“They’re cheaper by the dozen,” is how Frank Bunker Gilbreth answered those who wanted to know why he and his wife Lillian Moller Gilbreth had 12 children.
Mr. and Mrs. Gilbreth were industrial engineers and efficiency experts in the early 20th century, and their large family provided a perfect laboratory for conducting time and motion studies. One memorable experiment involved determining the most efficient method of making 12 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at once.
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They were parents after my own heart. I am willfully determined and passionately enthusiastic about shaving as much time and motion off any parenting task as possible. I’ve made a game of it just to keep it interesting. I share with you now my top three efficiencies. Feel free to adapt them to your particular circumstances.
Every child lies, every child fights with siblings, and every child does chores (humor me). Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to harness the flow of contentions among siblings and make it work *for* you.
If you take on each child and each contention a la carte, you’ll be drunk by noon. The key is to let them triage the contention amongst themselves before you step in to ratify a decision they’ve already made. Permit me to illustrate.
Suppose you find your husband’s cell phone outside the kids’ rooms with the words “teenage girls naked boobs” in the Google search box. If you’re sure it’s not your husband—and only if you’re sure—you can, just for grins, inquire quietly among your teenagers which one of them is researching this subject. If your house is anything like mine, you’re likely to get the Three Stooges show where everyone points at someone else.
You could expend time and energy and lots of yelling trying to expose the boob-researcher, but I’ve discovered a much easier way. When we have a Three Stooges show with each child pointing at another and insisting with spittle, “I swear, Mom, it wasn’t me!” I send them off to work it out alone.
My preference is the garage, just because it’s uncomfortable, but a bedroom will do as well. I tell them that they know who’s telling the truth and they know who’s lying; when they’re willing to tell me the truth, they can come out, but not until then. It’s amazing how much pressure the non-liars will put on the liar to come forward and get it over with already.
It helps to point out the things they will miss if they’re taking too long, like, “Hey, don’t worry about that football game. If you would rather spend the time here with your siblings, that’s your choice.” In extreme cases, if we have a very stubborn liar who refuses to fold, I tell them I’m setting a timer, and for every five minutes that goes by, each one of them gets an extra chore from me. (I like to play this up and talk about how happy it will make me to have the garage floor scrubbed or some other detestable chore accomplished.)
Works every time. Sooner or later, they break.
When they come to you, heads hanging down, all you have to do is say, “Well?” The guilty party will step forward, you ask the other siblings how said guilty party can make it up to them for wasting their time with lying (e.g., make their beds, do their laundry, do their kitchen chore), and then you and the guilty party work out a consequence. It’s very important to talk about what the consequence *would* have been if he or she had told the truth right away. Because *now* of course, you have to give a consequence for lying as well.
Siblings fight for the same reason anyone else fights—for power. They want space, they want to get their way, they want nobody to touch their stuff; fighting can be physical and rough or mental and crazy-making. Younger siblings seem particularly gifted in the latter technique. I have watched my youngest drive my oldest. Out. Of. His. Mind.
So I tie my youngest son’s rewards to my oldest son’s frustration level, and let them wear each other out before I lift a finger. My youngest would pull out his own fingernails for time with his phone, and I allow him to earn 15 minutes of phone time from his brother by being easy to get along with.
The fingernail puller is on his very best behavior (which often isn’t very good) to get those 15 minutes of phone time. The extreme frustration my oldest feels is diluted by the power I give him to grant or withhold the 15 minutes of phone time. If everybody gets along, everybody wins. If my oldest can’t prevent fire hose brother from blasting him, he at least has an answer: “You didn’t earn 15 minutes from me today.”
I said humor me that all kids do chores. Let’s take it even further and assume that all parents check their kids’ chores to make sure they’re done fast, snappy, and right the first time. How many times have I heard, “Mom? I’m ready for you to check,” only to go upstairs and point out three or four things they “forgot” to do?
So I have my kids check each other’s chores. Each child has to perform chores to a sibling’s standards because it is the sibling I hold accountable if I come upstairs for nothing. If a sibling is in a big hurry and rushes through the checking, I get to assign the sibling an extra chore before fun time. Nobody wants an extra chore on a Saturday afternoon, so they make sure each other’s chores are done well. And because they’re all dependent on each other to pass, they work with a sense of shared purpose.
If you get behind the pain curve in parenting, it’s very hard to catch up. If you’re miserable trying to enforce rules and good behavior, you need a shock to the family system. Set it up so that you win if they behave and you win if they misbehave because they do all the dirty work to make you calm, cool, collected Mother of the Year.
Donna Carol Voss is an author, blogger, speaker, and mom. A Berkeley grad, a former atheist then pagan, she is now a Mormon on purpose and an original thinker on 21st century living, especially 21st century women. Her memoir, “One of Everything,” traces the path through one of everything she took to get here. www.donnacarolvoss.com
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