In celebration of International Day of Families, we are happy to share this innovative idea for redesigning families with the aim of ensuring an equitable distribution of support and well-being.
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Parenting fashions, like skirt lengths, change with the times, as do definitions of the role “mother”, “father”, and “child”. Once upon a time, it was a Mom who ran the home and no one questioned the division of labour. Now, many mothers work full- or part-time and parents have “chore wars”, arguing about who has contributed most in getting done the household work that needs to be done. Once, children were supposed to be seen and not heard. Now, in many parts of the world, kids are so watched and listened to that parents have little time for themselves or their marital relationship.
This according to “Dear Family Whisperer” columnist Melinda Blau. The author of 15 books, Blau puts forth a healthier alternative to such antiquated and arguably dysfunctional models: the shareable family. This is a rethinking of what a family means that sees everyone — not just Mom — as responsible for “running” the family. Being “father,” “daughter,” or “son” is just as important as being “mother”.
How to get there? Start by seeing the whole, says Blau, not just its parts. Instead of blindly accepting the traditional top-down hierarchy, embrace mutuality — a family in which adults and children give to and learn from each other.
This requires the making of just four resolutions that will help you design a “We family”, she says.
- We will all care for our family. Imagine your family as a cooperative enterprise. As parents, you’re still “in charge” — directors who set policy — but everyone is a “stakeholder”. Everyone pitches in to better the co-op, and everyone enjoys the benefits. Depending on how child-centered your family is, this might be a hard shift. Ask yourself: Am I worrying so much about my child’s future that I can’t see how capable he or she already is? And, if I don’t create opportunities now, when will she learn how to sew on a button, run the washing machine, or oil her own baseball glove? When will he learn to plan, notice, make lists, cooperate, and collaborate, or build tolerance for frustration, disappointment, and failure?
- We will be fair. You can’t magically manufacture more time, money, or energy, but you can make conscious decisions about how to “spend” these critical family resources. Have weekly “check-ins” to take care of business and to divvy up responsibilities. Praise individual contributions (“Thanks, John, for taking such good care of Spot this week.”) and celebrate family accomplishments. Brainstorm problems (“What can we do to make our mornings less chaotic?”) and change course if necessary (“We have less to spend for our vacation this year.”).
- We will remember that each of us matters. There is an “I” in family — actually, a collection of them. A strong “we” not only cleaves together, it also values its members as individuals. Each “I” is respected and accepted as an essential part of the whole. The good that others do is noticed, appreciated, and said out loud. Take time to learn what’s important to each “I” and what he or she needs. Let family members know that you miss them when they’re not around. The payoff is huge: feeling cherished will make each “I” more willing and more generous in supporting the “we”.
- We will love and honour our family. When you “bank” memories — of significant events and of everyday moments of connection — it solidifies your sense of togetherness. Routines, rituals, and traditions make a family a good place to come home to. Revisiting old photos and souvenirs allows you to savour and hold on to the good times, and be proud that you’ve gotten through the hard times. Try to view all your celebrations and holidays through a family lens.
It isn’t difficult to see how Blau’s “We Family” resolutions could boost the collaborative abilities of individuals. Further, the idea need not be limited to family members and could easily apply to other types of social units in the event that you have lost parents, or never had siblings. Learning a “shareable” mindset and experiencing the increased well-being that comes along with would likely even lead to stronger social ties outside the family. An increased sense of interconnectedness and mutual responsibility could be just the key to help individuals understand their part in creating a sustainable world.