We went to Fallbrook this weekend to celebrate my cousin’s 40th birthday. My oldest (almost 11 year-old) daughter didn’t come with us because she was invited to a birthday party/weekend at Disneyland for one of her best friends. It was the first time that one of our kids had missed a family event like that in favor of doing something with their friends (sigh). . . but I know it is just a foreshadowing of what is to come.
As my daughter’s world and her behavior moves terrifyingly fast along the spectrum toward teenager, we are wrestling with how to support and empower her drive for independence while maintaining appropriate boundaries. My (brilliant) therapist Sarah suggested setting up a simple two-step paradigm: (1) the kids have jobs/responsibilities, and (2) whether and how they fulfill their jobs and responsibilities determines what types of privileges they are allowed. Now I recognize that on paper this seems like only a nuanced or even semantic distinction from bribes and threats (both of which I have avoided like the plague since the first day of Mommy and Me class), but I think it’s actually light years away from both.
Last night at dinner, David and I asked the kids to work with us to come up with a list of their family jobs/responsibilities. We came up with the following:
Listening to Mom, Dad and each other
Going to school
Practicing the piano
Respecting their own bodies/each others’ bodies
Exercise and play
Clearing the table
Sitting at meals
Being considerate/sensitive to the needs and wants of the rest of the family.
We then asked them what privileges they enjoyed. I wondered how well they would understand this concept, but they got it immediately. They all enthusiastically took part in coming up with a long list that included, among other things, T.V., computer, sugary snacks, dance class, birthday parties, playdate and afterschool classes. (Incidentally, just for kicks I asked the kids whether they had a sense of what privileges they would want 6 years from now. My oldest daughter didn’t even take a breath before she rattled off “getting a driver’s license, driving a car, going to the mall with my friends, going to the movies with my friends, going to parties and having a cell phone.” Holy cow. She didn’t even have to think about it.)
So we’ve now established the basis for our jobs/privileges paradigm. Now we’ll have to see how it works in practice. I feel a great sense of relief at the thought that the freedoms we extend to our kids will be based directly on the responsibility and capability they exhibit, rather than trying to divine some universal truth about the perfect age to get a cell phone or whether IM’ing should happen before or after homework is finished.