Sunday, March 27, 2011
Cultivating Cooperation Within the Family
I often find myself thanking people for compliments paid to my family. Both strangers and friends frequently marvel at the calm sense of solidarity and cooperation that envelops our family. More often than not, these comments are followed closely by queries about applying strategies that I have employed to their respective families. Although many of the ideas that I share are elementary, they are no longer obvious in our high speed society. As our lives have become more and more mechanized, streamlined and impersonal, our family relationships have as well.
The cultivation of cooperation in a family begins conscientiously at the genesis of the family unit. Adults in the family must commit to a higher level of communication and expectation of success and peace within the family. By placing a deliberate emphasis on the concept of family members as built in life helpers, a healthy interdependence is born. From babyhood through the teen years, a steady agenda of cooperation and civility is employed. These truths taught by my parents have allowed me to maintain healthy and loving relationships with my siblings as adults.
As children realize that their actions affect others in the family, they strive to attain approval. Simple games of please and thank you accompanied by exaggerated facial expressions and emotions taught my one year olds that their actions mattered. When my toddlers behaved well, they were rewarded with a smile and hug. Over-exaggerated sad faces taught my sons that their actions could hurt people. Soon, they began to understand how we should treat others. They began to look outside of themselves to see where they fit into our family. Clear and consistent messages regarding acceptable behavior were invaluable at this age.
Preschool aged children are able to apply their understanding of relationship dynamics. At ages four and six my children began age appropriate chores such as setting the table, clearing dishes and emptying wastebaskets. Shared chores and clean up time helped to instill a sense of belonging to our group. In our home we have a standard team cleaning time. Friday evenings the whole house is cleaned. This allows everyone to sleep in on Saturdays while I prepare breakfast. My children are grateful for the sleep. I am grateful for the shared burden of keeping our home environment clean and healthy. Not to mention... the quiet Saturday mornings to myself!
I cannot over emphasize the importance of modeling appropriate behavior and decorum. Our home is a haven of the expected. Each member expects to be treated with civility and love, even in times of frustration. Each member expects to compromise at times because they have received grace. There is only one clothes washer. That fact is unchangeable. But perhaps the family member using it can offer to include a garment to help a sibling in a pinch. Help is expected. Peace is expected. Cooperation is expected. My oldest son once told me that our family has behavior code. I suppose he is correct.
Finally, I prayerfully commit myself daily to encourage efforts to cooperate. Rarely does condemnation and consternation aid in the desire to be part of a team. Applaud successes and re-direct shortcomings. I have found that my children at times amaze me with their empathy. Cooperation was not an accidental accomplishment in our family. It was a priority.
*Originally published 8/18/04