Stopwatch Parenting

January 10, 2008

“CODE RED!!!!!!! CODE RED!!!!  EVERYONE ON THE COUCH IMMMMMEDDIIAATELY!!!!!”

They couldn’t see my face, but I was smiling.  The top-of-my-lungs shouts continued to echo throughout the house and the yard.

The response was immediate… soon I could hear feet pounding heavily on the stairs, down the hall, across the kitchen and from back in the library.  And the shouting!

“Hurry up guys!  Come on! Dad wants us! This is a code red!  Come on!  HURRRRYYYYY”

Combined with my cries, the ruckus was deafening – and effective.

Within no time at all, there they sat, all 7 of them (Sariah, at 4 months old, as yet has been officially excused from coming on the ‘Code Red’ alert… though I’ve considered modifying that policy… after all can’t one of the older ones bring her in?  hehe).

Faces glowing, chest heaving from the run, feet fidgeting, and eyes twinkling with a mixture of excitement and a tiny sparkle of dread… what was it going to be this time?

Looking down on them, my heart just about burst!  What a wonderful bunch of children I have!

“Ok, everyone, I’ve divided the house into 3 sections:  Section one – library, bathroom, dressing room.  Section two – hall, dining room, kitchen. Section three – living room, office, hall, back bathroom.

“Here’s the deal:  The house is a MESS (pig pen really) and I won’t stand for it another minute! (This with a wink and a smile)  I’m going to set the timer for 25 minutes and everyone is going to start in the library.

“If you get section one done in that time, everyone will get $.50.  If you get sections one and two done, then we will go to the dollar movie tonight!  (This followed by shouts and a burst of excitement… we almost never go to the movies)

“If you get sections one, two and three done in that time, then we’ll add popcorn to that movie. Ready…”

Here I was intrupted by 3 little hands shooting up with questions.

“Do we have to vacuum?”  “No, the floors are OK”  “What about sweeping and mopping?”  “Sweep, yes… mop, no”  “Do we…”  “Sorry time for questions is up… Ready, set, gooooooooo!!!! Clock is ticking now!”

With that, the ultimate home cleaning machine exploded into action.  Away they went with an outrageous flurry and passion to meet the challenge and earn the coveted reward.

Margie and I retired to my office.  With no small delight, we enjoyed the sounds of Esther barking commands, Jared laughing, Joshua hustling about, Hyrum wondering when we were going to eat, and all of the above continually encouraging Isaac and Brigham in their short attention span labors.

“Done! Dad, we’re done!!!”

I looked at the timer – 19 minutes. Their best time ever.  VERY impressive.

“Ok gang. You’ve still got 6 minutes on the clock. I’m going to add 9 more.  If you can get the entire basement done in that time, I’ll give you a double bonus surprise. Goooooo!!!!”

And they did.  But they only needed the 9 minutes.  Total time: 28 minutes to total clean.

“Ok, everyone in the library.  Let’s inspect.  So, this is what you guys call ‘clean’.  Now let’s go through each room and inspect to see if your ‘clean’ matches my ‘clean’.

Going from room to room I had them point out what was done right and what could be improved upon.  For the most part they had done their duty wonderfully well.

During the review of the last 35 minutes of sheer energy and efficiency, I asked my children what had made the difference. After all, this same task, at other times, had taken them more than 2 hours of painful nagging and corresponding complaints.  Yet, here we had just cleaned the house, top to bottom in 28 minutes.  No nagging, no complaining, no fighting, no fussing.

What made the difference?

“It was the stopwatch dad. We were racing against the clock,” said Esther.

“And having a really cool reward,” added Jared.

Both were right.

Consider the Olympics.  When we as humans have clocks ticking and rewards awaiting, we rise up and do miraculous things.

Parenting and family life is no different.  Timing, tracking, rewarding, encouraging, and playing… it all puts the purpose back into parenting and the joy back into family life.

So, is your stopwatch handy?  On your mark, get set, gooooooooooo!!!!!!!


Missing Pants and Real Men

January 4, 2008

With a no small effort, I steeled myself to what would come next.

Looking at the black bag next to me, I knew that my sons would soon discover that our agreement was a serious one.  Though I did not see them, my ears followed them past my office, down the hall, and into the bedroom.

Silence.  Then rustling through drawers and laundry baskets.  Silence… thoughtful silence.

“Dad… mom… where are my pants?  Where is my shirt? I can’t find my shoes! Where is everything?”

I dropped my head and a small, sad smile crept over my face.  This was not going to be easy – that accounted for the sadness, but I felt deep inside that it would solve the problem – hence the smile.

“Son, come on in here,” I called.

I didn’t say a thing as he walked into the office, only pointed to the black bag.  Looking down, there was a flash of confusion, followed by a dawning of remembrance that spread into understanding.

A few days before, we had talked about the chaos of the dressing room.  In our house we have the washing and drier in a large room that also has all of the boy’s dressers.  It makes life infinitely easier on Margie when doing laundry because all dirty clothes, dressers, and cleaning equipment are in one handy location.

But it also means that five boys are constantly coming and going, changing clothes… and leaving enormous messes, compounded by the one location thing.

We gathered the family together and discussed how to handle this pigpen free-for-all.  Mutually, we had agreed that if clothes were left uncared for on the floor, then they would be confiscated… become victim to the magic parenting act of dropping it into a large black plastic bag. The only way to redeem a piece of clothing was to do an extra bit of work around the house or yard.

For the first few days, the fear of losing clothes had kept the room reasonably clean.  But then came that fateful moment when, consciously or subconsciously, they each decided to test the resolve of their parents and validity of the agreement.

“No dad!  I have to have those clothes right now!  I promise, I won’t leave them out again, just let me have them… please!” (this with a deadly charming look of pleading, mixed with pity, mixed with a cry for mercy)

“Does it really matter?  Just give the boy his clothes. Who cares if the room is a disaster zone? That’s just the way children are.  You’re being too tough here.”  These were the thoughts running through my head as he bore down on me with those big brown, sad puppy dog eyes.  It was almost more than I could bear.

But then reason snuck back in.  “If you give in now, your promises, agreements, and authority will be lost for now and maybe irreparably damaged for the future.  There are too many lessons at stake here… far more than a clean room.  Integrity, honesty, the power of an agreement and keeping your word, respect for authority, etc… the list goes one. No matter how tough it is, you’ve got to hold firm on your word.”

“You bet son!  I’d love to give all this back to you!”  (Pause for effect… his eyes glowing in triumph!)  “That is, just as soon as you clean out the car and mop the floor for the extra jobs you agreed to.”

Arrrggggg!  Victory was turned to sulking, frustration, and grumbling.

“Sorry, son.  You agreed and you broke your word.  You’ll have to be a man and keep your end of the bargain by submitting to the punishment.”

And he did.

Since that day, we have had to bring out the black bag on a few more occasions, but it is infrequent and the redemption work is done quickly and willingly.  The room has been upgraded to “moderately clean, most of the time”, and downgraded from a nuclear warfare zone.

But, more importantly, we see our boys turning into men of integrity, commitment and honesty.

And having real men for sons is WAY better than a clean room… and having both is the best of all.