Friday, November 20, 2009

Family Consititution Q & A

I've read a lot of parenting books. Not as many in recent years because I just haven't felt the need, but there was a time when my kids were little, when I read parenting books instead of fiction. Maybe it was my own version of fiction--imagining the happy family with kids out of diapers and old enough to engage in conversations about things other than dump trucks and firefighters.

So when I was invited to review Your Family Constitution and interview the author, I was eager to see what I've missed in the past several years as my reading lists have focused more on the outer world and less on my own family. I asked author Scott Gale which books stood out for him. Here's what he said:

I found bits and pieces out of lots of books, but most of my research was done through talking to other parents (as well as my own personal experiences). Through conversations, I was able to identify the most common problems that people seem to struggle with, as well as some creative solutions that I share in Chapter 8.

Well, readers (those of you with kids), what are your favorite parenting books--the one or two that truly stuck with you? Or are you more likely to get your parenting ideas by talking informally with other parents, rather than reading books? I think I'll make a list of the Best Parenting Books Ever. I already know which books will be at the top.

Here are a few other questions I asked of Mr. Gale:

Ali: I'm curious about what modifications you've made to the Constitution since the time when you finished the book.

SG: We’ve made lots of modifications, but no major ones. Bedtimes have gotten later, chore responsibilities have changed, and our family meetings occur less frequently during the kid’s football season. We have made other rules, but we don’t add the more simple ones to our Family Constitution.

Ali: In the book, you talk about rewarding yourselves for doing well, but I didn't see that outlined in the actual Constitution in the Appendix. How did your system of rewards work?

SG: Our system of rewards is mainly geared towards the kids. My wife and I can earn the right to select a restaurant or movie, but nothing too exciting. Our discipline mainly comes through global family rules (i.e. swear jar), as well as temporary goals for specific purposes (i.e. earning the ability to watch football via maintaining a training schedule for a ½ marathon that I recently ran.

Ali: Another thing you mentioned in the book was that you had to earn certain things, or put money in the swear jar--in other words, the rules applied to you as well. The Constitution itself seemed pretty focused on the kids, though. Were the adults' rules written up, also?

SG: Because our goals are often more temporary and less precise than for the kids, we don’t record many of them in the Family Constitution.

Ali: Which is interesting, because actually, I could make the same resolutions this year that I made five years ago and they'd still be relevant. On the other hand, five years ago my now-twelve-year-old needed to be reminded to bathe, and my now-nine-year-old was just outgrowing his toileting chart. Now, we have to remind my 12-year-old to get out of the shower, and the nine-year-old is on the verge of needing deodorant.

What about you, readers? Are you inclined to formalize your parenting ideas with a written contract, or "constitution?" And how long do you think you'd stick with it, if you did?


  1. 'Maybe it was my own version of fiction - imagining the happy family with kids out of diapers and old enough to engage in conversations' - LOL!

    I actually don't have any kids, but I used to be a nanny and also read my share of parenting books. I always find something useful in them, somewhere.

  2. I think the parenting constitution idea is great but I think that a family "together" enough to make it work is already pretty functional. Not to say it's not a good idea or useful, but for more stressed out families I wonder sometimes. Worth considering though!

  3. Julia, speaking of nannies, I kept meaning to read The Nanny Diaries when my kids were younger, but never quite got around to it.

    Marie, that's probably true. There are definitely different levels of functionality in families, and whichever level we happen to be on I guess it's worth striving for the next one. But yeah, a family who's barely holding it together is probably not ready for the Constitution yet!

  4. Ali, like you, I used to read parenting books all the time, but I don't do it anymore. For my babies I liked the Dr. Sears books. I read "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk" by Adele Faber when my children were much too young to have conversations with me. Still, the ideas stuck with me and I've found the advice useful as they grew older.

    I've never written a contract or constitution, but I can see the value in doing so. My experience has taught me that some of the most important things for a parent to practice are treating children with respectfully, making expections clear, and having a kind sense of humor.