Families are Like Artichokes

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Our families are sometimes like the outer edges of the artichoke-prickly, hard to move, and comfortable just where they are. The only way to get the leaves and family members to become malleable and motivated is through a warm environment and taking the time and effort to work with them one by one.

As those tough outer edges are peeled back, the leaves become softer and more pliable. The closer you get to the center, the more delicious the meat becomes. Finally, after consistently working on the outer leaves and having little bites that delight the senses, the true delicacy is revealed -- the heart.

What a treat to reach the heart and to know that the leaves only had a small sample of the tastes. It is the heart that holds the big reward. It is the heart that has substance and will fill you with joy.

Fear of Finding the Heart
Many people never take the time and effort to get to the heart of an artichoke or a child. They are put off, intimidated and fearful of something that takes work and is unfamiliar. They stick with the ways of their parents even if they swore they would do better.

Perhaps they have never eaten an artichoke or lovingly mentored a child. They may be afraid of failure or the risk of rejection. Perhaps they don't think they would like it, so refuse to try. Perhaps, they would like to try, but don't know how. Many people don't know what they don't know. They aren't conscious of the abundance life has to offer.

They know apples. Eating apples has been a tradition in their families forever. An apple is easy. You see it, you eat it. Sure, some apples have bruises or worms in them, but at least you know what to expect. It is second nature to reach for an apple or to open a can of corn. But to try something new and different? That involves a risk.

What if they don't like it? What if it is expensive? What if they don't know how to cook it or eat it? What if their friends make fun of them for trying something new? What if they have to ask someone for help in learning new techniques for using artichokes, star fruits, pomegranates and other unfamiliar items of food?

Try New Methods-Establish New Traditions
Maybe it is too much trouble to try something new at this stage of the game. Perhaps it will be hard at first to establish new ways of looking at old patterns and habits. It will require a learning curve of expecting others to assume personal responsibility for their choices. It will mean mindful and thoughtful actions, not just knee jerk reactions.

Others may not be willing to explore new methods of working together to create a harmonious home. They may have a vested interest in sabotaging efforts to divide chores fairly, because they haven't had to do their share before.

It is Worth the Effort, Trust Me
Will you trust me when I tell you that it is worth the effort to learn new ways, whether it is in parenting or eating. I grew up on an Idaho farm and had never heard of an English muffin, Asiago cheese or artichokes until I was in college. It felt a little disloyal to my upbringing to enjoy new tastes. However, what I found was that the family embraced the new ways (after a little teasing) and they too enjoyed previously unheard of items. Now, trying new things is not as scary and the next generations take it as a matter of course.

If sticking to the old methods and patterns had been working, you wouldn't be reading this right now. Take a chance. Go ahead. I encourage you to try something different than what you have done before. You may be surprised at how much easier life will be when everyone is contributing and cooperative. Make life better for you, your children and your children's children.

Please set an intention to incorporate some of these ideas, tips and techniques to work more closely with your children as they gain life skills. Peel back the layers and find the heart. Our children have much to teach us, just as we have many life lessons to share with them.

We are going to be discussing two important components of responsibility: outward responsibility and inward responsibility.

Outward responsibility deals with everyday life skills such as chores, brushing teeth, returning videos on time, and feeding the dog. Each family has their own list of what they consider important, so we aren't going to discuss particular tasks. Rather, we want to assist you in nurturing a positive attitude and good habits in your children - habits that will help them to be productive and reliable.

Outward responsibility is measurable; either the garbage is by the curb or not. It is usually a tangible task with a beginning, middle and end.

Children and adults can be outwardly responsible and still be lacking in the character traits and virtues that add value to the world around them.

Inward responsibility deals with attitudes, beliefs and values. Being inwardly responsible means owning our emotions and reactions; admitting mistakes, being unselfish, and caring about other people's health, property and feelings. Inward responsibility is the most important type of responsibility to focus on, as far as I am concerned. We frequently get bogged down with the frustration of dirty rooms and forget about the more important factors like inward motivation.

Aptitude, competence or the ability to accomplish a task is not nearly as important and vital to a happy life as Attitude. This is the area where we help our children build confidence, a can-do outlook and a positive expectancy toward life.

Discipline Means Learning and Knowledge

Ideally, our homes should be like apprentice shops, where our children work by our sides and learn the life skills they need to be successful, contributing adults. The word discipline, as defined in Webster's dictionary, means learning or knowledge, the training that develops self-control, character, orderliness and efficiency. The root word of discipline is disciple, which means a student or follower of another. As parents, we are challenged to walk in such a way that those who follow us learn to discipline themselves, wherever they go, whatever they do and no matter how old they become.

The lessons of life and self-discipline that we want our children to learn in our homes are not only the practical ones, such as making a bed, sewing on a button or cooking a meal. They include intangible lessons as well: it is equally important for children to learn the art of cooperation, the satisfaction of finishing a job, the ease in following a viable schedule, and the value of sticking with a task. Children need to learn these lessons in order to cope successfully with the problems and challenges they will face in life.

There is no greater calling than to be a teacher, and there are no greater teachers than parents and extended family. If we remember that the ultimate goal in getting our kids to help at home is teaching them good work habits, rather than just to get the family room picked up before we go crazy, we approach the task from a different perspective. We will not be approaching tasks in a labor-management, master-slave or leader-follower manner as much as we will be modeling the more respectful roles of teacher-pupil. We have experiences to share with our children. We care about their character formation, their skill development and their general happiness more than any others in the world.

The seeds of good judgment, thoughtful consideration for others and self-reliance in all areas of daily family life are most easily planted during a child's pre-school years. These can then be reinforced every day until they leave home. It is the responsibility of parents to teach our children. Schools, churches, Girl Scouts, YMCA and other youth organizations only supplement the lessons children receive at home.

A Positive Identity Hinges on Positive Life Experiences

If positive experiences take place in a safe and secure home, then so much the better. The more success a child experiences, the better he feels about himself and his place in the world, and the more courage he has to try new and different things. When we "en"courage our children we give them the gift to make mistakes and to take risks. We focus on their assets and strengths in order to build their feelings of worth.

Many of the irritating things a child does on daily basis at home happen because the child doesn't know any better or because he or she is trying to get attention. If we can combine appropriate working principles with positive and encouraging attention, our homes are bound to be more functional and happy.

Most children have an innate sense of fair play. They know that it isn't fair when one person does the work and the rest get to goof around. They want to be a part of the team and to cooperate in accomplishing chores quickly so that the whole family has more time to do fun things together.

Synergy- Strength of the Group
In our living room is a beautiful potted plant. It contains a number of small individual stems and branches that, seen as separate entities, appear fragile and unsteady. But, grouped together, they gain strength and protection from one another. Their roots are intertwined and form a foundation that allows them to successfully withstand being knocked over and occasionally neglected. Families are like that plant. We are all in it together. The word for the strength of a unit is synergy. It means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

As we teach our children to work, the whole family wins. Children feel greater self-esteem, independence and a sense of belonging. Parents feel relieved of some of the workload, and they feel less burdened and more successful as they see their child develop new skills and confidence.

It is Never too Late to Establish New Priorities and Begin Again

Be sure that you give yourself credit for the positive steps you have already taken. Don't be discouraged in thinking that because your son is a total slob with his dirty clothes, and your daughter considers it funny to try to get out of doing her chores, that these things mean they will end up living under the bridge, or with you again, when they are 40 years old and have kids of their own. Relax. Things do get better. Time and continued effort on your part will pay off. Trust me.

Remember to incorporate new techniques, games, rewards, incentives and methods as you work to achieve the ultimate goal of cheerful cooperation within the family. It has been my experience that most techniques only stay interesting for around six weeks. Also, what works for Sally may not motivate John at all, and what works on Tuesday may not work on Wednesday? In fact, what works Tuesday at 10 a.m. may be a dismal failure at 11 a.m.!

So, don't give up! Be determined to work as a family to become more aware of what needs to be done to keep daily life running smoothly. Make a conscious effort to gather the tools, learn new skills, practice innovative methods and face each day with a positive expectancy that you will succeed.

Consistent Expectations and Follow-Through
In any new endeavor, it takes about five months of consistent, daily attention before it becomes automatic action. In order to change habits, we may have to try many different tactics. Children easily become bored, and we forget to follow-through.

This booklet contains ideas and suggestions that have helped many families. I hope you will be able to incorporate some of the methods into your particular situation and/or use them as a foundation to build upon when you map out strategies for working together in your home.

As with any how-to book, take these ideas and techniques and adapt the ones that will work with your family. No one knows and loves your family like you do. There is no blanket approach or formula that works for all children. My hope for you is that you will have "clicking moments" when you hear something that will click with you and you think, "Hey, we could do that" or maybe "we are already doing that, we just need to tweak it a little so it will be more effective."

Please don't think that we had an ideal family or that I was Martha Stewart and my husband Bill Cosby. In reality, we were a bunch of people struggling to get through every day and have a few minutes for fun, just like most of you. In addition to two or three jobs, we usually had a side business of some kind going on in order to pay for braces, bread and tennis shoes. We did too much arguing, yelling and threatening at times. On a scale of ten, we would never have rated ourselves as much more than a 6 or 7 and that was on our best days! We weren't anywhere near perfect and neither were our children. So don't ever feel guilty when you fall short of your parenting goals, just start over again tomorrow.

Keep a Long Range View of What Life Skills You are Teaching

We tried hard never to lose sight of our long-range goal of raising responsible children who would be self-supporting and happy. Even the times we were lousy examples as parents or forgot to remain calm and consistent, the kids never doubted for one minute that they were loved unconditionally and that learning is a process.

If you want a more in-depth study of kids helping out around the house, please order my book Kids, Chores & More available at local bookstores or from our website www.artichokepress.com. Kids, Chores and More is a 128 page book filled with great ideas, including a section on the physical, mental and emotional levels of each age group. This section can help you to form realistic expectations about what kinds of chores and responsibilities your child can tackle at different ages.

Expect a Few Potholes Along the Journey

Will you always have a clean house if you adapt these and other good ideas you learn from other parents? No. But you will have more cooperative children who enjoy being at home and have learned to assume personal responsibility. Will they always be happy and joyful about chores, choices and consequences? Again, the answer is no. However, they will learn a valuable lesson in empowerment and self-confidence and they will become self-sufficient, contributing members of the world, and that is an excellent head start toward a successful life.

I always encourage parents to look down the road 15 years at the adult, instead of right now at the child who is balking at unloading the dishwasher. Yes, it would be easier on you to just put the dishes away yourself, but what does your child learn when you do his chores for him? Almost all learning is accomplished through trial and error or the natural or logical consequence of your actions.

Allow Them to "Own" the Job

If we as parents step in and prevent the error or consequence, we have just prevented the learning. We all need to be able to make mistakes and errors in judgment in order to learn what works and what doesn't. This is how we fine-tune our skills and master the tasks at hand. We do our children a grave disservice by stepping in to save them, unless it is a matter of safety. We need to work together as a family unit in a supportive but non-interfering way to learn new skills and head toward the goal of an independent, successful and harmonious life.

Good luck! As a word of encouragement, I have to tell you that, of our grown children, the ones who were the messiest as kids are the neatest as adults! Hang in there, there is hope for the future.

Next: 101 Ways to Get Your Kids to Help at Home Part One

Judy H. Wright is a parent educator, family coach, and personal historian who has written more than 20 books, hundreds of articles and speaks internationally on family issues, including end of life. You are invited to visit our blog at www.AskAuntieArtichoke.com for answers and suggestions which will enhance your relationships. You will also find a full listing of free tele-classes and radio shows held each Thursday just for you at www.ArtichokePress.com.

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