Saturday morning we woke up before 7am, to not the pitter-patter of little feet, but the stomping of 8 little feet and the whimpering of a 2 year old who’d been awoken by those feet. It was too early for us and the other lovely couple, whose home we were sharing for the family fun weekend. Our collective four kids ranging from age 7-8 knew they couldn’t come literally wake up the adults (or the two year old) until 8am, but that didn’t stop them from waking each other or creating an enormous ruckus that echoed through the whole house. Obviously, the rules and the consequences needed to be a lot more clear if we were all going to get a good night’s sleep on Saturday night.
When we asked my youngest why she woke up her roommate, she said, “I’m just so used to having someone to play with in the morning.” See? She had her reasons. She couldn’t (didn’t) weigh that “reason”/inclination against the ill-effects of waking her friends up before they were rested, waking their younger sister up before she was rested and consequently waking all the adults up before they were rested as well. A lot of us were tired and cranky on Saturday. Wah.
On Saturday, we made the rule very clear. No speaking over a whisper. No playing other than quietly. No running around in the bedrooms. Nobody may wake anyone else up (and we demonstrated all the ways someone could do that) under any circumstance. If you wake up before the others, you can read or play quietly in another room. No noise was allowed until 8 am. Then we added the “special sauce”, a very clear consequence. Anyone discovered to have awakened another child would be responsible for all the kids’ room clean-up at the end of the weekend (usually this is a shared task) with no help from the other kids or adults. If nobody wakes anyone up, everyone shares the clean-up. I added, if nobody wakes the adults up with noise, that I’d come help with clean-up.
I am telling you this story because, though you are now adults, you are still acting just like the 7 and 8 year olds I hung out with this weekend. Why do I say this? You too will have your reasons for every poor choice. You too will follow the letter of the law but not the spirit. You too will give in to impulse in the moment. You too have trouble delaying gratification. You too have a lot of trouble weighing the true pros and cons of a choice especially if the “right” choice (for you) seems harder than its alternative.
So, how did it all work out? As I awoke on my own to sunlight streaming in on Sunday morning at 7:50am, I marveled at the peace and quiet. The kids were also awake, but I heard very quiet play and it was the first noise I had heard all morning. We were successful. Somehow the consequence (and maybe much more vaguely, the reward) that we had set up, worked! The threat of something unpleasant (and clean-up really is) was enough to train the children’s minds to weigh pros and cons and make better choices. There is an art and science to coming up with the right consequences for your kids; it’s probably one of the hardest and most rewarding jobs under the umbrella of parenting.
Guess what? It’s the same concept and same rewards if you institute consequences for yourself to help you keep your most important (though sometimes non-intuitive) commitments. For example, I used to be late to dinner almost every night until I gave myself the consequence of having to throw $20 out the window if I ever was again. I love honoring my family by being on time to dinner and I can say “no” to that “one last email” because I don’t want to pay $20 for it. I used to pick at my blackheads, now I owe 100 pushups if/when I do.
This is enough of a consequence that I think twice and remember how much better my skin looks when I leave that to professionals. I could go on and on. I have promises and consequences in all the areas of my life where I have been known to be a brat more readily than chase my dreams.
You want some, too? You should.