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Set Reasonable Expectations for Yourself and Your Family

Set goals for your child that work within the context of your unique household.

Set Reasonable Expectations for Yourself and Your Family

Element number eight of the Twelve Disciplinary Elements widens the scope of discipline outside of you and your child. Your child doesn't exist in a vacuum, he lives in your family, probably with you.

Since you want to be the reasonable, respectful, well-behaved parent of a reasonable, respectful, well-behaved child, it makes sense that you want to have a reasonable, respectful, well-behaved family. A reasonable, respectful, well-behaved family is a group of people who care about each other, who are allies for each other, who listen to each other, who tend to live with each other, and who are doing the best they can. (Keep in mind that we're not talking perfect here. Keeping your expectations reasonable is vital!)

To have a family that respects each other, it needs to start with you. You're the adult here, remember? I know too many people who think that a family is a good place to kick back, away from the world. “I don't have to be on my best behavior with them, they're just my family.” Yes, you can relax, but remember that this is the place where you should be the most considerate, thoughtful, and kind. These are the people you love, remember? Show them a little respect.

Words to Parent By

A family is a grouping of people—usually but not always biologically or legally related—who may live together, and who love and rely on each other.

It's a Good Idea!

Every family has its own expectations about things like manners, cleanliness, and acceptable language. As a reasonable, respectful parent, teach your child the “when in Rome” principle—follow the customs of the natives and respect other families' values and rules. It's just a question of respect.

What's Normal for You?

Every family has a different expectation of “normal” behavior. When I as a kid, I used to love to go over to other people's houses for dinner because every house was so different. At Rowena's house, we said grace before we ate. At Alison's house, we had to clean up—really well—after we ate. At Tilly's house, we ate chicken with gravy, homemade pie, and occasionally had a food fight. At Milo's house, her parents had wine with dinner (and she thought it was odd that at my house we drank water and ate mung-bean-and-brown-rice casseroles and huge bowls of green salad).

All the rules were different, too. My parents liked a quiet house, and the radio was usually on low playing classical music. At Tilly's house we could watch TV, at my house we didn't have one. And so it went. The rules and customs you establish for your household and family may be completely different from what's happening at the Joneses down the block. There's no one “normal,” but it's helpful to have your family's “normal” explicitly defined so your child understands the behavior expectations.

Who Is Your Family?

Families come in all sizes and configurations. Your family might include biologically related members, nonbiologically related members, people who live together, and people who don't, of all ages and genders. The definition of your family depends on you—if you say you're a family, you are. I believe it's the love that matters, not the shape of that love.

Families are more than a configuration of people who love each other. Families have a family identity, shared values, shared rules of behavior—shared expectations.

Some families are very clear about what these expectations are, but in most families, the expectations are just sorta understood. But are they? Problems arise when some family members assume that others know and believe in the values and rules. Those others, who've never really had the expectations clearly explained, may be utterly clueless. When expectations aren't clearly talked about, there's also no way to work out differences in opinion and values. And then they fester. Ugly, dark family dynamics begin rising like a northeaster, and it's time to take cover.

Far better to spend a little time explicitly building your family identity and defining your family's behavior expectations. To do that, it helps to make your family's values and your family's rules explicit.

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