There’s something about a makeover that seems to symbolize a new beginning, a chance to push aside past disappointments and try again. Just like the first day of a new year, the initial blush of a diet, or the day the kids go back to school after a long summer, fresh starts can be invigorating and exciting. That’s the reason I decided that my family needed a makeover.
My husband and I gathered our children together and announced our plan for a family makeover. My teenage daughter was thrilled. “I’ve always wanted to be a blond?” she said flipping her hair around with enthusiasm.
“Sorry kid,” I said. “It’s not that kind of a makeover.”
Dr. Henry Isaksen in his book How to Get Your Kids to Clean Their Rooms and Other Impossible Tasks talks about the importance of giving children the opportunity to do for themselves the things they are capable of doing. He explains that it fosters a sense of responsibility.
This convinced me that, like most children, ours not only had the ability to change their behavior but also the ability to recognize the need to do so. What I as a parent had to do was provide the right opportunity.
Before a beautician attempts to do a makeover it is essential for her to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of her subject. For example, “Jane has pretty brown hair but she wears it long and straggly giving her a kind of ‘see what the cat dragged in’ look.”
In the same way, the first step in our family makeover was to evaluate the strengths we already had and the weaknesses we needed to work on. In an attempt to give some order to our discussion, we broke our evaluation into six areas: educational, financial, emotional, spiritual, physical and social.
My husband and I wanted our children to take the lead in this project, however, in so doing we felt a little nervous. We were unsure if they would take the project seriously. Surprisingly, our children were not only insightful in their family assessments but enthusiastic as well.
It’s important to dwell on family strengths, not just weaknesses, because it gives family members a chance to see the things that they are already successfully achieving. For our family it was reassuring to see that we were doing many things right.
We learned that we were consistent at weekly family home evenings and daily family prayers. Homework was generally done on time and we all felt comfortable talking to each other. However, we needed to work on the children’s daily personal prayers, their inappropriate teasing, and, as my daughter put it, “basically we’re all slobs.”
SET A GOAL
Once a beautician has evaluated her client she then needs to decide which makeover style she is going for. Does Jane want to be glamorous and professional, exotic and alluring, or fresh and wholesome?
In the same way, a family needs to look at its strengths and weaknesses and decide what it wants the outcome of the makeover to be.
By a majority vote, we decided to work on being less messy. We then spent several minutes discussing what the messy behaviors were that we wanted to change. We discussed how our living room had become the official after-school dumping ground for backpacks, coats, and school papers. The strange after dinner disappearing act that left Mom stuck with a dirty kitchen to clean up, and the ever-popular trick of leaving small toys, pencils, cards and empty glasses in every conceivable nook and cranny in the house, were also topics of discussion.
MAKE A PLAN
Once a goal is chosen, the beautician will then come up with a plan of action. A trim here, some highlights there, enhance the eyes, and cover up the double chin—that sort of thing.
Our family employed the same principle as we brainstormed the best ways to meet our goal. Various options were discussed including the idea of throwing out most of our personal belongings so there would be less left to pick up. However, we finally settled on a plan. It involved assignments to empty the dishwasher daily, the responsibility of washing off one’s own dishes and putting them directly into the dishwasher, and picking up after one’s self.
The real beauty of allowing the children to plan and organize was that it created a feeling of ownership. The reward for staying with the plan was completing the goals they had set for themselves.
Naturally the question arose: What happens if we don’t follow the plan?
Normally, this is Mom and Dad’s cue to think up some consequence so horrible that no child in his right mind would ever deviate from the course (not that this approach has ever worked terribly well as most children aren’t actually in their right minds before they break rules). This time, we let the kids come up with their own penalties and again, and they surprised us.
Children have a good sense of natural consequence. They suggested that if things were left out, they would be gathered up, put into a box, and thrown away. I brought up the point that if the thing left out was a winter coat or a schoolbook, throwing it away might be too severe. They then modified the plan to allow for repentance. A chore would be required to recoup the lost article. Another son brought up an interesting point; what if the object had no value to its owner and he didn’t care if it got lost forever or not? So, a third addendum was added. All things in the box had to be retrieved by a chore regardless of whether it was wanted back or not.
This step is the hardest. Once Jane gets home with her new hairdo, her pop-out-at-you eyes and her double chin firmly tucked under three layers of makeup and an artistically arranged turtleneck sweater, how long can she maintain it?
The same question comes up for family makeovers. Once the planning is done and the first few days of newness are gone, how can these new behaviors continue long enough to become family strengths?
It was interesting to me to watch my family over the next few weeks. Initially there was a lot of effort put into trying to follow the plan, and within a couple of days I saw drastic improvements. Naturally, no one was perfect and things did get left out or forgotten, but we had no complaints when we put the consequences into action. I’m convinced that this was because the repercussions were ones of their own choosing.
My husband and I had to make some changes as well. We had to keep focused on our children’s behaviors as well as our own. I admit that my own purse and a pair of shoes made it into the box on more than one occasion.
At some point Jane has to ask herself how the new look is working. Does she have the time and money to maintain it by herself. If the answer is yes, then great, but if the answer is no, she needs to try something else.
The same goes for family makeovers. After a month we had another family meeting to evaluate how our plan was progressing. For the most part we were pleased, but there were some areas that needed readjustment.
The reassessment phase gives families the opportunity to compare theory with real life and make modifications where needed. On the other hand, if the plan is working well the way it is, this can then be the perfect opportunity to choose another weakness to work on.
Like all families, ours is continually growing and adapting to the changing needs of its members. What worked when the children were babies doesn’t even come close now that they are teenagers. It takes the full participation of each family member, and the leadership of wise parents to create a successful family makeover, but the benefits are definitely worth the effort.