Note: This post was moved from another page on the blog… You’re not crazy. You may have read it before.
My family has gone through a lot of transformation in the last few years. My husband’s deployment to the Middle East, kids growing up and going off to college, little boys turning into big kids, and aging grandparents have all caused some unanticipated growing pains for us all. So recently I felt the need to develop a new family policy.
In the “olden days,” things became law when they were posted in the town square for all to see. It was understood that a citizen’s responsibilities included checking the designated wall from time to time to keep up with the changes, and to act accordingly. In our house, the equivalent of that town wall is the refrigerator. The left side of the fridge is for scheduling. My integrated calendar hangs on that side, with each family member’s activities merged into one place. The right side of the fridge is for policy. When mom has a message for the family, that’s where it goes. And the bigger it is, the more importance it bears. And when it’s in colors – well, you just better read it and be ready to discuss it at dinner.
If I’ve learned nothing else as the only female in my household, it’s that I think differently than they do. My girly sensibilities about being nice, sharing and the like don’t translate well to the guys. But, still, I felt the need to restore a bit of gentility to my home, so started a list. I pondered the lists in pop culture that state things that everyone should already know. The one that seemed to have started it all was Robert Fulghum’s 1988 credo All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Simple instructions – like Play Fair, Don’t Hit People, and Don’t Take Things That Aren’t Yours – that too many people seem to have forgotten (if they ever knew them to begin with). The list I read most recently was Gretchen Rubin’s 12 Rules of Adulthood in her book The Happiness Project. Hers are less practical and more existential, but still strike at the heart of kindness, honesty and fairness, in an introspective way.
As I considered the purpose of my list – to promote harmony in my household – I had to keep it on the practical side. The males who live in this house don’t really like it when I speak in code, and I don’t really like it when they don’t understand me, so I figured I’d better be direct. Thus the list entitled “Family Expectations” was born. Printed neatly on a small poster-sized page, each item in a different color, I’d used all the tools in my bag to express to them that this was important to me. I even taped it to the fridge about 4’ off the ground, so it would be eye level to the youngest reader. I went further, and de-cluttered the top of the fridge, so it wouldn’t be lost in the visual chaos that sometimes creeps up.
Cooperate with others.
Communicate without anger.
Pick up after yourself.
I chose not to make the customary announcement about the new posting, but to let it come to me from each of them in their own way. While one or two of them may have chosen not to bring it up, I knew they all saw it, so my message was delivered. Whether it would bring about a change in behavior I’d have to wait and see. I didn’t think any of the entries were unreasonable, and all were things that a loving family should do anyway, so I had no need to feel like this was an abusive request.
The first day went by without remark. The second day one of the kids made a sarcastic crack, actually using one of the posted expectations to extort a desired behavior from his brother. (NOT what I had in mind.) On the third day my youngest son drew a picture on the list, and added a few items. (Again, not what I had in mind.) The dialogue I imagined never happened, but my point was made.
I get these dreamy visions sometimes, of my family having an intellectual discussion about matters that are of importance to me, taking them seriously, ending with a big group hug of confirmation. But that never happens. So I have to accept that we are not the uber-polite, Stepford-family in my visions. My kids argue, don’t clean their rooms without threats, pull tricks not to eat their vegetables, and sneak electronic devices under the covers after bedtime. But they also do their homework, eat dinner at the table with their parents, go to their little brother’s school play on a Saturday night, and are generally good kids. And we love each other.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m such a Lucky Mom!