Let me begin by stating that I love my four boys with a depth of emotion I never knew possible before they came into my life.
Their youthful innocence keeps wonder alive in my life. Their zeal and endless reserves of energy keep me on my toes.
Their organizational skills, however, consistently inspire a Vesuvius-like eruption of unkind words in my head.
Until they came under our roof, I’d forgotten (mind you I too once was a little boy) that towels and floor mats are entirely interchangeable in their world.
Likewise, dirty socks and underwear are considered staple household decor, shoes were never meant to come in pairs, and Legos are the spice of life sprinkled everywhere your bare feet couldn’t possibly imagine.
I fear I’m raising four very young adults that will one day be perfectly qualified as waste management case studies.
Teams of experts in white lab coats will watch behind mirrored glass as they expertly litter their belongings until not an inch of standard human living space is visible.
In other words, I’m raising slobs.
Cute, funny, huggable slobs.
Just remove the emotion? Yeah, right.
I’ve been loitering on the parenting block long enough to overhear the phrase “take the emotion out of it” more times than I can count.
Yet somehow, it seems magically original every time I hear it.
I think “that’s brilliant!!
That’s what I need to do!
I’m going to start today…”
By the end of “today” I’m inevitably left staring down at a brownie sundae, attempting to drown my parenting failures in mint chocolate, hot fudge and caramel.
Willing myself to remove the emotion from parenting, even with the best of mantras, seems as effective today as kicking my brownie sundae addiction.
It simply isn’t going to happen.
Only recently did I completely abandon the failed willpower cycle, exhausted from the continual emotional and mental ramp up to making change, holding steady for days, maybe two weeks at best, then careening back to square one.
Something else had to change in the equation, so I went hunting.
The power of environment
“Willpower is for people who are still uncertain about what they want to do.” — Helia
I’ve spent a lot of time reading and writing about the power of changing environments recently. I’ve been inspired by Benjamin P. Hardy and his writings on the misconceptions around willpower.
If you want to make any permanent change in your life, willpower won’t get you there.
Whether you want to get healthier, stop using social media so much, improve your relationships, be happier, write a book, or start a business — willpower won’t help you with any of these things.
Personal progress and achieving success are best approached like you’re overcoming addiction. Because, quite literally, that’s what you’re doing. As human-beings, we all have addictions…
If you’re serious about the changes you want to make, willpower won’t be enough. Quite the opposite. Willpower is what’s holding you back.
It’s fascinating to consider the ineffectiveness of willpower as a parent.
Instead of fighting the losing battle against my desires to be a father that doesn’t get riled over mowing over socks in the lawn, I decided to try and reshape my environment.
After a month, I feel encouraged enough by the experiment to share…
Eliminating a mess of emotions from the mess
One month ago we were drowning in crap strewn all over four key areas of our home: the living room, the boys’ room, and the playroom/yard.
The playroom/yard consistently looked like images you’d see on the Weather Channel following a major natural disaster.
The boys room (yes, all four live in the same room), looked like a stereotypical male college dorm bedroom.
The living room ebbed and flowed between immaculate (when the kids were at school), and a slightly tidier version of the two examples above.
Over the course of a few days, all three areas drastically improved in cleanliness with no raised voices.
My secret: Papa’s Store
**Note: I will not claim to be the first to think of this. I don’t actually know because I don’t frequent parenting blogs (cue the irony).
What is it?
Papa’s Store is a backroom inventory (i.e. closet) where all unwanted items of my boys are stored.
How does it work?
Items are defined as “unwanted” when not put away after use.
These may include toys, books, clothing items (namely jackets, sweatshirts, shoes). Papa’s Store does not accept dirty underwear or socks.
While wandering through the home during my daily rounds (a common occurrence as I work from home), I pick up anything that’s been left out and simply add them to my inventory.
Items may be repurchased from Papa’s Store for 0.50€. This means that a pair of shoes, for example, costs 1.00€
Each boy has a “balance” that is displayed on our family whiteboard, tracking the number of items purchased.
Their balance is then withdrawn from their personal bank account each week and deposited into my account.
There’s also a posted penalty of 10.00€ for anyone caught stealing from the store.
What does it require?
Setting up the Papa Store required:
- Advance notice of the Store’s Grand Opening (1 week)
- A deep clean of all three key areas for the Grand Opening
- Four large plastic bins for each area
- Ample room in a closet or storage area
- KEY: Clearly designated areas for where items belong. An item cannot be considered “not put away” if there’s no place where it clearly belongs
Please don’t be fooled into thinking that this a surefire way to improve your life as a parent, but it’s been immensely helpful in my relationship with my boys.
Here are the key takeaways:
- Our home is full of crap that is loved one moment and forgotten the next: 90% of the items I collected on Opening Day have NEVER been requested. My boys most likely don’t even remember they exist. While sad to have a visual representation of our materialistic state, it’s refreshing to have cleansed our home of some degree of materialism by simply reducing the available inventory of crap. It also makes it a lot harder to clutter a room when you’ve only got a fraction of the available inventory.
- Acting irresponsibly in life will either cost you time, money, or both. Nothing in life comes free, which is an important lesson for all of us to remember. When we decide to spend our money on a purchase (be it a thing or an experience), we best be ready to honor that decision with our money, time, or both. If you’re not willing to act responsibly, then it will cost you time, money, or both. Papa’s Store does a much better job at teaching that principle without the need for a Dad lecture.
- A mess is only an emotional battle if I let it get to me. My kids aren’t trying to intentionally get at me by leaving their stuff strewn out across the lawn. They might be careless or lazy, but they’re not mean-spirited. Papa’s Store gives me the freedom to walk by a forgotten joystick or comic book and simply pick it up with none of the emotion I previously felt. This makes me a much happier person in and out of my children’s presence.
- I’m at my best when I’m teaching by principle, not punishing through emotion. One of my jobs as a Dad is to help my kids “grow up.” Part of that is helping them recognize the importance of being responsible human beings, mindful of their surroundings and their purchases (i.e. learning to not be lazy or forgetful). Getting angry and yelling at my kids about how “this is the millionth time I’ve asked you to picked this up!” is not playing the role of teacher or life coach, it’s playing the part of an angsty roommate. They’ll have enough of that once they’re out of the home.
I’m hopeful this suggestion can be useful for some poor parent similarly tired of drowning their parenting woes in brownie sundaes.
Furthermore, I’d love to hear tips on how how shaping your family’s environment has made for a happier home life.
Thanks for reading!
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