In order to form a happier home...
Where, oh where, did they learn that from?
Our oldest child wasn't born fussing at everyone who doesn't follow every rule to the perfect letter (well, okay, maybe she was, but she wasn't always so judgey and gripey about it).
Our middle child hasn't always apologized for everything she does as if it's her job to make sure the boat never rocks, but each time she drops something or doesn't do something right, we hear a tiny-voiced, "I'm sorry."
Our youngest child didn't inherently know how to be bossy and easily agitated, but she sure seems good at it when she's scolding her sisters, the dog or anyone who breathes differently than how she thinks they should.
Our kids were blank slates to some degree when they came into this world. They had their own personalities and quirks, but the way they've been acting lately isn't a byproduct of DNA.
Unfortunately, they learned it from us.
We aren't perfect.
My husband and I accept that we aren't perfect parents, but we didn't realize how much our own attitudes and stress were affecting our kids until we heard ourselves getting onto them for acting and talking to each other exactly how we act and talk to them. We've definitely had some a-ha-oh-crap moments as we've heard their otherwise sweethearted voices parroting back exactly what we say and how we say it. We pretty quickly realized we didn't like what was looking back at us in the parenting mirror.
We respect our kids and want them to respect themselves and others. We really do. Our actions, however, don't always portray that. For that, we are sorry, but we can't go back in time and be perfectly loving and cuddly enough to make up for sharing that stress with them up to this point. And we, of course, cannot and should not hide from them the fact that Mama and Daddy get stressed and have bad days.
But we can change how we handle those days, and that's where our conversations center from time to time. How do we let our kids know that it's okay to be in a bad mood and that they don't always have to be sappy sweet to each other while still teaching them that respect and love are expected in our home?
What a weird contradiction - harmony amidst chaos and acceptance coexisting with disagreement! It wasn't easy to wrap our minds around it, but perhaps we have come up with somewhat of a solution - the Family Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.
So here it is in all its still-a-work-in-progress glory:
We, this family - US! -, in order to form a happier home, create fairness, ensure peacefulness, defend our family, encourage wellbeing and protect the blessings we enjoy for ourselves and our future, agree to this Family Bill of Rights and Responsibilities:
As a member of this family, I have the right to:
- Have my own opinions, even if no one else agrees.
- Like what I like and dislike what I dislike without being judged.
- Be heard when I talk, no matter how long it takes to tell my story.
- Tell my side when there is a disagreement.
- Ask for and receive a hug when I need one.
- Spend time by myself without having to share my thoughts or space.
- Ask questions and be answered.
- Make mistakes and never feel that I have to be perfect.
- Expect others to respect me.
- Be sad or mad and take my own time getting over it.
- Question authority in a kind, respectful way.
- Love and be loved.
As a member of this family, I have a responsibility to:
- Respect the rights of others.
- Ask questions when I need answers.
- Share the chores that make our house a home.
- Listen when others speak and allow others to tell their side when we disagree.
- Respond to requests in a kind, respectful way, even when I am in a bad mood.
- Make sure I understand what is being said to me.
- Remember that my family is more important than my friends or possessions.
- Find a way to calm down when I am frustrated, mad or upset.
- Give others their personal space when they need it.
- Return the love that is shown to me.
Some of the rights are repeated in the responsibilities so that our daughters can understand that life doesn't center solely on what's right for them and what they want - those things, at some point, intersect with what someone else needs and wants, and expecting protection of your rights comes with the responsibility of acknowledging the equal rights of others.
Obviously, these ideas won't be committed to memory any time soon (or possibly ever), but they give us an opportunity to start a dialogue about what each of these things means and what we need to expect from each other as we share our home, our lives and our love. We actually created this little plan of ours a while back and have never sat down and gone over it with our girls. Our original plan was to introduce each concept separately and give them examples of what they look like and how they can put them into practice. We wanted to crosswalk each item back to a basic concept, such as love, respect and sharing. We were going to use ourselves in the examples so they know we aren't just making more rules that they have to follow. We might also let them roleplay how they can incorporate the concepts into their interactions so they have fun with it while still hardwiring the feelings behind it. .
But guess what? We still haven't done it. Life gets in the way while we're making other plans! It's not too late, though. We can still do this. It's not going to be perfect. WE'RE not perfect. We're family. We just need to act like a loving family rather than a stressed-out band of bullies. Our kids will get plenty of chances to face down bullies in their lives. They shouldn't have to practice at home.