Each day we take on new challenges, so finding ways to structure our efforts can make our lives easier. Setting goals and following them through increases the likelihood that tasks will be done satisfactorily. We can better account for our life responsibilities by formulating specific practices and processes.
Listening skills are essential when formulating good practices. If parents use the commonly heard “do as I say,” they negate any prospective input. Moreover, a person with a strong personality can undermine successful practices by taking advantage of other’s weakness. Also, when someone feels ignored or excluded from formulating a practice, he or she will have little investment in its outcome. Practice decisions, therefore, need to be made in consultation with those involved, not done by executive fiat.
Instead, when there is disagreement, ask the other person to help you understand his or her point of view. Understanding the needs and expectations on which an argument is based brings coherence to the decision being made.
For instance, a necessary, but difficult practice is budgeting for the family, especially when money is tight. Still, the basic principles are the same whether there is a lot of money or not. The person designated to set up and control the budget needs input to identify others’ needs and wants.
Instilling money management skills from an early age leads to financial responsibility later in life. Parents can use allowances to teach these skills even to young children by tying money to chores, school performance or need. Another practice is to direct money into specific accounts designated for vacations, holidays, gifts and even emergencies. Oddly enough, I’ve known married couples where each spouse has only his or her money; there is no our money. Though this may work for some, it is inherently problematic, leading to divisive arguments and power struggles.
Family responsibilities, such as home tasks, can be easily formulated into practices. Many tasks get categorized as either inside jobs — laundry, cooking and cleaning — versus outside jobs — lawn care, snow blowing, garbage collection or home maintenance and repair. Notice, there are no gender identifiers nor need there be.
Understanding how each parent was raised forms the foundation that parents use in evolving their own child-rearing practices. Hindsight then will dictate methods to use as well as those to avoid; foresight can identify new practices to initiate.
Some practical questions include: Are sons given more freedom than daughters? How will parents teach their children right from wrong? Other family practices may include how we care for elders, provide religious education or inform children about their culture and history.
Unsuccessful practices increase anxiety, depression and distress. Examine failed practices for missing steps that are obstacles to task fulfillment. Also, look for overlapping or redundant steps that can sidetrack opportunities and cause unforeseen mistakes. When you are in unfamiliar situations, either with people or surroundings, like traveling or starting a new endeavor, practices can be thrown off. Such incidents can force you out of your comfort zone, meaning you’ll need to create new practices to adapt.
Ultimately, developing valuable life practices takes work. Create ones that are reasonably effective and efficient to make your life easier and your interactions more agreeable.
Dr. Daniel Rosenbaum is a clinical social worker at Counseling Associates Inc. in West Bloomfield, where he counsels children, teens and adults experiencing family or personal psychological problems.