Are you a parent who has had to limit your dates to being less than five minutes away from home in case your otherwise-good kids call with a problem? Do you come home to find out that your children have all been saints (in their own minds) and yet each one has a tale to tell about their other siblings being cruel and fighting? Did you think you would put your career on hold to raise your kids only to find that as they got older, you couldn't leave the house for a short period of time, let alone lest the neighbors worry about the sounds that came out of your house? Welcome to the Chaos Years. It’s usually not when the kids are under the age of eight that there is a problem—it’s the middle school to high school years that many of AFE’s friends and even the AFE is struggling with that are the hardest. Babies need their moms to care for them, but multiple adolescents sometimes need Mom to separate them. If you don’t have parents or family members who can take your kids for a bit, kids who are really too old for a babysitter, and you still need to get out with your spouse, you need get creative with your parenting.
While AFE has no long term solutions to making kids behave the whole time while parents are out for the whole day working, here are some ideas that might work so Mom and Dad can get out for two or three hours:
- “Farm” your kids out to multiple friends for a few hours. This gets to be a time problem depending how far away everyone lives.
- An incentive and a consequence. While AFE doesn’t like the idea of using food as a reward, a family treat when Mom and Dad get home or the next day that the whole family will enjoy is something the kids will enjoy. Do your kids like nature walks? Watching a movie even if it is at home with popcorn and soda (soda is a treat at AFE’s house) is a great incentive if your family is into movies! If the kids behave, they get the treat. If you come home to bickering and/or perhaps the police have been called, the kids have to get up an hour early the next morning to do extra chores that they don’t normally do, but are capable of doing. State this ahead of time so they know that it is easier to work together. (The terminally time-crunched AFE has occasionally used food as a reward and the kids have enjoyed sitting down with Mom and eating fresh fruit and doughnuts for being good. AFE will not punish her children by withholding food!)
- Since incentives can quickly become bribery, “So, what are you gonna give me if I am good?” AFE strongly recommends that parents usually go to the extra effort of making a list of a few chores to keep the kids busy for part of the time while they are gone. Do not tell one of the older kids to make sure the others do their chores. The kids are not allowed to “swap” chores (this enables them to blame the other for not doing it properly.) Have a consequence for them not doing their chores. Keep the list short and easy to remember. Sometimes you may have to make two lists, one for them to keep and the other for them to sign that you take with you and go over upon returning home.
- Let the kids pick out a movie or a game to play while you are out (of which you approve,) that will take up most of their time while you are out.
- Hire a college age or older person who has authority to sit with your kids. AFE’s high school daughter welcomes the idea so the pressure isn’t on her to try to keep her middle school brothers from fighting on the lawn and hopes to be able to go do something quietly for the evening. Sadly, sitters cost money that many parents with multiple kids of this age group just don’t have a lot of—this being said, if it is a priority, they may make it happen .
- Be open with all of your kids about what you expect. You may have to be so specific that you have to put it all in writing and have them sign it and it’s really worth the effort if means that Mom and Dad get some quiet time alone to have desert.
Most kids like being left to their own devices for a few hours, but don't leave without being specific in your expectations. If they don't like you telling them exactly what you want and expect, tell them that you are training them to listen to an eventual boss who will be giving them orders and expecting them to get their job done.