I had lots of friends at the grocery store when I was little. If I asked nicely, the woman behind the counter at the bakery would give me a cookie. The lady passing out samples to the customers, who was taller than my dad and had the biggest hands I’d ever seen, would remark on how tall I was growing as she slipped my mom some extra coupons. The woman checking us out would shake her head at my dad, wondering once again how and why my parents brought their three kids under 8 years old shopping with them every week. I couldn’t really picture a way we’d do it otherwise. We’d gotten our shopping trips down to a science. Mom would start at the back wall of the produce section with my youngest brother Sam in tow, while my Dad, sister (Hayley), and I flew threw the aisles and tried to get as much of the dairy and meat as we could before she finished. As we grew older, my Dad took Sam, and Hayley and I would go off separately, with our own buggy, calculator, and coupons, to find the best deals (and to get all the samples twice). I loved this time of the week. Even though we were all young, we were such a strong team, and people took notice of that.
Teamwork has always been a part of our blood. My Dad grew up playing football, and brought that team mindset into our family. Looking back, a lot of the ways our family operated before using Unbound Life techniques was rooted in Unbound Life Principles, especially the second one:
“Our family thrives when all members work as a team moving in the same direction.”
We were all involved in nearly every aspect of each others lives. Through our trips to the grocery store, monthly backpacking trips, and whole family cleaning routines, we’ve grown into an efficient and close-knit team. My parents gave me a strong foundation for work, which is a really important tool that has helped me through a lot of situations as I’ve grown older.
Hearing your kid’s voices
Even though we were great at operating as a team, we still had issues in a few areas. As we started using Unbound Life techniques, we realized that we struggled with the third Principle:
“The best ideas for making our family great come from all members of the team, each voice is critical and valuable.”
Up until about 5 years ago, my dad did all the prioritizing and assigning of work, meaning he chose which work was most important and which could wait to a later week. Having my dad choose the work actually took less time, was more efficient, and was probably more consistent. However, as my dad is only one person, he had no actual idea of what work my mom did on a day to day basis, or what us kids wanted or needed to do. This led to more disagreements between my dad and my mom, as she felt that she didn’t have a say in the work that was getting done, and honestly allowed me to be more passive in my work. I had less accountability, and it was very easy for me to feel frustrated by the work because I had no buy-in to it. Though this approach to work is supposed to allow more efficiency, we were actually making it less efficient by not slowing down to let everyone have a say in the work we were doing.
The oldest child
As the oldest of three kids, I was the guinea pig for a lot of experiments that my parents tried as they figured out what work system worked best for our family. We’ve tried dozens of different ways, some good, some bad, all learning experiences that have shaped the way we operate today. I was in fourth grade (around 10 years old) when my dad started making the shift towards what we use today. It began with a meeting with our whole family the week before school started. My mom laid cookies and special drinks out on the table, and my dad handed out paper packets with our names on them. The agenda included taking a tour of our work board, seeing how the new school room was organized, and a review of the calendar. It was a proper business meeting, my parents told me, “Just like the kind daddy has at work.”. They walked us through what was going to be different that year and why we were changing the way we ran our family, asking us what we thought about it along the way. I suddenly felt like I had a new and better sense of responsibility. As I answered the questions my parents asked me and they took the time to explain why they wanted to make these changes in my terms, I felt respected and included, which made it easier for me to respect their choices and be more open to the changes they were making.
I think that’s a really important thing to remember if you’re implementing something like Unbound Life with older kids, and especially important for the oldest kid in your family. They want to feel included like an adult. This doesn’t mean you have to give them the voice and responsibilities of an adult right away, but rather start by asking what they think about things, and just giving them 30 seconds to say whatever they have on their mind. You don’t always have to do what they say obviously, but talking them through what you think about their idea, and why ultimately you want to do it or don’t want to do it will make them feel like their ideas are valid and that they can be included in adult conversations.
Including your kids in everyday work
It’s easy to include your kids on big picture things like my parents did with the meeting, but it’s harder to include them on the day to day work, especially when it would be easier and faster for you to do it yourself. This is something that my family struggled with. It’s easy for relationship and your kids voices to get lost if you don’t take time to intentionally slow down. As we’ve gotten older, the times that I’ve felt most heard are when my parents take the time to slow down and ask me questions. Take the time to make kids feel just a little bit grown up and ask their opinion on something. If you’re working on a project, talk through the possible solutions to a problem with them before choosing one. I know it’s probably hard in the moment to not want to just fix whatever it is yourself, but by slowing down and listening, you’re building a more confident child and a stronger family team.
By Madison Theil