Saturday, June 17, 2023

The Family Contract – Parents To Lovers

As parents we both want to keep a loving and mutually respectful relationship with our daughter while guiding her to learn what she needs to be a thriving adult and ready to venture into the world in a few years. Though our aims are the same, our parenting styles are different. Mona’s style is encouraging and also putting her foot down when boundaries are breached. Mine  is more easy going and it may sometimes seem uninvolved. There are times when I get a bit too hands-off and times when Mona is a bit too hands on. 

Overall we complement each other pretty well and are ready to enter the next challenge – the teenage years. We don’t subscribe to the idea that teenagers are all rebellious, disrespectful and difficult. And as our daughter is 11 years old we have a couple of years yet before we find out if we are right or not. So far the signs are good. 

As part of our wish for a continuing peaceful and enjoyable family life we have spent the last days building a ‘Family Contract’, setting out some basic guidelines about how we want to operate as a family. In it we wanted to cover some areas that I guess are common to many families – namely reducing screen time, getting ready in the mornings and helping around the home.

We’re clear about why these are important and had not really found a way to get our daughter onboard on a consistent basis. Over the last weeks, these three things have represented tension points for all of us. Nothing really worrying or dangerous, but creating frustrations most mornings, and draining energy and joy. 

Our first step was to draft a set of responsibilities, boundaries and co-operation agreements and get input from each of us before fixing it as a tool to help us move forward. It was clear from the rolling of eyes and huffing and puffing of our daughter that this approach was not getting us closer together. 

With hindsight, and putting myself into the shoes of an 11 year old girl, it was obvious that a family conference about limits, responsibilities and boundaries was never going to be welcome with open arms. It was simply parents trying to take some freedom away.

We should have started with the second part of the discussion, which was about how to bring more enjoyment and aliveness into our life together. From here the ideas flowed.  We found out more about the things she’s missed during the pandemic and the ways we would love to spend time together. We were all fully engaged, excited and a sense of being in this together. We ended with a great list of things we want to do, learn and experience together. 

Our family contract is now proudly displayed on the door of the fridge. 

Stepping back a bit I realised that a focus on setting limits, responsibilities and boundaries without a broader context is not much fun. They are part of a bigger picture where the ground is set for clarity, safety, harmony, co-operation and the wellbeing of all of us. They are settling and grounding. But even so, not a way to generate immediate excitement. 

Exploring wishes, dreams and possibilities – especially in the realm of what we can actually create and do – is quite a different thing. When the two are placed side by side they make sense together. The things we choose to do to keep the day running smoothly (limits etc.) are the foundations that allow us to actually live the life we want. Without getting up in the morning we can’t enjoy the best part of the day. Without keeping the apartment tidy and in order, we don’t have the homely ‘launchpad’ for other activities. Without reducing the screen time that eats away our hours, we don’t have the time to do more fun and inspiring activities. And these are true for all of us. 

I had forgotten this. And was so much focused on the maintenance part and put aside the part where I actually experience life. Mine. As a couple. And as a family.

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