Guest Post: Family Prinicples

Sharla is back with this Monday's guest post.
Her previous post is titled Blow It Big.

Sharla's simple yet profound insight into parenting has the potential to revolutionize your family and the way you function together.

Thank you Sharla for opening your family up to us.
I am grateful.

Raising children is by far the most challenging thing I have ever attempted. It stretches me to the ends of sanity and then pulls me back with one soft hug.  It terrifies me, and it delights me. If I’m not awake all night tending to sickness or nightmares, then I am sleepless due to fear that I have messed up or am missing something important.

If you know my story, you know I had four babies in four years’ time. My husband and I were unprepared for a baby invasion, and mostly survived those early years by means of panic and luck. I rarely slept, rarely spoke in full sentences, and almost never changed out of my pajamas.  Some of the things we did were pure madness, but others were genius.   

One of the brilliant things we did started when the kids were very small and continues to the present day. We weren’t smart enough to feed them organic food, but we were smart enough to put some thought into our family patterns. When the chaos was at an epic high and we realized we were reacting from one catastrophe to the next without any real plan, we sat down and compiled a list of principles that were important to us. The list included thoughts or ideas that we wanted to make sure we taught our kids, but we also wanted to make sure those things dictated our reactions as parents.

Out of that brainstorming session came a change of life.

It was simple. It was a short list of eight governing principles. Over the years we have tweaked the list, and now there are eleven. We took things off and added others. We stole a few from John Richmond who spoke at a Storyline conference we attended.

Our kids know our eleven principles. I write them on a chalkboard in our kitchen. They see them often, and I just keep rotating though them.

When we need to correct a behavior, we refer to our principles instead of dish out consequences. In fact, our principles dictate which behaviors to correct and which ones we let slide.

To keep this “blog sized” I will tell you three of the principles and how we revolve around them.

Feelings Aren’t Actions. A feeling is only obvious to the person feeling it; an action needs to happen for anyone else to be in on it. So if you don’t tell your sister, “Thank you for letting me borrow your new shirt,” she will not know you appreciate it. If you don’t say, “I’m sorry I ripped your new shirt,” she will not know you regret being careless. And there is no fight like a sister fight involving clothing.

Also, the flip side of this principle is important. Your brother might feel angry with you, and that feeling is okay. When he takes action and pops your soccer ball with a steak knife, we have a problem. That action will land him in trouble. However, if he expresses the feeling before taking the action, he will not be punished. Expressing the feeling before taking an action gives the brothers a chance to talk it out. If they can’t, which they often can’t, my husband or I will need to help. In this way, the kids have learned that it is okay for people to have feelings about you. It is okay when people are mad or upset with you. That is not an action. That is your chance to fix what is wrong.

As parents, this has been freeing. When I hear, “Mom, Josiah’s mad at me!” I can use that opportunity to remind the kids that feelings aren’t actions. We can then have a discussion instead of letting those feelings escalate into a sibling war.  

Know Your Name.  Your name is not any of the following: dummy, stupid, freak, ugly, nerd, sissy, klutz, weirdo, or pigeon-faced buffoon. As you get older, you name is not: ADD, dysfunctional, fat, incompetent, crazy, or irrational. When you know who you are, you know who to listen to.

Be With.  We want to be together with all of our senses. We don’t want to just live in the same house; we want to do life together. This is as much for parents as for the kids. When they were little, we made a point to be with them. That meant leaving our phone in the other room while we were reading them a book. It meant avoiding the computer while they were awake. It meant turning the TV off almost always.

Now that the kids are older, we have grown into some habits that define us. We have never had more than one TV. We did that on purpose, and not only because TVs are expensive. We wanted to avoid the family scatter, which is when everyone goes into a separate room all evening. Also, we wanted to develop the skill of discussing what to watch and learning to compromise. Makenna hates science fiction, but she has watched every episode of Dr. Who because it is a family favorite. We watch it with our phones in another room, and we pause often to discuss, laugh, or express opinions. We do it together, or do don’t do it. We are with.

We eat supper as a family at the table with the TV off and the phones in another room. We play board games often. We go on trips together as much as possible. We look at each other when we talk. Do not even try to talk to me while you are looking at your phone. Talk to me when you can give me all your senses, and I will gladly listen with all my senses. But if you talk to me while looking at your phone I will go MomCrazy all over you.    
I thank God that we happened upon our list. It has saved a great many arguments and developed some wonderful virtues in our home. And I did make up the term MomCrazy. Because it happens.

Sharla Hintz lives in Des Moines, Iowa with her husband and four teenage children. She owns and runs a remodeling and management company with her husband, and spends most of her time trying to avoid working there. 

She graduated from University of Northern Iowa with a degree in science, and puts that degree to good use by ignoring it so she can write a blog called