Friday, January 18, 2008

Vyne Family Grace and Courtesy

Kat and Jessica asked if I might share about the development of our family discipline system. It's a long story, so feel free to skip this post if the topic sounds uninteresting.

Keep in mind that I felt I had come to a crisis, and that our family needed deep healing. My family mostly seemed just fine from an outsider's perspective, but on the inside I saw incredible disrespect for one another. Sometimes disrespect spilled outside my family as well. My children would bicker, disregard, and tear one another down. While some parents turn a blind eye and say, "Kids will be kids", I couldn't stomach it. Nor could I control it.

The first month of our parenting revolution moving from punishment to respect, I decided it would make a difference in our family if I put on some additional discipline myself. I tried in every way I could think of to take external consequences off the table and seek ways to motivate my children internally. Ultimately, it was a complete disaster. I found myself constantly annoyed and frustrated with my children for not making good choices. Things would fall further into disaster when I leave for dinner out with friends or book club, because no one had a vision for the plan except me.

The next month, I realized I'd come to the end of myself and began to seek God's help. I did not like what I was hearing from Him. I felt God leading me to cancel all my own plans and listen carefully and quietly on behalf of my husband and children. That month I had been asked to be a leader at a retreat. I'd organized a girlfriend getaway. I was part of a book club. I was planning a teaching project. God asked me to cancel everything until further notice for at least three to six months and then carefully weigh with Him every moment away from my family afterwards. I even gave up long conversations with people on the phone. Five minutes of phone chat was my limit. I gave up meeting friends for coffee or dinner. It seemed downright reclusive.

Although I didn't understands it initially, letting go of my agenda was key to the success of our parenting revolution. It gave me the gift of the most precious commodity. TIME. When I wasn't working with God on the plan or homeschooling, I spent the rest of my time tying heart strings individually with my children. I spent at least an hour of one on one time with each of the four children every. single. day.

I concentrated on deeply listening without outside interuptions to the problems in my house. And God was faithful to speak in a time loneliness for me. Everyday, I'd wake up and ask the day's plans.

The first assignment was to discuss with all the children, "What is a good family?" and "What is a bad family?". We spent two hours thinking and writing our down every one's thoughts. I returned to the topic later in the day again to go deeper. I wanted to keep it positive, so I stopped the discussion as needed when I saw the children becoming restless. We called our big list "family agreements".

The next day we talked about the "why's" behind all the agreements we'd written the day before.

Examples: "People in families should ask before they go in someones room." Why? "It makes me mad." What else? "It's MY room, and it makes me feel like I'm not important if I people burst in and touch my things." "People might damage something I care about."

"People in families should speak nicely. We should use calm voices and gentle faces." Why? "I feel scared when people yell at each other. It's like hurting with words, not hits."

"People in families should not hit one another." Why? "No one likes to be hurt."

Again, so as not to exasperate the children, I watched for signs of disinterest and stopped. Other times we'd pick it back up again. After all, I had the gift of time.

The next assignment was to figure out what in the world we could do to love one another in times of disrespect. This was by far the hardest assignment, and precisely what took three months to negotiate. I was firm in that I did not want punishment but relationship. Some sweet soul came up with, "We could serve one another when we've done one another a disservice." How? We batted around ideas I can't quite remember that day. Apologies didn't offer the incentive to stop a repeat of the disrespectful action again. One suggestion was to do the other person's chores, but that seemed so complicated as we explored implementation. Someone stumbled upon time away from each other- time away from everyone thinking over the "why" behind the disrespect. Everyone liked that idea. I randomly picked a family agreement from the days before of "People should wait turns to speak." If this agreement was broken, did it require same amount of thinking time away from people as hitting? Certainly not. We gauged each agreement together and assigned thinking time. This took days, because every single person had to agree completely. Someone would say, "That's too long." especially if it was something in his personal area of weakness. Another would say, "That's too short", because the disrespectful thing had happened so often to him.

We spent the following months working out the fine details which came up along the way:

Where would a person serve thinking time?

After much struggle we came to the conclusion of outside, since we live on a farm in the middle of nowhere. And yes, Buck and I have served thinking time outside for sundry infractions of the agreements ourselves. Mostly I've served for being impatient or harsh.

What if two people needed to serve thinking time at once? Front yard. Back yard.

What if it got too cold outside? The garage was an option, and thinkers were welcome to take blankets, sleeping bags, whatever seemed necessary.

What about Pooh Bear outside by herself? She goes outside for very short thinking times, but she also has a thinking chair inside she may use. I didn't like the idea of someone so young being alone outside for more than a few minutes even if we do live a long way from others.

Could the person play and think outside at the same time? We decided, yes. It's not punishment. Bikes, trampoline, skateboards, petting a variety farm animals would connect us back to good ways to burn energy. We just couldn't be around other people.

What happens if the person didn't agree with thinking time? We'd hammer it out till every party agrees.

What if people wouldn't take responsibility for his or her actions? We'd work on it as positively as possible until everyone came to harmony.

What if a person came in saying, "He deserved me to yell at him, and I'll do it again."? Back outside for more thinking.

What if someone woke up grumpy and said, "These agreement are ALL stupid!" They'd stay entirely away from the family until they agreed to keep them again, even if it was for a whole day which actually happened. To break the cycle, we asked the grumpy son to call ANYONE he wanted to talk about any injustice in our family and hold Buck and I accountable. We suggested names of friends, pastors, teachers, and told him we'd make any change the person asked, because we simply couldn't be a family without our son. Ultimately, he did not want to make that call, because he knew he was being unreasonable. His heart melted, and he joined back in the family agreements.

What if someone stomps, slams doors, and yells on his way out to think? Adding time for each broken agreement didn't help. It took a few months for me to think this easy solution up-I modeled zipping mouth, walking slowly and carefully with hands on thighs, carefully opening and closing the door, running quite a bit away from the house, then stomping, and yelling, "It's not fair! I hate this! This is stupid! Why do I always have to go outside? My family stinks!" It got laughs from the kids, but my son who struggled with his angry exit, changed his approach.

Who would be the judge of hearts? Me.

What if I made a terrible mistake in judging? God showed us the example His Son on the cross forgiving for what they did not know they had done. Plus one child chimed in, "It's just time to think and play outside. Nothing like dying on a cross!"

Where was Buck during all these many discussions? Mostly working, but he'd come home, look over what we'd decided, and put his stamp of approval on every detail.

Are we a perfect family? Not by any stretch of the imagination. All the Vynes exhibit selfishness, pride, anger, and other unhappy behaviors at times. Figuring this system out has been messy, but there has been a huge difference in the way we treat one another inside the Vyne household. In the beginning, the boys spent lots of time exchanging tit for tat serving of thinking time. A year later, we find less need for the entire system. Grace and courtesy developed within each person has become the rule rather than the exception.

When I see that commercial for a minivan in which "family time" is portrayed as three children with headphones on doing separate things and barely tolerating one another in some horrid conversation, I know we're markedly different. With God's help, we've built a way together to work through conflict with dignity and without power struggles.


Kate said...

Wow wow wow wow wow. Once again, you have touched a deep part of my heart. I don't read blogs as often as I like, and when I do my catching up, there is always something that you share that speaks to my heart. Thank you my friend for encouraging me. I am totally struggling with this issue and I am taking your experience to prayer with me tonight. Myself and the kids are needing this kind of change. It starts with the heart. :)

truevyne said...

Oh, Kate. You touched my heart as well.

Lisa said...

Hi there! I linked over to your blog from Brant's--I confess, it was mostly to see what you were writing that could possibly be so boring I would wish I hadn't read it. :)

I beg to differ with your assessment, I'm very interested in what you've written here about your discipline system. My thinking is right up this alley, and so is my husband's. I have a couple of practical questions for you.

How does the thinking time work when you are either a)outside the house, or b)on your way out of the house? I do not homeschool my kids, so there's the school schedule to think of, but even if I did, there are still times when you've got to be somewhere and be there on time. Do you postpone it until later? Or handle it some other way?

My second question relates to the temperament of the children themselves. I have two sons, and the older one (7) is an extremely strong-willed person. (If you have read the book "Aaron's Way," or "The Strong-Willed Child," you have basically read about him.) His currency is power. He evaluates every situation in the light of how it affords him an opportunity to exercise power over other family members, especially me, since I am the primary care parent. His first natural response to a system like yours would be to seek and destroy, torpedoing it in any way possible. I can tell you right now that whenever he needs thinking time, he will not agree, and he will not take responsibility. He consistently chooses, in every area, to suffer whatever consequences are being offered rather than to accede to another's wishes or arrive at a compromise. Do you have a child like this? If so, how do you help him come on board? If not, what are your thoughts on how this system might be made to work for him?

Thanks for your thoughts--sorry about the length of this comment.

truevyne said...

dear lisa, just noticed your comment today.
here are some answers for you.
a. and b. There are places we must go at particular times. If someone disrepects our agreements on the way out of the door or out in public, if there is a way to be alone, like under a tree, in the van, in another room, that's what we'll do at the next available time.

As for your second question. The system is mainly about living with my son who wakes with the word "power" on his brain! I know because when he went to France for a month, we did not have any need for the family agreements. Everyone just agreed easily. My email is truevyne at aol dot com if you ever want to write just to me.