I SEE RED.
I see a RED mist in my mind’s eye as my anger pours forth.
We’re driving in the car, all four of us, off to a family adventure. It’s a beautiful autumn day with clear blue skies, colorful foliage and slight cool breezes.
We’re wending our way toward the Museum of Fine Arts. I’m planning on washing my senses with beautiful priceless art, sauntering around the North End, and ending the afternoon with a delicious dinner.
We’ve not been together just the four of us in weeks. We often have three, or five or six, but not just the four of us.
I’m looking forward to it.
I’ve prepared the teenagers for this outing days ago.
I’ve allowed crazy teenage plans to happen during the rest of the weekend.
I’ve even let them choose which day we would go.
This should be a day of connection, family, and hopefully some fun.
Instead, it’s a day of frustration waking our 15 year-old vampire and shepherding him out of the house.
It’s a day of negotiation, bordering on bribery, getting him into the car.
It’s a day of smoothing over the 13 year old’s feelings due to said 15 year old.
My mood deteriorates.
As we wait in traffic, I twist myself up as I remember ALL of the ridiculous teenage outings I allowed to occur over the summer.
I think of the sleepovers, mini-vacations, and basic Disneyland-type plans we’ve had over the past several weeks.
I think of all of the times I said ‘Yes’ when it was completely inconvenient for me to do so.
I think of the driving, dropping everything, to pick up or gather friends for their plans.
I think of my empty calendar and their full ones.
As we continue our drive, the sullenness from the backseat is made known by the aggravated sighs and monosyllabic retorts to any attempt at conversation.
I look at Greg, trying so hard to maintain an upbeat mood, when one more slight comes forth from one of them in response to something he says.
I HIT MY LIMIT.
I take a deep breath to try to change my train of thought and alter my mood.
It’s not successful.
Instead, I wind myself up further thinking of the cash hemorrhage that’s been going on for months.
“Mom, can I have money to go to the movies.”
“Mom, we’re going to Lynnfield for bowling and dinner, I need money.”
“Hey, we’re biking to Dunkin Donuts and we don’t have any money.”
Now, I hear a conspiring murmur between them in the back seat and then a little giggle.
STRAW. CAMEL. BACK.
The red consumes me.
“Turn around,” I say to Greg, “I just want to go home.”
Greg looks askance, “Are you sure? We’ve been in traffic for awhile now and are almost there.”
“Yes, just turn around. I’m not spending any time with these two today. It’s just not working.”
“Okay,” he replies and edges into another lane to start our trek home.
With the change in direction, the backseat becomes eerily silent.
In the quiet, I let my mind wander to explore what happened to the chore/money system we launched successfully last year.
It worked so well for months. What happened?
Oh, I realize, it worked until Christmas and their birthdays – when other money sources kicked in.
It worked until a therapist I was seeing adamantly argued against a chore/allowance system (my mother died, I figured if ever there was a time).
The chore/money system may not be for everyone, but it certainly works for me.
I’m not a fan of endless money flowing out of my wallet when I’m the one doing ALL of the household chores.
I AM DONE.
My mood requires it share itself with all concerned.
“We’re having a family meeting when we get home,” I announce to the backseat, “Oh, and give me your phones.”
As I gather the phones and see the looks of dismay, I know I’ve successfully conveyed the seriousness of their situation.
I feel better already.
I mentally plan the meeting over the course of the drive and even jot a few notes when we sit at the kitchen table.
I begin by having them imagine my working outside the home, focused completely on my own endeavors. I string out the responsibilities they would need to assume – making breakfast, lunches, getting themselves to and from school and how that may actually require a change in schools. I vividly create the image of less support and availability, as I would be redirected toward my own needs and desires.
I continue by describing how, instead of that, I manage to sneak in writing books and launching new businesses in the cracks of my life – between pick-ups, drop-offs and all of their other needs.
I describe the feeling of complete disrespect this gives me when chores are ignored, their requests continue to escalate and their moods are sullen, withdrawn, snarky or belligerent.
“You don’t respect me,” I say looking at Nick.
“I do respect you Mom,” he replies, “You know I do. How could you think I don’t?”
Due to the drive, my red mood has become a manageable yellow so I can see Nick is right.
He does respect me.
So, what’s the deal?
I think for a second and it comes to me.
“You’re right. You do respect me. It’s the family you don’t respect,” I answer and hold my hands in the middle of the table, symbolizing the family unit and not anyone individual.
“We need to figure out how we each can demonstrate respect for the family itself, separate from each other.”
We talk about the family unit and its needs. A family needs connection, collaboration and yet a little breathing space. It requires effort on all of our parts and it demands respect.
We remember all of the family things we have done in the past and how these have changed over the years. We talk about activities we each enjoy and how we can still do some of these together. We discuss how we each of us has singular desires as well.
We discuss freedom and responsibilities and how these are tied together.
We talk about shared responsibilities and how to carve them out in a way that makes sense.
We discuss allowances, stipends and other money options to reinstitute the learning-how-to-manage-money scenario.
We talk about the rhythm of the week and how each of us can kick in to help at different times, depending upon our schedules.
We converse about actions and consequences and how we, the parents, are going to step up the consequence side of the equation. We introduce potential drawbacks, in addition to loss of chore money, such as: dishes in the bed (obviously dishes are a weak spot), limits in teenage activities, and loss of the phones (our best leverage).
We talk about rights versus privileges. We talk about respecting our rights and showing gratitude for our privileges.
We introduce points of contention and either flush these out immediately or make plans to tackle these as needed.
We end the meeting feeling more connected.
We’ve given our energy over to the family unit, so we feel a greater sense of family.
I think about what I wanted from the day – connection, family and hopefully, some fun.
I got connection and family.
The fun was a crapshoot anyway.
I’ll take it.
As always, wishing you joy,
Update: There has been one dish in the bed situation (13 year old) and we are currently in the middle of a loss of phone weekend (15 year old).