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The Essence of Family Organizing

Making and Keeping Agreements

Families often struggle with respect to time and punctuality. They need to figure out together how to make and keep agreements so that they can build trust and confidence in one another. Each morning, nine-year-old Johnny knew that he had to finish his long shower only when his parents started yelling at him, "Get out of the shower." Even though they regularly reminded him of water scarcity and the importance of limiting his showers, he seemed impervious to their exhortations. Finally, they put him in charge of timing the shower by giving him a timer and a three-minute guideline. At that point, he was happy to take responsibility for getting in and out of the shower in a timely way. His reward was built in: more time to play with their puppy each morning.

You may want to use some of these guidelines to help you make and keep family plans and agreements.

1. When planning ahead, get input from all family members on their preferences.

2. Make your agreements explicit. Sometimes, one person thinks that a commitment has been made and the other person is unaware of it.

3. When one person thinks an agreement has been made and the other person didn't follow through, review what happened so that you can learn where the breakdown occurred. Was it in the original request? Were there different perceptions of the importance of the agreement? Was there an unclear time line? For example, I agreed to call the electrician, but I didn't say when. My husband expected me to call immediately, while I assumed that calling within a week would be time enough. Remember that agreements will have differing levels of importance for each person.

4. Recognize that people have very different senses of time. The person who is always running late is probably not doing it on purpose. They often don't know how to be on time and may need compassionate support to learn time management skills.

5. When you have events that you need to arrive at in a timely way, try back-casting together so that you have a shared detailed perception of what is required in order to be there on time.

6. Plan a buffer. If you need to leave at 8:15 to be at the airport well before flight time, plan to leave at 8:00. That will give you some time for all the unforeseen things that can take place before traveling.

7. It is helpful to create ways for children to learn to be responsible for their own time, such as giving them a timer.


From It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys by Marilyn Paul, Ph.D. Copyright 2003. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here or on the book cover. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.

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