I’m a father of five children. Yes, five. Their ages are as follows: One teen, two pre-teens who are the same age, a preschooler, and a toddler. My hands are full.
My wife and I are both previously divorced with children from our first marriages. When I first met my wife, she had two of her own children; I had one of my own. It had never occurred to me how hard our lives would be blending families. One doesn’t think of those things when you see how good the children get along while you’re dating. You can read the statistics of the success rate of blended families; but when you’re in love and ready to move forward again, you tend to ignore the technicalities.
The Problem Discovered
Speaking for myself, I am a very abrasive, sarcastic and cynical individual. I’ve always been this way, and as a result, I can get away with popping off my mouth whenever I want because people just attribute that to who I am. The problem is: This doesn’t bode well when you coexist with older children.
Over the past five years, I’ve found myself being talked to in the same way – BY MY CHILDREN. It’s mainly been the older children. The “big kids” as my wife and I like to refer to them. But here is the bigger problem: This has trickled down to our little ones who are learning to talk and in the beginning stages of character building.
One day I was preparing a meal and my youngest wanted something to drink. I told her to hold on until I was done making this portion of the food. Of course, being two, she flipped out and went into a temper tantrum. I told her to calm down, but, she didn’t listen. She knows how to talk, but her words are still a bit disheveled in conversations. However, she said something to me that was perfectly audible: “Shut up daddy.” Then she said it again. I didn’t respond. By this point, I purposely ignored her because if I reacted, she would have received that satisfaction.
The “Be Nice” Fund
After that incident, I knew I needed to do something. I realized I couldn’t have all of the kids talking like this; especially the older ones, who were apparently influencing the younger ones. I had a few ideas, but I wasn’t sure they were ones that my wife would agree with. My idea of discipline is much different than hers; and with both of our ex-spouses involved, I can’t just say “this is how it is” when you have other parents involved.
Thankfully, I came up with the “Be Nice” Fund. The “Be Nice” Fund starts every month with $50 in it. If they manage to say nice things and be nice to everyone in the family for the whole month, then they get to use that money for whatever they want at the end. Every time one of them says something negative or behaves wrongly, they get a tally point added on the board that takes a dollar away from their fund. So if they have 30 tally points by the end of the month, they will only receive $20 instead of $50.
This inspires them to do the following:
• Change their behavior and respect towards their parents.
• Change their behavior and respect each other.
• Change their behavior and positively influence their younger siblings.
Having to decide what to spend the money on at the end of the month, encourages them to cooperate with each other and decide together what they will do with their bounty. It will no longer be about what they want as individuals, but they will be more mindful about what everyone wants.
The caveat of this is that my wife and I are also participating with all of the same rules and goals; which means when we say something wrong or behave badly, the children gain a dollar. Basically, not only do the children have this incentive but so do my wife and I. This pushes the adults to be mindful of their children’s feelings and creates a team competition. It has brought awareness to the “big kids” on how they should be talked to and treated by their all family members.
Well, two weeks have passed since we started this. So far, the score is Kids: 17 and Adults: 5. In the first few months, I don’t expect either team (kids vs. parents) to do too well. The adage, “Old habits die hard,” is a sad, sad truth – especially for my wallet right now.
As a father, I want to watch my children grow up respecting the people around them; but also, I want to them to be mindful of the people they encounter. This awareness has to start at home and honestly, it starts with me. I want our kids to understand, when we react or act with the things we say, the world around us is affected. Everything affects our choices and people’s choices when interacting with us. Most of all, I want to see them influence the world; to make a change, make a difference, and to intentionally keep things peaceful.
I want leave you with some amusing advice from the late Mark Twain who said:
“Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any; also to strangers, and sometimes to others. If a person offends you and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measure; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. That will be sufficient. If you shall find that he had not intended any offense, come out frankly and confess yourself in the wrong when you struck him; acknowledge it like a man, and say you didn’t mean to.”
– Advice to Youth Speech