The Family Contract

So I don’t do a ton of dad posts on here simply because I have a lot of guys like me who are riding out the dating market, but I think that some things I’ve done in the past few weeks warrant me diving into this realm.

At this particular moment in our history, dads are needed more than ever.

So, as I move back and forth from a country traveler, dating enthusiast and woman lover to father, provider, and co-parent, I have a unique perspective into the world of the single father. And I’m still learning more and more.

More recently, my oldest daughter has been struggling with something that I struggled with my entire adolescence and young adulthood, anxiety and depression. I will say that I suffered from both when I was her age, but it hits home when your kid has to deal with what you had.

I should’ve prepared. I should’ve done more, but I didn’t. You can’t prevent your kids from having these issues, and indeed when they start to get them, you feel powerless to try to help. But there is a way you can help them.

Draw the Line and Abide By It No Matter What

So there we all were, in a quiet room, starting the discussion. I began:

“Today, we are going to be doing something we should’ve done a long time ago, we are going to draft a family contract. This contract will contain a list of covenants that we (all of us, no exceptions) have to accept as law in both of our households. We are all integral in crafting it, so everyone’s input is required. If at any time you choose to walk away from negotiations, you give up your input and still have to abide. Your mother and I are both giving you an opportunity to craft something meaningful that our family can get behind.”

So we did it. For three hours. It was the most amazing thing ever. Sure, there were laughs, tears, yelling, arguing, as well as some compromise. But each person got their chance to get their voice heard, and through careful crafting, we came up with 10 main basic rules that needed to be followed as the “Law of the Family”.

As in your own life, setting boundaries is of utmost importance in this aspect of family. Kids need to be taught about consequences, both good and bad, that are in effect and will be enforced. Parents as well should abide by the rules, as there were several set for myself and my ex by the kids, and we have consequences that we must enforce as well.

The main purpose of this family contract? Accountability.

We all needed it, yet for years, even during our marriage, we left it adrift, choosing inopportune times to enforce, or not, rules that weren’t printed, filed, or even signed in agreement. Too often, parents are the tyrants and their kids are the subjects.

“Do as I say not as I do” is a parenting method that relies on parental power of the adult to make the rules. This “might makes right” may have been the only outlet for parenting that we know because our parents did it.

I was spanked as a kid, most of the time knowing exactly what I did was wrong, but once again, my parents didn’t have a “10 commandments” of right and wrong, and it can be confusing for a kid, especially doing stuff that’s borderline.

This is where myself and my ex had to be different. Not only did we have the challenge of two different households, but the challenge of a divorce was also present. Luckily, I am on the same page with my ex. And that’s an important aspect that I will discuss…

Be On The Same Page

None of the above, and I mean none of it, would be possible unless you and your spouse are on the same page. You have to be united in both installing and following the rules to the letter.

This same page gets a bit more dicey when there’s a divorce involved.

The vital part of this whole thing was my relationship with my ex.

Ever since the end of our divorce, my ex and I have gotten along so well (even better than when we were married) that this installation of these rules was EXTREMELY easy.

But before you present the whole issue to the family at large, you must have the discussion with your significant other about what you plan to install.

We had a catalyst of troublesome behavior, talking back, too much time on electronic devices, chores not being done, etc, we had to take back the house with little fanfare, and let the children know that not only were we in charge, but they were going to have vital say in how the new rules were going to be implemented.

But something had to be understood. I and my ex had to get our issues out and resolved before we presented anything to our kids. You want a united front on this one, because not only does it give the kids confidence in the implementation of the rules, but you have confidence in each other when presenting and working through the rules.

Luckily, we have very few issues, but if you and your spouse or ex have underlying resentment, disdain, or problems, you have to resolve those first and be ready to uniformly implement the contract as if either of you were the same person. Kids will more often than not try to bend the rules depending on the parent present, which is where problems arise, because naturally one parent will let something slide while the other one enforces.

This gives the kids conflicting info and makes a confusing situation even more so, as well as unenforceable as both parents set different rules.

So being on the same page is critical for this to be enacted. Once you are, you have to set aside some time to get it down on paper with your kids. And please keep in mind, THIS WILL NOT BE QUICK.

There will be tears, because, you are finally setting boundaries for your kids, and depending on how long you’ve waited, it will take some time to get everyone’s input. It took us three hours on a Sunday afternoon to hammer out 10 rules.

But we did it, and the understanding we got, especially when everyone was involved to help craft, made this agreement as strong as our family bond.

There are consequences, and they are understood. There are rewards as well.

And yes, I had to stop goofing off and teasing people. And my ex had to be present and accounted for when the kids needed something.

We all have to do things in this family to contribute, which makes this agreement stronger by default. We also left the open room to re-negotiate after one week, which we now agreed was working well.

While many of the below rules are common sense, you have to write it down to make sure everyone understands, from limited time on iPads to school work to a proper bedtime routine to feeding pets, there has to be engaged action and reaction for each. Written apologies, actions versus words for good and bad things. All in there.

Mutual respect, everyone behaving better, and a strong contract still being followed is what we wanted, and slowly, it’s what we are getting.

And now, it sits in a public place (my kitchen) as a reminder of the agreement our family made to be better in all aspects of our life, and what consequences, both good and bad, will come of this contract.

I can’t recommend this enough for every family.

One thought on “The Family Contract

  1. Tim – this is seriously one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

    My kid’s already grown and out of the house, but if I could have done it all over again, I would have done this.

    I sincerely hope more parents do this.

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