Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Teamwork Is Essential Part II

The traditional American family is the mother-father-children unit. It is considered the “norm”. In fact, less than half the family units in the country are two-parent households.

And yet, those families that are not traditional are considered “broken”. The reality is that “non-traditional” families are the norm.

Forming your family into a team is essential to surviving as a non-traditional family. There are a lot of social pressures out there to view single parent families as invalid, broken, or somehow lacking. You need not accept the labels.

I visited a local church once and attended the Sunday school class for “Single Parents”. The premise of the class was that single parents are poor quality parents who need constant help just to be mediocre. It also assumed that single parents would never achieve full quality levels. I haven’t been back. I was incensed by the automatic assumption that divorce had negated all of my parenting skills in one fell swoop (or that marriage somehow made poor parenting less of a problem).

Social pressure is why it is essential to build your family unit into a strong team. Schools have a tendency to treat children in non-traditional families differently than they treat kids from “traditional” ones. Kids themselves will make an issue of the difference in status between traditional/non-traditional families. It’s unfair. It’s not supposed to happen, it might not be politically correct, but it is an unfortunate reality of single parent life.

Don’t allow the social power brokers to marginalize you.

If you and your children feel like you’re members of a strong family unit that be depended on, you’ll be better equipped to resist the social negativity. Encourage your kids to help each other. (They will naturally anyway.) Design chore assignments as a team effort. Making beds is a lot easier when two people do it. Have one child hand dishes from the sink to another loading the dishwasher. Younger children can help sort laundry. They can put things in the dryer if someone taller takes it out of the washer. The point is to make each family member part of the process, which builds stronger bonds. Doing things together is what’s most important.

There are forces on the world who are constantly trying to undermine family cohesion. Tribe and family ties are some of the strongest on the planet. They have survived many different governments and economies. Families are the single biggest competitors for a laborer’s time. Family values are not compatible with the political and economic aims of people in power. There are many ways to isolate people from familial ties, technology being one of them. Single-family homes and a highly mobile workforce are isolating forces. Encouraging adult children to move out on their own by a certain age, regardless of economic stability, is another. The latter standard has been around for less than a century. It seems like the norm, but it isn’t.

Difficult economic times tend to emphasize the importance of family. When the chips are down, sometimes family is all you have. I know people who never thought they could live together peacefully are now managing to do so for survival. Individual autonomy takes a back seat. Avoiding conflicts and the need for “our own space” tends to fade in the face of survival challenges.

Being poor can strengthen families. If sharing is the only way that some things can be enjoyed, then sharing is what will happen. Having to share televisions and computers can lead to conflict, but it can also teach us how to work things out. Kids who know how to share will pool their resources, and maximize benefit for everyone. So don’t worry if you don’t have the standard number of devices in your home. The kids will survive and thrive. They’ll find cooperative ways to achieve their desires.

And load the kids in the car and go to the park for the afternoon. They’ll whine and complain, but that’s what kids do. It might be not be “cool” to have to hang out with siblings and parents. It might be lame to take hikes on nature trails and see ducklings, tadpoles, and turtles in the mud. Being caught having a picnic with your family by a classmate (who, by the way, is out with family too) might be embarrassing. But, the things your kids will remember are the hikes, the parks and the picnics, far more than when they were being “cool”.

Don’t be afraid to be a full-fledged family, even if certain social forces want to define you as otherwise. You and your kids have the right to a rich family life. You’re the coach and the captain, so making it happen is up to you.

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