Family Manifesto

As an independent, working parent life is very full: wake up; get dressed; make sure your child is fed and dressed; rush out the door; drop off at school; make it to work on time; perform all day; pick your child up from school; carpool to activities; cook dinner; clean up; help with homework; prepare lunches for the next day; settle everyone into bed (books, cuddling); go to sleep. Rinse and repeat. There is very little space. Every minute is accounted for and full to the brim. It is easy to become exhausted and burnt out. This hectic pace can strip the joy out of being with one another on a day to day basis.

I have been noticing lately that it is taking a toll in my ability to manage conflict with my child. I lean on old habit patterns learned from my own childhood. This primarily manifests in taking privileges away from my daughter when she does not listen and help. I get exasperated and out comes the punishment. Although this approach works as a temporary measure, it does create understanding about why I need her support as a family member; and it ultimately generates resentment, rather than connection.

As my child nears eleven years old, it is essential that she learns to become an active and supportive family member. I want her to grow up with the ability to take care of herself and to think of others; and now is the time to really drive home these good habits. The challenge that I face is how to help her to understand the importance of helping out, so she does it willingly, and not under duress.

I sat down with my daughter the other day and we talked about our family. What are our values? What are our rules of engagement? And what should the consequence be if we do not honour our agreements? We started to create a rule book, which included joint commitments like: “When someone asks for help, we say yes.” and “Yelling is not ok.” I asked her to identify a suitable consequence if she does not respect the rules and I did the same. It is all captured in our manifesto, which is now displayed on our fridge. It is a work in progress and we will continue to add to it, and update it, as needed.

Since working on this document together, it has helped to shift the dynamic. We continue bump up against one another but it is valuable to lean on our co-created agreement in those moments. To start from a place of remembering that we are on the same team and we have a commitment to support one another. I remain the parent and I ultimately make the final call; but it is important to me that my child feel like she is a respected and valued member of our family. It is also essential that I have a mirror held up to my own behaviour, so I am reminded of when I can do better, and learn from the experience.