Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Answers? I Don't Know That I Have Them...

On my recent post, I received a comment that I wanted to respond publicly to, and maybe to solicit other helpful responses.  Over the years, I have actually been asked this question multiple times in multiple ways, both in person and online, and I am not really sure I have an answer.  Here is what was posted in the comments:

"Cindy, can you share your secret ? My deepest desire was for a family with laughter and joy, where the kids truely loved each other and enjoyed being with our family. My two oldest cannot stand the two youngest and the one in the middle is, well, in the middle. One minute hating the older kids and the next hating the younger ones. The younger ones adore the olders and the olders disdain each other"

I think we all desire to have a home filled with deep happiness, peace, and joy.  No one wants a family where bickering and fighting are the norm (Uh,,,yea...that would have been my brother and I, my poor mom suffered through!!) and where there never seems to be that connectedness we all yearn for.  So much of this can be personality related, for the wrong combination of personalities can really create a perfect storm for disunity.  I really and truly don't have any secrets, nor will I pretend to be an expert at parenting.  Oh, far from it!!  I am sure a few of the things we have been intentional about have worked with our specific grouping of kids, but your mileage may vary...hahaha!  And my advice is certainly not backed by a degree in anything, nor a wide array of experiences other than the five kiddos we share our life with.  However, you asked, so I'll share what I think we may have done along the way which might have helped, and they are listed in no particular order.

1)  We never, ever allow any child to say something unkind to another.  Never, and we make them apologize immediately to one another, and that apology must be sincere.  Now, mind you, we are a family that teases a lot, so I am not speaking of the little inside jokes we have, etc. that others might not understand or view as jokes, but we all do.  But even if the teasing becomes a little biting or goes too far, we put a stop to it and point out how feelings can be hurt if we push something over the edge of humor.  When I say we never allow unkindness, I really mean never...ever.  Even when Matt and Josh where very young, we would monitor their behavior with one another, we would play act out how the other person might feel to help them understand the pain that comes with name calling or not sharing, or whatever it might have been at the time.

2)  The kids shared with us this weekend something that I think has had a huge impact, far more than I would have expected.  They had a job working for someone pulling weeds, and it was a big job, about 5 hours of hard weeding and trimming for all of them.  Dominick and I helped them, and they had not expected that because they were getting paid, but we knew it could have been a little overwhelming and wanted to support their efforts.  In conversations afterward, we talked about work ethic, and it was revealed to us that the kids don't see work as a nasty four letter word because we have always participated in it with them in some form or another.  Angela told us that she has learned that doing things together makes the work seem less difficult.  We do not "order" them to do their "chores", we work together as a family, each perhaps on a different task that is appropriate to skill level or gifts...or even likes or dislikes...but we do not treat our kids as our house servants or slaves (Despite what we were asked in court!) and work becomes a family activity we enjoy doing together.  We'll sing, goof off, or...and maybe this is the important part...commiserate together about how tough a particular job may be.  We also make a point of standing back and making a big deal about the accomplishment at the end and celebrating when the work was done well.

3)  We have a policy, you do not rat each other out, unless it is injury producing.  We will punish the "ratter" as well as the original offender.  This may seem like nonsense to some of you reading this, and you may shake your head in dismay.  We wanted our kids to learn early on that they are a team together, they should stick together unless it is a serious and harmful offense.  But mainly we wanted to curb the whole "I am better than they are, look what bad minor thing they did..." way of thinking.  Adding children into our family who were older, and came home later, this may have been even more important.  The Tattle Tale child is not the beloved one, and it will not elevate you in the eyes of your parents if you tell on someone.  That way, there is an equality that exists and there is no way to get in some sort of imaginary "inner circle" with mom and dad, nor is one child viewed by anyone as any better than another. Actually, as I look back, this may have proven to be one of our more effective parenting tools, as each kid has tried it here or there, but we nipped it in the bud early and firmly, so it never took root.

4)  We sometimes put minor issues aside to talk about when it is heated, and then I will look for opportunities to make my point later, when it is seemingly unrelated, but there is no emotion involved.  I use examples in the news, or other events outside our family to make points about a behavior or action, and it is then heard, not pushed aside out of anger.  For example, if one of the kids has been quick to jump to judgment about something, or hurt someone's feelings, I'll be on the lookout the next couple of days for something to point to and say, "Hmm...remember when you you see now how that might make someone else feel?"

5)  I personally look for teaching moments before something happens.  I use films, news events, etc. to talk about an issue when it has nothing to do with us, but when it is something of value, I use it.  I ask, "What would you do in that situation?" or "What do think about that, what is your opinion?"

6)  Maybe the single most important thing we do, at least in my opinion, is that we have always, always, ALWAYS viewed our kids as valued human beings, and in no way "lesser" because they are young or inexperienced. They deserve the same respect as someone who is 80 years old, simply because they are a child of God, no less and no more than we are.  We have learned so much from the kids, and see them each as carrying their own personal wisdom to share with the world.  When you don't view your children as "just a kid, what do they know", it changes everything.  When Matt and Josh were toddlers, we respected their personhood, and to this day, we view each of our children not really as little adults, for that implies experience, but as humans deserving of all that we would offer any adult.  Lacking experience should NOT equal lacking of respect.

7)  I recall a time when someone once asked my why we would ever say "please" or "thank you" to our children, that children need to do what they are told to do without question, and we owe them nothing in terms of politeness, etc.  I was stunned.  I am a believer in modeling the behavior you want to see.  We always ask our kids politely, and they are generally polite children with others.  It is easier to ask for something in return, if it has also been offered.

8)  We play together.  A lot.  We play games, we lay around and talk, we spend an inordinate amount of time together, and we love it.  All of our kids have asked specifically NOT to have too many activities all year long, because they want time to relax and be at home together.  Dominick is by far the better one at "playing", as even as a kid I was a bit more serious.  But we have many an evening where we are just sitting around talking, flopped on bean bag chairs and splayed across couches.  Matthew always walks around with a deck of cards in his pocket these days, weekly Dominick plays video games with one of the boys, we all play board games together, hang out and watch movies together, and whatever else we can think of.  There comes a point where I think sometimes parents think their kids are too grown up to "play" with, but we were not ready to give up our fun times together just because we hit the teen years.  We just do other things.  If you are not having fun doing things THEY want to do sometimes, it makes everything else harder.

9)  We go to church, we have a faith community, our kids hear over and over again stories about faithfulness, family, and God's love for us all.  For some, this would seem corny.  I don't care, for our family, it has made a tremendous difference and the impact of hundreds of hours of hearing the Gospel message of grace, goodness, acceptance, self-awareness, justice, and so much more has all added up, and it permeates a lot of how we are with one another outside the church walls.  Notice I am not saying "Christian" for I believe that a faith community of any sort can uplift a family, and nurture conversations about Things That Matter.  We happen to find Jesus compelling, that is why we are Christian.  Then there is the wonderful added bonus of SO many people who offer your kids so much of themselves!  We actually can't do it without the added support of others who care for our kids, nurture them, and add to their lives in amazing ways.

10)  We must recognize that we have been blessed with specific children with specific personalities, and we had nothing at all to do with that other than listening to God's leading when it came to adoption.  We have children who came to us naturally kind and loving, and we have worked to smooth out the rough edges.  We take no credit for that.

11)  We don't shy away from the hard conversations.  The minute I get that feeling, that little icky avoidance feeling because it would be easier, I know that is exactly when I need to do just the opposite and we need to bring something out in the open.  I will look my child directly in the eye and say, "Your attitude concerns me, we need to talk about where that is coming from and why it is present."  or "Your reaction is not really about this, we need to talk about what you are really angry about."  I will also say, "I already know what you are thinking, and I know that this very moment you are totally mad at me and think I am being unreasonable.  I know there are moments you walk back to your room saying nasty things in your head.  That's OK, we all did that."  I acknowledge their anger at me, and where it might be coming from.  It defuses things quickly to know that I am not hurt if they secretly are mad, and it strangely draws us closer for them to know I really DO get it and name the feeling they are experiencing without being mad at them for having that feeling.

12)  We point out over and over again strengths we see, and we actually sit around the table and ask each person to name one thing they appreciate in each other, or a strength they see, or a gift they have.  We intentionally and often create opportunities to share in encouraging one another.  We let our kids hear us praising them to others, we do NOT pit one against another, we do not compare and contrast unless it is pertinent, and we don't let them do it with each other.  Important to note, we do not mindlessly praise, our kids have to earn praise and there is much that is expected simply because they are members of Team LaJoy.  In fact, we even HAVE a "Team LaJoy" mentality, which I had no idea had permeated to the degree it had until we left our charter school a month ago and the kids all essentially said, "We don't need a school, we are LaJoy Academy already, and nothing else is going to be better than that.This is real, anything else is made up."  We are intentional about catching each other doing something positive, and naming it, all the time, not just once in a while.

13)  We are geeks, nerds and total oddballs.  We don't let our kids watch too much, or listen to too much that is denigrating of family values.  In other words, we don't let them sink into teen culture that says you must hate your family, your siblings are annoyances, and your parents are stupid.  I am not saying we don't let them watch some TV shows, or other things, but they do not listen to certain kinds of music, they are not Facebooking, they are note immersed in today's teen culture which models for them behavior we find disgusting, disrespectful and distracting.  Because it is not ALL they see and hear, they are able to contrast it themselves with other input, and they often say, "Why do none of those kids on that Disney show ever seem to have parents around?  Why do they all act like everyone else is stupid?"  because it is NOT their norm.  They don't see the typical snotty teenager portrayed on TV as something to look up to or emulate.

I have no idea if this helps, and I am absolutely certain that others who read the blog are more eloquent, or have far better ideas than I can offer.  My heart aches for you, my Blog Friend, because peace at home is perhaps the greatest gift we can ever have. We all need our haven from the world, but sometimes we have no idea how to create those feelings of warmth and intimacy with the personalities involved, and years of habits can be extremely hard to break.  I know that what we lack in many areas is more than made up for in the quiet joy we have with one another. OK, that is a lie, because LaJoy's are NEVER really quiet! Hahaha!  But I hope there is at least something here you can identify with and might be able to use.  My greater hope is that others who are far better at this than I am can offer their encouragement and support, as well ideas, to help you find a way to usher in a new attitude for your family.  


Anonymous said...

Advice? No, just some of what I think we did that contributed to what God was already doing for our family. We taught our own convictions, tried to live by them as example...didn't always do that right, I'm sure. We also spent a lot of time together. I guarded our family time, limiting time with friends to school and sports practices and games or activities. I figured they spent plenty of time with other kids in those activities in public school. The rest of their time, I wanted! I could have been better at inviting other kids over, but never really did that much, for the above reasons. Didn't really do sleepovers, either here or at other homes. I figured the people I wanted them most to enjoy and have good relationships with were each with their same morals and convictions. It helped that we had enough kids of our own to give them a variety of playmates. They all enjoy people and have good friends, so I guess it didn't hurt them. Living on a farm, there was always lots of space to explore and create. They also learned to work because of being raised on a farm. They all especially love(d) working with their dad, which I greatly encouraged too. Not really close to my dad, and he never took the time to show me how to do things, just did them himself. Adoption also showed our older (bio) kids how to give and share their family. Each addition stretched them in new ways, I'm sure. Our older kids are a blessing to our younger ones, supporting and encouraging them to do their best and to follow God (a strong value in our family). The younger ones have blessed the older ones just by being here for them to love and enjoy. Living on the farm with extended family meant this was a gathering place for cousins and aunts and uncles. Our kids were blessed by those relationships, which I know is not something people can always arrange in life. Looking back, I know we could have done more to serve others as a family. I see it in our older girls' lives, and hopefully that will also be true of our younger four. Always limited tv, mostly to family DVD nights, only bought tracfones for use to call home...though the younger ones do text a bit more than I recommend. Phones aren't at their disposal, except when they travel. No computer time, except for studies. We don't own video games or xbox. Grandma did buy a wii next door, but they're pretty busy for that, even. Though sports schedules don't always allow, we usually eat evening meals together. Some of these things have contributed to our kids spending more time together. Maybe we've done a few things right. Mostly, I give credit to God for working in their lives, though!
Nancy in the Midwest

Anonymous said...

Thank you Cindy,
This gives me much to examine.