Leadership. Wolves get it, sharks get it. Even the birds we eat get it.
How did I miss this important factor of maintaining a happy family?
My kids were a mess. I was a mess.
Social worker after social worker gathered me and my misbehaving children around the kitchen table so we can ALL determine the rules and consequences of my home, and work on communication skills.
A favorite topic was discussing how I needed to change the way I instructed my children to do a task. It my word against theirs and against their father’s that I would direct nicely. At least nicely to start with.
When I was not heard over and over again I would ultimately lose all adult rational and turn into a screaming lunatic, sometimes even destroying all the neglected toys and games in my path.
With that, I made it easy for my ex-husband to encourage animosity between our sons and me.
I worked hard to provide for my children, even when their father continually threatened (and succeeded) to cut child support, or underpay. I still fixed up their rooms to make them nice, bought furniture, toys, and educational games.
I raced from work to transport my kids to sports, scouts, school, social events and camping trips. I read to my kids every night, we played games together and I involved them in many facets of the household decisions. On top of this, every day I taught my kids how to think for themselves and how to be resourceful, key traits I thought were important to teach children.
My daughter who is now grown says I was a “hippy” mom, a little nontraditional in my democratic parenting style.
There is nothing wrong with a democratic parenting style – sure – as long as you have strong leadership. I was too laid back. Maybe it was it lazy parenting, or maybe I lacked the confidence to be a true leader. None-the-less, when things went horribly wrong I would get frustrated. After all, I listened to my children. I was an errand girl to their every excuse of misbehavior in an attempt to teach them that they have the power to change their environment into one that is conducive to helping them succeed.
The thing is – they were already succeeding. My boys and their father. They had power over me. I gave them that power.
Recently, we were once again eyeball deep with court appointed social workers, and a probation officer. My children were charged with domestic violence by a police officer. The victim? Me.
Long story short – my teenagers were provided with their very own free attorneys so they could have the privilege of fighting the charge by dragging me through the mud as a person and as a mother. The charges were reduced and yes.. they still do live with me. And yes, we are fine.
This time I insisted their father be involved and be held accountable for the chaos he creates in my home. Hearing my own words was a wake up call. I was not a leader in my own home. I did everything else but I lacked leadership. Along with the lack of leadership came lack of structure and also the lack of boundaries.
As the police, landlords, teachers and family members will bear witness .. I had NO CONTROL of my my children.
So I started with their father. I made it clear that I am the parent in my home and I make the rules. His response, “You think you are the queen of the house. You just want control.” YES and YES I told him!
I explained that as far as I am concerned his role is only to help our teenage boys develop behaviors that are appropriate in the face of adversity. Like when they are not getting what they want. I pointed out that telling our sons that their bad behavior is justified because ‘I am crazy’ is only hurting them.
It does not matter if the boys and their father think I am crazy to insist they clean their rooms once in awhile or shave when they leave the house with me. Their temperamental behavior is inexcusable.
As a matter of fact, all the focus on bad behavior has shadowed the fact that both our teenagers are really pretty good kids.
Now my children just complain that I am a bitch. That is what they call it because they are not used to me putting my foot down and holding them accountable. That is okay. Because now they know what to expect from me.
“Too bad I am unable to get something for you at this moment. Too bad you are grounded from the TV or you phone….. I am sorry you have to suffer along with me when your brother is grounded from the TV, but too bad.”
I now have strong boundaries and hold firm to the consequences, values and culture of my home. One thing that has changed and enabled me to do this is the fact I recently purchased a small home. I laugh and tell them that no one can here them scream now! We had been living in a small apartment with the fear of eviction due to the many police visits and loud arguing.
I still love my kids and give them plenty of room to contribute their thoughts in many of the household decisions. We also hold weekly meetings to go over the calendar, grocery list, and grievances. The difference now is that I am kind yet firm about the pecking order. We all now know where the buck stops. I am finally demonstrating what leadership looks like.
So when social worker #7 sat at my table and reassured me that she can help me to not be a bitch I looked at her calmly and then looked over at my complaining teenagers and replied, “make no mistake, I absolutely want to be a bitch! I am proud of that title and worked hard for it.” Okay, I didn’t have to laugh when I said it, but I did. Our session ended quickly that day.
Yes. My leadership carries into social worker visits. I have some rules –
They do not give my children false hope that if they talk nice they get anything they want.
They do not tell my children that they can make the rules and consequences – because they don’t.
My children’s behavior does not hinge on my mood or my tone of voice or inability to immediately respond to a request.
And finally, they have to implore positive therapy methods. No more rehashing events no one can agree on and no provoking bad feelings.
However, part of good leadership is being open and teachable.
I listen to my kids and consider their grievances. I listen to the social workers when they are offering helpful and supportive guidance. Sometime I don’t like what they are saying. None the less – I listen and ask myself what it is that pricks a nerve – is it justified or not? You have to believe in yourself enough to be okay with recognizing that they are right or that they are wrong.
Family Chowder’s Life Hack – ABC applies here.
A= Assess (is their chaos in your family? Would sharpening your leadership skills help?)
B= Believe (you are strong, teachable, and capable)
C= Control (make the change in yourself first)
Leadership – you want it. They need it.