In 1981, I was a single parent of a young disabled son, working a full time job, living in Park Slope Brooklyn. Given my constant state of overwhelm, I decided to get a group of parents together to see if we could find ways to parent without nagging, or threatening, or cajoling, and maybe even free up time for us to enjoy our kids. I doubted I was the only parent in overwhelm mode. I put together a bit of a program design and convinced the local library to give me a room one night a week for 8 weeks for a Parenting with Integrity program. They gave me a room, coffee, and advertising. They were terrific.
About 10 parents showed up (although it grew) – mainly families from the police force and city workers, couples and single people. Agreeing how deeply we respected the individuality of our kids, and taking our jobs as parents seriously, we began with a core value to avoid the nasty ‘parent’ stuff of cajoling, punishing and threatening. We formulated our agenda: develop thinking that led to enabling our kids to safely, ethically make and recognize their own best choices, with life lessons imbedded.
One of the women had 5 kids aged 8-16. Susan complained that her mornings were hell trying to get them all dressed and fed and out the door. By the time she got to work, she said, it took her an hour to recover from the yelling and screaming and chasing and reminding and name calling and… We put our heads together and came up with a plan.
Over dinner the next night, Susan told the kids how their chaotic mornings left her unhappy and frazzled. So to make sure she got to work happy, and make sure their days would start off nicely, she was going to change a few things starting the next morning: She would announce when it was 7:00 a.m. and say it loudly to make sure everyone could hear; then, as she got herself dressed and prepared breakfast, she’d give them 5 minute updates until they all left the house at 7:45. She would no longer fight with them over getting up, eating breakfast, clothes or misplaced items. She assumed they would awake with either her voice or their alarm clocks, and eat breakfast if they were hungry. She assumed that whatever they were wearing at 7:45 when they left the house were the clothes they wanted to wear that day. And she wouldn’t wait for any of them: if they weren’t at the door at 7:45, they’d have to find their own way to school.
And she was hilariously, fiercely, deadly serious.
The next morning, Susan cheerfully chirped “It’s 7:00 a.m. Morning everyone!” Then again at 7:05. ”Hi kids. It’s 7:05. Hey, did you see that the trees are beginning to bud? Take a look later. Pretty.” 7:10: “I have pancakes for everyone on the table for whoever’s hungry.” And so on, until 7:45 when she got to the front door to leave. Indeed, there were 5 children waiting. And 3 of them actually had clothes on. The other 2 wore pajamas. Without saying a word, Susan cheerfully got them into the car, put on her favorite CD and sang all the way to their schools. During the drive not a word was spoken.
Two principals called her that day. Here was her conversation with one of them: “Did you know your daughter is wearing her pajamas today?” Yup. That’s what she wanted to wear. “Um. OK. Just checking. I think the kids are making fun of her. But I’ve seen worse. Good luck.”
At 7:45 the next morning, all 5 kids were ready and dressed. She never had another bad morning.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we always knew how to create the circumstances that enable each other be our best selves?
Sharon-Drew Morgen is the thought leader behind Change Facilitation. Used in sales (Buying Facilitation®, coaching, leadership, and any type of buy-in, her original models enable people to go beyond bias to creativity, integrity, and excellence – all with collaboration and involvement. Sharon-Drew is the author of nine books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestseller’s Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Her award winning blog carries thought pieces and practical essays on helping buyers buy, enabling ethical collaboration and communication, and why mainstream thinking doesn’t always cause success. Sharon-Drew is a speaker, consultant, coach, and trainer.