Happiness of the family as a whole generally comes from strength in two main areas: Order and Stability. Each of these areas can be broken down into a few sub areas, all of them as important as the other, and all lending to the success of the whole and achievement of a truly happy family. Order comes by addressing self-discipline, having good and fair rules in place, and having consistency in enforcing those rules. Stability itself is composed of a stable predictable family routine, financial stability, and emotional stability. And most importantly, you as the leader of your household cannot neglect your own needs. You must be happy, you must be healthy, you must spend time with yourself reflecting and thinking.
The remainder of this document addresses all of these areas and lends suggestions as to how to work with them.
YOU SPEND TIME WITH YOU
For yourself and by yourself, summarize the state of the family union every so often. Take a good look at where you are, how you got there, and where you want to be. Write down comments and suggestions for getting it where it needs to be, then prepare to talk to the family about it.
Get the family together, without distraction, and address them with your state of the union. Then, in a very ordered fashion, get their feedback…their perspectives, on each very specific area you covered. Keep the order, have a heavy hand if need be to keep people taking turns and waiting to be called on to talk, because the survival of what all of you love and need is at stake. Be firm, but gentle, but firm. As much as the world thinks it distasteful to say, the husband is the ruler of his house in many ways…that’s order, that’s the way it should be, and people are happier when everything is in order. The same way every successful company has a hierarchy of authority that makes it successful, so does a family: it requires leadership, and YOU my brutha are president for life.
THE PARENTS’ PART
KEY: husband and wife working together. Supporting each other and each other’s decisions. Being sure to both be doing things toward the common good and goals. The children will see if the union is strong or weak, and behave accordingly. You must agree on standards of discipline (what will and will not be tolerated), when to talk about a matter before setting out on your own to make a command decision, etc. Just lots of talking, and that means time specifically set aside for that.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE. Do as I say not as I do does not work. No hypocrites allowed.
Remember and remind each other of what is most important.
Do not talk about private matters in the presence of the children. Use good discretion in this area. Some things are none of their business and they should not be privy to the discussions that take place as you arrive at decisions. They may attempt to use such knowledge to undermine your rules for their own gain, or at the very least the hearing of such discussions could erode their morale.
THE KIDS’ PART
Their part is to follow the rules of the household, keep good attitudes (cause they’re catchy), and do their best to be good kids. Pretty easy stuff.
Some Rule Suggestions…
- NO TV when there’s something else that needs to be done. It’s a life killer, for sure, and will WASTE your very precious time. That means no tv for anybody when there’s something else they should be doing.
- NO WASTING ELECTRICITY. When you leave a room, you turn off the light and anything else that is on and doesn’t need to be. This includes hot water. If they don’t learn to turn the lights off QUICKLY, and take shorter showers, light bulbs will be removed and the hot water heater will be shut off at the panel except for certain hours. They’ll just have to use candles and take cold sponge baths. Period.
- Install power saver bulbs.
- Chores will be assigned. Not slave amounts of chores, but chores. Everybody has to pull their weight. That means animals taken care of, lawn mowing, rooms cleaned, laundry where it should be, dishes done, kitchen cleaned, trash taken out. Period. Anybody who doesn’t do their chores WHEN THEY ARE DUE loses privileges for a time, like after school activities, TV, and earlier bed times.
- SET BEDTIMES. Based on age, and exceptions made on occasion when justified, heads will be on pillows and lights out by 11 on school nights. Period.
- HOMEWORK WILL BE DONE BEFORE BEDTIME. PERIOD. So make sure you budget your time wisely, because except for VERY good reasons, no exceptions will be made to this rule.
It is VITAL that there be consequences for violation of the rules, including not doing chores when they are supposed to be done. Give a kid an inch, they’ll take a mile, and you’ll soon lose all control of the situation. It is JUST AS VITAL that these consequences be doled out with judgement and compassion, bearing in mind that the goal isn’t to inflict pain as much as it is to help them learn self-discipline. But the order of the house as a whole depends on the order of the individuals. They must understand that their lack of self-discipline affects everybody, not just themselves.
Read and execute Dave Ramsey’s book “Total Money Makeover”
Self-Explanatory. Don’t spend if it violates the budget; Don’t waste gas on unnecessary trips; Plan outings with gas in mind. Don’t waste things at home (food, etc.).
THE PARENT’S PART
Sign up for any and all services that you qualify for. WIC, Foodstamps, Unemployment, training programs, utility bill assistance…EVERYTHING. Typically this should be done by the wife (assuming she isn’t working outside of the home) since she has more time during work hours to do it. Small towns nearby have very short lines…it isn’t that much of an inconvenience. DO THIS IMMEDIATELY! Do it. Do it. DO IT.
Actively seek a job, every single day without fail. Read the paper, make calls, go register with temp agencies, register with the Unemployment office. DO YOUR PART. Some things are outside of your power to affect, others are totally within your power. Prove you are serious about wanting to provide for your family, and not proving it to anybody else except for yourself. You’ll sleep much better at night knowing in your own heart that you did all you could that day to address this area of financial responsibility.
Identify and FILL UP as many financial drains as possible. Some possible suggestions are:
- Put the house on the market and sell the sucker. Right now, a mortgage and utility bills of that size are far beyond your means. If you don’t sell it, you will lose it and have nothing to show for it at all.
- Work towards physically moving closer to those parts of town where you spend the most time to reduce travel distances.
- If it’s best for the success of the family, dictate that they will all go to school locally. It’s a given this will generate rebellion and complaint, but necessity dictates. You yourself went to a different school every year of your life almost. You lived, you got educated, you didn’t cave in and cry about it. It isn’t like you would be sending them to some prison-like inner city school.
- Implement strict electricity usage policies at home. Set a goal of reducing your monthly bill by $100 by doing nothing more than simply turning off what is not in use, including the heater/fan.
- Shorten showers/hot water usage.
- Turn off unneeded circuits at certain times.
- Replace bulbs with money savers
THE KIDS’ PART
Their part is to comply with whatever decisions you come up with in this arena and to fulfill their obligations at home (chores) so you can concentrate on more important matters.
THE PARENTS’ PART
Make a budget…a plan. I realize that there isn’t usually enough cash to go around where it’s needed, but at the VERY least make a list of who is owed how much and when, then nothing can go unnoticed. I also realize that sometimes it “seems” easier to deal with it if you just don’t think about it. But experience has taught that you ALWAYS feel better having faced it, even if only on paper, than totally avoiding it. Trust me on this. Make a list of bills.
After a budget, or a list of bills is made, make phone calls and see if arrangements are possible. When things are tight, the saying “robbing peter to pay paul” is reality. Reality also dictates that some things will not get paid; that’s life, just be sure to prioritize them, and make the ones absolutely essential first. My own personal order is this:
- Food, water, and clothes;
- Everything else
Remember, you are surrounded by woods full of good things to eat if it comes down to it. Pigeons and doves taste good, squirrels taste good, rabbits taste good, turkeys taste good. Make a couple of throw lines for the river across the street and check them every afternoon. Fish tastes good too.
Say “NO” to the kids when the request is for something that isn’t needed and you cannot afford. JUST SAY NO. They won’t die, and you’ll still be a good father looking out for their best interest.
THE KIDS’ PART
It never hurts to ask for something, but do NOT complain and rebel if the answer is NO; there are good reasons for the judgements parents make when making a decision.
Follow the rules regarding conserving resources. DO turn off lights and other electrical items when not needed; DO take shorter showers to conserve hot water;
You’re already very good about communicating with the family; very good. Just be sure to continue to weave in communication about family priorities, praise for doing well, and keeping your finger on the pulse of how the family’s morale is doing. They need to lean on you a lot at times for encouragement, and you are very good at encouraging people by your example. Just be mindful of how important the communication, reminders, and encouragement by example in word and deed is to everybody’s happiness. In 50 years when they all look back on their lives you want them to think of you and say “he was a damn good man and father”. But do also remember that you yourself don’t seem to have any issues in this area…NOBODY has a bigger heart than you, and nobody could ever deny that.
Rather than it happen on a whim or the spur of the moment, pencil in planned family time once during the week, and on the weekend. And be sure that you do not allow the TV to be the central gathering point, except on few occasions…things have to stay balanced. Instead, do things like board games (scrabble, monopoly, risk), go for a walk down the road together, do a bbq outside for dinner, use that picnic table and nice yard while the weather permits, have a tailgate party, use your deck upstairs and just sit in lawn chairs and listen to music and talk. Shoot, start a new tradition, like family poker night or something…get creative, but make it time that everybody can participate in. Use that fireplace of yours…move the table, lay out blankets in front of it, and have a fireside chat.
ONE ON ONE TIME
It’s important to try and get one on one time with everybody here and there…ask them how they’re feeling, if they have any suggestions…let them participate and feel like a part of everybody’s success. Most especially, give the wife this one on one time. Re-institute date night, even if it is on a low budget at times, and don’t let it fall through the cracks. You could do things like take a walk around town, go to the city park, walk around the square. One on one, make them feel special, and work hard to keep it equal, even if one or two do tend to squeak more.