How to Implement a Simple 'Code of Conduct' in Your Home (Part 2)
In last week's article we explored how one step-couple is transforming their home and changing the trajectory of their family. Kevin and Jenny were able to identify what's most important to them by considering the relationships in their family, the atmosphere in their home and their highest values. We call this their 'Desired Destinations'. This process took a little time, but exploring what they each wanted for their family was beneficial and helped them to really focus and prioritize.
Kevin and Jenny are being intentional in leading their family forward in a positive direction. They want to avoid ending up in a 'Default Future'.
Now they're ready to start dealing with some of the behavioral issues going on in their home.
Before we move onto the next steps, let's get real.
As we coach step-couples, Mike and I notice how each partner can quickly produce a very long list of all the behaviors they want to change with each other's kids. Usually, they want those changes to happen right away. But this simply isn't realistic in stepfamily life.
Some step-couples will try rolling out a whole bunch of new rules and expect all the kids to comply and conform. But this approach can lead to disconnection, resentment and more disappointment.
We need to understand that the kids (and the adults) living in a stepfamily have already been though so many changes — most of them unwanted and unexpected. Change is hard under any circumstance, but every member of a stepfamily has experienced disappointment, loss and more than their fair share of challenging changes.
We coached Kevin and Jenny to keep their focus on the Desired Destinations they have for their family and to prioritize what's most important in this season. But this meant that they both had to let some other stuff go — some things they wanted to change, but weren't an immediate priority.
We all need to keep our expectations realistic as we move forward — slowly and intentionally.
Execute Your Code of Conduct
Once Kevin and Jenny got clear on where they wanted to lead their family and what their current priority was, they were ready to execute their family's Code of Conduct.
Communicate Your Family Values
First, consider how to best communicate to the kids. Maybe it's a family meeting with everyone present, or maybe it's better for the bio-parent to communicate directly with their kid.
Then, clearly communicate your Desired Destinations to the kids and define what's important to you and why. Remember last week, Kevin & Jenny were struggling with Kevin's younger kids getting into their step-sister's stuff when she wasn't around. Here's an example of how they might handle that:
"Listen kids, you need to know that in our family it's really important to treat each other with respect — that includes each other's stuff. We all need to know that our personal space and our things are being respected — even when we're not here."
You might also decide to share a personal experience about how your life has been impacted by this particular value and invite the kids to respectfully share their experiences as well.
Once everyone is clear on the significance of the family value, you can move onto the next step.
Set the Expectations
This step is crucial because you can't expect kids to follow your family values unless you've spelled out exactly how you expect them to live it out in everyday life. Kids need clear direction and they also need to know what to expect if they choose not to respect the family's values.
"From now on everyone in our family is going to respect each other's things and we aren't going to use anything that doesn't belong to us, unless we've first been given permission. I want you to know that if you choose to get into something that doesn't belong to you without asking, there will be a consequence."
Be sure to ask the kids if they understand. You might consider posting your Code of Conduct somewhere visible in your home, just so that everyone is clear of the expectation and the consequence.
Hold Boundaries and Follow Through
When a child fails to meet the expectation or crosses a boundary, it's time to act! If you let things slide or make up excuses for a child's poor choice, then your Code of Conduct means nothing.
Consequences need to be both verbalized and executed. But if you state consequences without enforcing them, you will train your kids to ignore you and allow them to dictate their own code of conduct. This will eventually lead toward a default future for your family, so be consistent with your follow through.
Also, be mindful about who will enforce the consequences with which kids - discipline and authority needs to be handled with care in a stepfamily.
Remember to give kids lots of empathy when they receive a consequence: "I'm so sad you made that poor choice." And afterwards, reassure them of your love.
And don't forget to let kids know that you notice when they've made a good choice and praise their efforts in following the Code of Conduct.
Expand and Maintain
Kevin and Jenny can expand their Code of Conduct to address other issues too, such as honesty. They can also use the Code of Conduct to strive for more peace in their home by setting expectations around bickering and enforcing consequences when needed. Both of these things are part of their Desired Destinations and are a priority for their family.
Every blended family can implement a Code of Conduct, expand it as they move forward and continue to maintain it over the years.
Once Kevin and Jenny's kids have mastered respect, honesty and peace around this current issue, they can move on. They've agreed to schedule regular meetings together to explore new priorities and discuss how they can continue to move toward their Desired Destinations.
If you're feeling overwhelmed or helpless about the direction your family is headed, don't lose hope! You can work together as a team to identify your Desired Destinations, prioritize what's most important and move forward to execute a Code of Conduct for your family!
QUESTION: What's your next step in the process of creating a 'Code of Conduct' for your home? Leave a comment below…