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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Establishing a Hierarchy -- Guest Post

Today Sarah Fountains from Married with the Mom in Law gives an interesting perspective on living as an adult with another person's family.


For the better part of a year I have been lodging with friends in a mutually beneficial arrangement. I get to move out of my Mum's and I get free bed and board; in exchange I help my friends look after their two sons and take on some of the housework: everybody wins.

These two boys – ages 8 and 6 – are highly energetic and were built for the outdoors. They need a lot of outdoor playtime, every day, which is where we hit a snag. I can't take them outdoors every day, and the back yard is pitifully small.  Sometimes I have other things to do – there was an incident last week where they would. not. stop asking., even though they could clearly see I was on a step-stool cleaning out a cupboard. I also, for my sins, don't want to take them out every day (yes, I may or may not have started cleaning out the cupboard when they got home from school on purpose). Especially when they're not that great at leaving the park at the time that I say that they should.

I might be wrong here, but in my book, going to the park is a treat, not a right. Yes, even for kids 'built for the outdoors'. I get to decide if and when we go, and when we leave. Obviously, so do their parents, but going for walks has become something they only ask for from me.

Yet, they are part of the family, and I am not. Not in the same way. I am 'like' family, whilst not actually being family. It is confusing how I fit into the hierarchy, both for them, and, sometimes, for me. They go out for family fun time, vacations, etc, without me, meaning they are higher than me in the household hierarchy, and yet at the same time, I am an adult and I expect them to follow any and all instructions I give them (because sometimes it's for their own safety), meaning I need to be above them.

I do try to be fair with it. Cleaning out the cupboard was a rarity, but bringing order out of chaos, and not going to the park were necessary for my own mental health that day. Most of the time I aim to get them to compromise with me – “If you'll help me clean off the dining room table, then afterward I will supervise you playing outside at the front for a few minutes.” It has had some success. Where it is safe to do so, and I have the mental energy to handle it, I let them be in complete control too. If we're out for a walk (not just to/from the park), I often let them choose which ways we are going, for example.

But there are times where that isn't possible, and I don't want to 'give in' every time either. The best way I've found is just to... take control. Keep my temper, but don't give them the option of not doing what I say. For example, when we're out on a walk, and I decide we're heading home now, I walk off, and, this is the key, don't look back until they have no other choice but to follow me. The second I look back to see if they are following, I've given them a choice whether they will or not. They're not stupid. Even if they were following, they'd pounce on that and be off on their bikes in the opposite direction faster than I could catch them, and that helps no body.

In the meantime, we muddle through. There's still something of a power-struggle, and there may be broken feathers, but I also have to acknowledge that they're still kids and they're not going to be that great at everything an adult could do, and just cross my fingers that we can keep on going tomorrow.

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