Thursday, June 27, 2013
AMANDA: FEMALE AUTHORITY WITHIN THE FAMILY (PART 2)
Every Sunday afternoon we have a family meeting to discuss behaviour, roles and responsibilities in the family and things like pocket money allowances for the children and for George. There is very little embarrassment for George when his allowance is discussed at the same time as the children’s. This is because the children were much younger when these meetings started, so the discussion of how much pocket money their father is to be allowed for the following week is now seen as completely normal.
We all sit down in the living room while I speak. For the last couple of weeks I have required George to sit on the floor by my feet (see my previous post). My husband has the freedom to speak at these meetings, but only to back up my words with his own reassurances. The children listen and ask questions if they wish further clarification, but generally they accept that what is being asked of them is reasonable. We also review the previous week since our last meeting.
I try to give the girls more responsibility or supervisory roles, and I give my son tasks to improve his behaviour or demeanour. The purpose of these gender-specific assignments is to develop self-confidence in my daughters and for my son to develop a respect for women and female authority. In today’s changing workplace, it is more and more likely that Ben will at some point be working for a female manager. The more prepared he is now, the more comfortable he will be when that situation arises. Many girls grow up not believing in their own abilities and, in consequence, fail to reach their full potential in life. Conversely, boys are naturally more confident, but too often this manifests itself through aggression and conflict.
I have found that the more responsibilities I give to 12-year-old Louise, the more responsibilities she asks for! This is not always the case with Rachel, age 9, whose character is naturally more reserved. It is my hope that Rachel will learn from Louise and come to see the benefits of responsibility as, in return for this, Louise is given more freedoms.
Occasionally silly things will disrupt the Sunday afternoon meeting. A couple of months ago, for instance, Louise and Rachel had a quarrel over a borrowed blouse and hairbrush. These are not issues to be brought up at these meetings! After this squabble, I spoke to both of them quietly and in private and told them that by arguing with one another, they were not setting a good example for their father and brother. I explained to them that if they wanted to take on more responsibilities, especially supervisory roles, they must learn not to argue between themselves. Since that discussion, things are definitely improving between the two girls. Teaching children can sometimes be a very slow process—but what a rewarding one when important lessons are learned!
One of the topics at a recent family meeting was Ben’s tardiness in the mornings. It was causing problems for the rest of the family, delaying his siblings who had to wait for him before setting off to school. Nine-year-old Ben is not as organised as his sisters and could never seem to find the right shoes, socks, shirt or tie, etc., for his school uniform in the morning. This frustrated him, and the rest of family had to put up with his frequent tantrums.
Therefore I decided to put the girls in charge of making sure that Ben would always have the correct clothes for his uniform. I suggested this to the family group, and Rachel’s first comment was “but that’s just more work for us!” I explained that she would not be sorting out Ben’s clothes herself, but supervising him. I went on to say that, in return, Ben could do something to help his sisters. We discussed this for no more than a minute before Louise came up with the answer. She said, “If we supervise Ben to get his clothes ready, could he collect our dirty clothes and take them to the laundry room for us?” This was agreed to by all of us, including Ben, who received a reassuring smile and nod from his father.
After the meeting, the girls and Ben went up to his bedroom. Louise and Rachel spent more than two hours showing Ben how to sort his clothes into different drawers, how to use hangers properly in the wardrobe and where to put his shoes, and so on.
The girls then came up with their own action plan, which is still in use now several weeks after the initial meeting. Louise and Rachel take turns going into Ben’s room the night before a school day and supervising him, while he gathers each item of clothing that he will need the next day. He is instructed to lay them out on his bed to ensure nothing is missed. Once all of the clothes are there, he is told to lay them carefully over the back of his chair before he goes to bed.
In return for the girls’ supervision, Ben now collects their soiled clothes on Wednesdays and Saturdays (these are the designated days on which my husband does the household laundry). Ben will knock on his sisters’ bedroom doors and ask to collect their clothes and take them to the laundry room along with his own.
The outcome of all this is that Ben’s tardiness has now stopped completely. We used to be delayed by him nearly every day before this system was introduced. Now everyone sets off on time in the mornings, and, believe me, this creates a much more harmonious household.
In this way all of my children learn the benefits of female authority. My son learns that taking instructions from girls and doing tasks for them are completely normal things for a boy to do, while my daughters learn that the supervision of boys has benefits (laundry collection in this case) as well as being fun, especially for bossy Louise! Typically, although they were going to take it in turns, it is Louise who is doing far more of Ben’s uniform inspections than Rachel. It is quite obvious to everyone that she enjoys this supervisory role over her brother.
One thing that I would like to mention here is a rule that I implemented quite some time ago. It relates to my experience with my brothers when I was a teenager (see my earlier post). I have relaxed the rule a little for my own family, as I used to give my brothers no warning at all before entering their rooms.
The rule is that my daughters are allowed to enter Ben’s bedroom after a quick knock on the door and announcing themselves as they enter. However, if my son wishes to visit either of his sister’s room, he must always knock and then wait for permission to enter. He is never to enter without permission or supervision.
Implementing this rule had always been in the back of my mind because of my teenage experiences. However, events overtook me a couple of years ago, making me put the rule into place much earlier than I had expected.
At the age of 7, Ben was going through a silly stage. He wanted to play hide and seek with the rest of the family, and always, it seemed, at the most inappropriate times. Even though he was told that no one else was playing, or wanted to, he would hide all over the house, including the girls’ and our bedrooms. He hid in wardrobes, under beds, inside closets, that sort of thing. If he was hiding in his own room, he would not answer a knock on the door. Likewise, if he was called for lunch or dinner or to go out, he would not answer. The whole family had to waste time searching for him. Then, when we were all on the verge of screaming, he would jump out and scare a family member, to his own vast amusement, and end up having a fit of giggles on the floor.
Thankfully, after a few exasperating months, Ben grew out of this phase, but the rule instituted then still stands today. Girls are far more sensible and deserve the extra trust we give them.
In the next post I will continue to write about different aspects of my family life, including Louise’s limited supervision of her father in certain tasks.
End of Part 2