Archive for the ‘Week 9: Family Meetings’ category

Praise be-gone

January 21, 2011

Praise from your parents is so sweet and tempting. After almost two years of our cutting waaaay back, our girls still crave it. Remember to resist! (See why.)

Ellen: “Mom, do you like it?”

Me: “That yellow there makes it look like it’s glowing!”

Ellen: “Yeah, but do you think it’s pretty?”

Me: “How did you decide which colors to use?”

Ellen: “Mom! Is it pretty?!”

Me: “Are you happy with it?”

Ellen: “Ugh! I just want to know what you think!”

Ellen, age 10

Me: “Who cares?”

Ellen: “I do!”

Me: “I know, but I’m supposed to help you figure out what you think, not what I think.”

Ellen: “But I’m just curious! I just want to know what you think!”

Me: “I know you do. But it really doesn’t matter what I think.”

Ellen: frown

Me: smile

ps Recently I went skiing with Charlotte and carefully avoided the old stand-bys of “Good job!” and “Nice going!” etc. Instead, I consciously made simple observations to let her know that I was paying attention.

At family meeting she said, “I appreciate Mom for saying good things like, ‘Every time you fell down, you got right back up and kept going.’”

Make the shift, no matter how much they cry foul. It really does work.

Testing, testing 1-2-3

March 22, 2010

Phew. Definite rough patch. Yesterday the girls goofed off during family meeting and for the first time ever we ran out of time for allowance. The money was spread out in front of Charlotte, the treasurer, and when the timer went off I calmly scooped it all up and put it back in my wallet. “Thanks for the meeting everyone,” I said in my friendliest tone. “But, mom!” said Charlotte, “Why can’t we have more time?! Why only 20 minutes?” “So everyone can count on it not taking too long.” “But when the timer went off Fenner glared at me like it was my fault!” “Hmm. Well you all agreed to work on that problem, and time just ran out. I bet you’ll be faster next time.” (Lots of slumped shoulders and frown-y faces.)

Soon after that, Charlotte broke her agreement about washing her hair. As time got closer and closer to bedtime I said, “I’m available for the next 15 minutes to shampoo your hair.” She acted like she didn’t hear me and then 30 minutes later said, “Ok, mom, I’m ready!” “I’m sorry Charlotte but I’m not available to help with that now…You’re welcome to do it on your own.” “So I lose TV?” she said with the saddest puppy eyes she could muster. “Well, I need to know that you take our agreements seriously. So show me that for the next week and I’ll know you’re ready to handle TV again.”

In our house, TV is a big self-discipline challenge. They all love it and will easily watch hours and hours together at the expense of everything else – playing, eating, bathing, homework, etc. The truth is, Jerry and I love TV too, and I totally empathize with the challenge of pushing that ‘off’ button. I’m still figuring out how to make space for them to practice TV self-discipline, while at the same time avoiding the job of referee & time-keeper. Do I ban it completely during the week? Keep a timer in the living room they can use? Enforce a homework-first rule? Or just let them figure it out themselves? Maybe they have to feel it on their own for a while—watching a lot of TV can make you feel tired and yucky and suck all the time out of your day for doing other things.

We’ve discussed it with them several times. We talked about what they think the time-limit should be and ways to remember when time’s up. They agree that too much is not a good thing, and that it gets in the way of other things they want to do. But when they’re in it–when they’re on that couch with the remote in their hands–all that talk seems to go right out the window and I again find myself staring at the job of TV-police. Bleh.

It helps that the privilege of TV is tied to going to school and keeping agreements, but is there more to be done? Do we need to do something about this? Right now, I really don’t know.

Anyway, then this morning Charlotte slept through her alarm and was still in bed when we left for school. More on that later.

Happy Monday…


March 7, 2010

…amazing, amazing, amazing.

I had the most amazing weekend with Vicki and 25 women all working together–talking and brainstorming and discovering and planning–to figure out what each of us wants to be and do and have with our families. The mood was intense and challenging and comforting and inspirational. I came home today with new knowledge, tools, insights, and courage to keep moving forward and make some more changes.

I’ll get to those details later. Right now I want to share what I came home to. You see today happens to be my birthday. I knew Jerry and the girls would be out skiing when I got here and I was looking forward to a couple of hours of alone time in the house (a perfect birthday gift for me). I pulled in the driveway feeling energized and exhausted at the same time, looked up at the front door, and burst into tears:

Appreciations – Mom Edition
Dad – Her dedication to this family
Fenner – Driving us to our activities and paying for them
Ellen – Taking any ideas we have to help our family
Charlotte – Taking care of us
D – Holding down the fort so often when Dad is away
F – Doing the dogs when no one else feels like it
E – Signing us up for our summer activities
C – Teaching dad to behave like a father
D – Loving us no matter what
F – Always being there for us
E – Standing up for our family
C – Keeping us together

Over the weekend Vicki challenged us to fall in love with our families all over again. I totally just did.

Off to a good start

June 7, 2009

This morning everyone accepted the invitation to our first family meeting. It was not without resistance, however. “I’m going to get my knitting so I can knit at our family meeting,” said Fenner. “Uh, sorry, Fen, no activities at family meeting other than… family meeting,” I responded. “Why not?!” “Because it’s only 15 minutes and we want everyone focused on the meeting.” “Oh. … Can I hold my gerbils at the meeting?” “No.” “Moooom! You’re strict!” “Honey, you don’t have to come to the meeting, but that’s the deal.” “But if I don’t come I don’t get my allowance, right?” “That’s right,” I said.

The day before, we had discussed who would have what job at the meeting. “What I am supposed to be at the meeting?” asked Ellen. “You’re the treasurer, Ellen,” said Fenner, “and I’m the writer-person. What’s that called?” “The secretary,” said Jerry. “And Charlotte’s the time-keeper,” continued Fenner. Charlotte looked at me with a worried expression. “Time?” she said. “Would you rather be the meeting opener?” I asked. “Yeah!” “Ok, dad will be the timekeeper, and I’ll be the chairperson.” “I’ll write everyone’s job in the book!” said Fenner. I said, “Fenner, that will be very helpful so we know who’s done what job and we can rotate.” She smiled and began writing.

“So girls?” I said, “We’ll begin at 10 o’clock and if we get through appreciations in 15 minutes then you get your allowance.” “I don’t want to do appreciations,” said Charlotte. She still had only one appreciation written on the board. I said, “Well, you don’t have to come to the meeting, but then you don’t get your allowance.” She frowned and I continued, “When it’s your turn, we can wait until you think of something for each person.” “Okaaay,” she said.

At 10:00 we all sat at the table. I looked at Jerry who had been in charge of getting the cash. “Honey, the treasurer needs the money.” “Oh!” He got up to get his wallet and handed Ellen the cash. Meanwhile, I gave Charlotte a wooden mallet that comes with a row of five pegs you can hammer:
“Ok!” I said, “When all five pegs are down, the meeting has begun.” Charlotte was thrilled and hammered hard and fast. This worked well except, as I had feared, it was hard for her to stop hammering. I gently pushed the toy out of her reach and said softly, “This is for the beginning and the end only.” She reluctantly agreed.

After that, we passed the appreciations board around and everyone read their list. Some people changed and added things as they read, and when we got to Charlotte, she read her one appreciation she had written for the whole family and then looked up at us. I said, “Ok, now we still have plenty of time. We’ll wait until you can think of something for each person.” She thought for a few seconds and then started right in, “I appreciate mom because she lets me go to the big rock in the woods. I appreciate Ellen because she plays with me on the big rock. I appreciate…” And they rolled off her tongue one after the other.

When Charlotte finished I said, “Ok, time keeper? How’r we doin’?” “Still five minutes to spare!” said Jerry. Everyone was feeling good. Ellen handed her sisters their cash, and they all counted to make sure they got the right amount. “Alright, we’ve done it. Time to adjourn.” I pushed the peg toy back toward Charlotte. “When all the pegs are down, you are free to go.” Charlotte began to giggle and slowly tapped each peg into its hole, clearly enjoying the chance to have all eyes on her for as long as possible.

As soon as the last peg went down, the talking began, “How much are those MP3 players?” … “Mom, can I have a bank account?” … “I know, I’ll do a pattern! The first week I’ll spend, the next week I’ll put in my account, and then the next week I’ll spend again — like that!” … “Mom, it’s time to put up another appreciations board!”

I did and couldn’t get out of their way fast enough as they each grabbed a pen and got right to work preparing for next week’s meeting:


Happy day

June 6, 2009

Turns out we changed family meeting to tomorrow after breakfast. Today’s schedule became zooey and not only that, but we didn’t have enough cash on hand to dole out the allowances! Not only do we need enough cash, but also the correct combination of cash ready to go for all three girls. We took care of that today so we’re all set for tomorrow.

Meanwhile, today felt like a banner day. After another adventure in pancake making:

Smiley pancake

… we started off by helping Jerry with a big project in the back yard (something we never would have motivated to do before). Everyone got out there and made a contribution — big and small.

Fenner & Ellen at workCharlottework

There was no requirement and no pressure, just an invitation. And that set the tone for the day. But the big news was about Ellen and Charlotte. The two of them played with our plastic animal set for close to 2 hours and did not fight once! I couldn’t believe it. I stopped what I was doing and walked over to them. “You guys, I really appreciate how nicely you two are playing together.” And I walked away. After that, they went together to the neighbor’s pond to catch frogs, and after that, they played UNO together. And still no fighting! Something is definitely happening, and we haven’t even started regular appreciations yet!

UNO game

By the way, this no TV for two weeks thing was brilliant. First of all, I now realize, TV was a big source of friction: who gets to choose what show, who gets to sit where, who’s making too much noise, etc. So they get a break from that, plus they have all this extra time to fill and they’re turning to each other to think of fun things to do together and with us. It’s made a big difference. I can’t wait to see where the next few months take us.

ps This morning Charlotte said, “Mom, thank you for doing the skills thing. Now I know how to make cereal.” “Yes, you don’t have to wait for someone else to do it for you,” I said. “I don’t care about waiting.” “Oh. What do you like about being able to do it yourself?” “Because I know how much milk I like, and how much cereal, and I get the spoon and the bowl that I want.” “You get to make it exactly the way you want.” “Yeah. Especially because before sometimes I would ask dad for Kix and he gave me Life,” she smiled and gave a big sigh and then dug into her cereal, made just the way she likes it.


June 5, 2009

This morning Fenner wanted to leave early for school. She came in my room as I was getting dressed. “Mom, I want to leave soon. … When are you going to be ready? … You haven’t done that yet? … What earrings are you going to wear? … Mom, what are you doing? … I really want to leave soon! … ” As she was talking she followed me around and hovered over my every move. I hated it! It made my skin crawl! And right away it dawned on me that I was experiencing what kids all across the globe endure every day.

“Fenner,” I said, “what’s weird is that what you’re doing right now to me is exactly what I used to do to you, and it’s so strange because the more you try to rush me, the more I get the urge to slow down!” Then she grabbed my arm and started to pull. I pulled my arm away. “That’s not helpful,” I said.

Just then Charlotte came in. “Charlotte, are you taking the bus?” asked Fenner. “No.” “Why not? Why aren’t you taking the bus anymore?” “I think I’m too sick to take the bus, because I still have a stuffy nose,” said Charlotte. “Well, it’s 7 o’clock so are you ready to go?” “Do I look ready?” “No. So why don’t you get ready?” “Well, why don’t you get ready? You’re not dressed.” “I will if you will … So are you going to get ready?” “I will if you stop talking to me!”

I smiled and shook my head. So that’s what it’s like for them. What a fascinating role reversal. I had no idea how awful it really feels to have someone nagging and watching and checking and hovering and prompting. It’s much worse than I thought. Good to know.

ps Charlotte had a total meltdown today. Not sure what set it off, but there was stomping and crying and “I wish I was never born!” … “I want new parents!” … “Everybody hates me!” … “Everybody says no to everything, nobody ever says yes!” … “Nobody listens to me!” … “Nobody’s nice to me ever!”… “My whole life is miserable!” And on and on. When I tried to say something encouraging, she responded with, “You always say that, you always say boring things, you never do anything!” So instead I began to only say, “Hmm … oh … I see … ah …” and then occasionally I repeated back to her something she said. Then slowly, she began to relax. I said to myself, ok, here’s another bump. Keep those crucial c’s in mind — that’s really what she’s asking for. That and a snack should do the trick.

Sure enough, she was hungry. After she ate, I invited her to play UNO (her favorite card game). The whole family joined in and we laughed and joked and Charlotte was transformed. Life was good again. Phew.

Big picture

June 4, 2009

“Mom, did you see my note?” asked Charlotte this morning before school. “Yes, I was going to ask you about that. … You were feeling sad last night?” “Yeah.” “You wished I would help more?” “Yeah … did you see at the end?” she asked. “You mean where you signed it ‘Hate, Charlotte’ instead of ‘Love’?” “Yeah because I asked you for a kiss at bedtime and you just left and when you do that it seems like you don’t care!” “Last night? You asked me for a kiss?” “Yes! And you walked away and you always do that when you say goodnight and you don’t even look at me!” Her eyes filled with tears. I said, “I see. So when I say goodnight you want me to look at you and give you a kiss before I go.” “Yeah! And not a blow one either.” “Got it. … Charlotte, thank you for telling me.” At that she straightened up and went back to chasing the cats.

So it’s becoming increasingly clear that my next challenge is to not let myself get bogged down in the details of these new strategies. To that end I feel a road map coming on. And not the little dinky one that’s taped to my office wall that I have to squint at to read. I need a big huge one that I can’t avoid looking at every day to remind me of the big picture. It needs to be burned into my brain so that all the tiny little choices I make all day long are all lined up and pointed at that big picture.

The reality sandwich is that we’re not fixing here. We’re not trying to eliminate conflict, upset, frustration, and failure. We are teaching and training and showing and relating and loving, and that road is covered in bumps! And the bumps never stop … ever! Damn … really? Never? Deep down we all know it’s true. We’ve all tried to fool ourselves — No, no the road will smooth out when I go to college … ok, maybe when I graduate … or when I get that perfect job … when I move … when I get married … umm, kids! Having kids will get me there… Ha! That’s the funniest one of all.

So finally, finally it’s time to embrace the bumps. The bumps never stop, but every day we have a choice in how we respond to them. We can either do the things that work and build confidence and enhance our relationships, or … not. Which version of eternity do we want?

Talk about being at choice …