her lunch in order to keep the privilege of staying up later on the weekend.

I came in and said, “Charlotte, she waited as long as she could and then she had to go.” “Oh. Can you drive me?” “I was planning to go to sing-along at 8:20 so that’s your next chance to catch a ride.” “Will I be late?” “Yes.” “Ohhhhhh, but I don’t know how else to get to school! I don’t want to be late! Will you drive me to the bus stop?” “Well, since it’s raining, I might have been willing to do that, but now the bus has already left.” “But how can I get to school?” “When the big hand is pointing at the 4, I will get in the car and you’re welcome to get a ride with me then.” “Will our bedtime go back to 8:30?” “Yes…until next weekend.” She looked at the floor, processed it all, and then was ok. “Charlotte, would you like to join me for breakfast?” I offered. “Ok,” she said and got herself a bowl of cereal.

At 8:20 I drove her to school. On the way she said, “Mom, how to I get out of the habit of not setting my alarm? I want to break it.” “Hmm, when I need help remembering, sometimes it helps if I write a note to myself and put it somewhere where I can see it.” “I was just going to say that! I just thought of that same thing!” “Oh! We both had the same idea!” “Yeah.”

When we arrived, she was reluctant to get out of the car, “Oh, I hope I don’t have to go to the principal’s office!” she said. And then she hopped out and ran through the rain to school.

Checking it twice

May 26, 2009

If you remember, we’ve already touched on the idea of privileges and responsibilities back during week two. We had a list of three privileges and the first two worked like a charm (attending school/doing homework = watching TV and being on time for bedtime & school = staying up late on non-school nights). The third one about their earning the privilege to eat in the living room by picking up after themselves did not fly. Not even close. So that one goes.

This week we’ll take it from there. We haven’t talked to the girls yet because Jerry and I need time to make sure we’re on the same page with our lists. Here’s mine so far:

my list

As you can see, we’re considering adding “Be able to go without” to the responsibilities that go along with TV and Nintendo. Jerry and I enjoy TV almost as much as the girls do, and we’re thinking it might be good for the whole family to go a couple of weeks without it together. The goal would be to turn TV back into a luxury, not a necessity for passing the time. We plan to explain that our expectations are that they be able to entertain themselves without disturbing other family members (including not following us around the house saying, “I’m bored!”). We’re hoping that if we can all practice doing without it together, then moderation should become easier.

Refraining from hitting, yelling, or name-calling at home in order to be able to visit friends is a totally new concept. We can’t wait to hear their reaction to that one. (Stay tuned!)

And, finally, we have so much orthodontia going on in our house, costing so much money, that I have got to find a way to raise compliance with doctor’s orders. Shelling out hundreds of dollars each month just to have to keep asking Fenner and Ellen if they are remembering to wear their retainers is simply not working. So, what do they care about? Oral health and hygiene? Certainly not. They care about candy and how much they can have and when they can have it. Ok, so candy didn’t create their need for orthodontia, but if we’re going to invest this much in their teeth, then they’re going to have to show us they can take care of them — brushing twice a day and following doctor’s orders — before we can, in good conscience, say yes to any more candy. The only problem is, I’m not sure how to monitor slip-ups without installing hidden cameras! Hmm… [Readers, see Vicki’s comment on this one below.]

Now, just need to find a good time to go over all this with the girls and get their input…

ps Fenner and Ellen are so close these days that when they do argue it’s very interesting to listen in. Here’s what I heard today. It’s almost like their own language:

“… Because I don’t want you to!”
“Why do you care so much?”
“Why do you care that I care?”
“I don’t care!”
“Then why are you asking me why I care?”
“Because you seem to care so much!”
“… You’re mean like that sometimes!”
“You’re mean like that too!”
“You say things a lot like, ‘OBviously!’ and ‘Yeah, too bad!'”
“Well, I know a person who I learned those words from … Fenner!
“Yeah, Ellen! …”

Wish I could remember more of it, but you get the idea… 🙂