Lessons from the Trenches is a series of a few things that I have learned over the last few months from watching and listening to my mom friends in action.
Check out Lessons from the Trenches: Stop Wasting, Lessons from the Trenches: Yelling, and Lessons from the Trenches: Love of My Life.
Friend's Kids: 2 girls, Chicken and Buster's ages
Friend's Parenting Vibe: Clear, respectful, warm, delighted. Kids adore Devon because she delights in their delight, and also takes no shit. They are comforted by her steadfastness and grateful that she doesn't bend the rules and make them question the order of the world, even if they can't really articulate that yet.
Friend's Parenting Spirit Animal: Lioness
but you never forget
Devon and I met in PEPS, which, if you're not from Washington, stands for Program for Early Parenthood Support. PEPS groups are a staple for new parents in WA - the organization matches you with other parents who have newborns around your baby's age, and who live in your general area. It's instant network, instant community, and it's a lifesaver.
The first time I walked into our PEPS group, I zeroed in on Devon and I was like "OK I'm gonna be friends with her."
I set out to learn everything I could about her - background, education, shoe size, thread count, favorite jazz albums - and then I began to incorporate myself into her world, practicing her accent in the mirror at night, trying on her clothes... and lovers. And before we knew it we were singing Tu Vuo Fal Americano in a sweaty little bistro and we were best friends and maybe more, but then I crushed her skull in a boat off San Remo after she called me a loser but it was okay because by then we had the same haircut and thread count so it was almost too easy for me to slip into her life...*
Wait, I'm sorry, was I writing out loud just then?
*OK so the hilarious part about that whole Talented Mr. Ripley reference is that there is literally no fucking way Devon has seen or will ever see that movie because she has seen about 8 movies in her entire life and she MIGHT get that number into double-digits before age 50 but I wouldn't bet on it, so when Devon was reading that Ripley riff she must have been like "Katie is one twisted fuck," but NO, DEVON. TWAS A MOVIE that was the twisted fuck, not I!
Ha... haha... um, I meant to say that over the course of our time together in PEPS we became close friends, and then we each got pregnant with our second kids around the same time, and had our babies around the same time, and when you go through battle like that, the friendships are more than friendships - you've sat quietly on the same couch for hours together, just staring into space. There's no ringing of doorbells when you visit.
Devon and her family have their family values posted in their home:
I love this for so many reasons.
1. Their family brand is super clear and well-articulated, which will make licensing supes-easy down the road. Like, they basically have a color palette for when they get their own Bravo show. #DevonsFamilyValues
2. By articulating those family values, she has created a shared cultural vocabulary that is specific to her tribe, and that shared vocabulary contributes to a sense of unity and a common goal. They can celebrate those values together, and it's far more powerful to say, "Remember our family value of kindness" than it is to say, "Be nice," or "Stop calling me poop or you get a time-out."
3. She got to make like super cool family values signs? And... I really like making signs too?
4. Those family values act like I-beams, rooting the foundation of the choices that the family makes, and the boundaries that she and her husband protect.
For example, "No, you may not push your sister down the stairs on her bicycle. Why? Well, because one of our family values is safety, and that is not safe." And then she can point and that shit is ON THE WALL. CLUTCH.
I've heard Devon say, "Anytime I say no to you, it will come back to these family values. I want you to experience the world and make your own choices, and I'll even let you make your own mistakes, but not if they are not in line with our family values."
So after approximately, oh, four and a half years of struggling to come up with reasons to say "no" to things like riding a Rubbermaid storage tub down the stairs or "let's take turns biting each other," I decided to give Devon's Family Values a try.
We gathered for a family meeting and determined our own family values:
Quiet Mornings Reading Literary Fiction With a Cup of Coffee
Sneaking Your Own Better Snacks Into The Independent Movie Theater
No, no, no. Those aren't our family values. Those are just... my values. Or, maybe my goals. Possibly just "a perfect Sunday." I can't remember. I haven't slept.
Our ACTUAL family values are:
I was shooting for 5 values so I could be like my sister-from-another-mister Devon, but we got to 4 and Buster climbed out of his chair and said, "I'm bored. I'm going to leave now," and then he kept his promise.
(Side note - No good ever comes from dragging your child back to the table so you can FINISH THE GODDAMNED FAMILY MEETING, especially if the only thing really left is the closing cheer, which is usually hands in and a "Kaboom" or "Woo hoo" on 3, and is actually pretty upsetting when the kids are crying and trying to escape and you're forcibly holding their hands in the middle of the table barking "OK THAT'S A "YIPPEE" ON THREE. ONE. TWO... CHICKEN STOP CRYING.")
I made signs and put them up on the wall, and every time someone did something that demonstrated those family values, we wrote it down on the sign.
In the process of making these lists, my love of this system has only grown deeper and more complex. YES, I was able to point to signs on the wall. YES, I was able to create a common family culture around these I-beams. YES, I was able to MAKE SIGNS!
But there was more.
- When you actually take the time to notice OUT LOUD when your children are kind, respectful, and helpful, you realize that damn, your kids are pretty fucking great. They do a lot of kind, helpful, respectful shit.
- It made me feel thankful for my kids, rather than annoyed by them.
- It made them feel proud when their good deeds were noticed. They got hooked (albeit temporarily) on the high of getting their family values noticed.
- We were able to come up with some new family catch phrases. "Find your kindness," is a big one:
Buster: GET ME MILK.
Me: Find your kindness, young man.
Buster: Where is it?
Me: I honestly don't know. Please find your kindness and ask me again.
Buster: Mommy may I have some milk? Please?
Me: Absolutely! You found your kindness!
... but my absolute favorite lesson that I learned from family values happened one day in the car.
Chicken and Buster were in the backseat talking about a big, big tower that Buster had built that morning.
Buster: It was a big, big tower! So big it was bigger than everything!
Chicken: And I am going to smash it.
Me: Chicken, please find your kindness.
Chicken: I lost it.
Me: Oh yeah, I can see that. Please find your kindness when you talk to your brother. He worked really hard on that tower.
Chicken: And I am going to--
Chicken: SMASH IT.
Buster: NOOOOOOOOOO!!! (he begins to cry)
Me: Chicken, first of all, you're not going to smash it because I won't let you smash it. Second of all, I want you to think about our family values. What you are doing right now, saying something that you know will scare your brother and hurt his feelings, that's not kindness. That's not respect. That's not helping.
Chicken: ... but it is learning.
Because we came up with these family values, I was able to recognize the degree of my son's sociopathy at such a young age that we were actually able to get him into an early intervention program that will put him on the short list for a human soul.
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