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24 Nov

Family Sized Blender: The System

Strap in for Jason’s ongoing story. Once a tech obsessed writer/photographer/speaker, he thought he had it all under control – until his family grew six sizes. Now he’s trying to fuse everyone together into a single family. This is Family Sized Blender.

Good lord, it’s working.

The oldest daughter shut her bedroom lights off. The four- and five-year-olds made their beds. The ten-year-old put his shoes away. All the right way, all without being asked.

In the life of a parent with six kids – five under one roof – this qualifies as a major victory.

When I (gleefully) report to passers-by that we parent a half dozen kids, we often get the one question you’d expect – “How do you do that?” My answer generally waffles between “weeeelll, as a blended family, we’re pretty new at this and…” “oh, it’s not really that hard.”

Truth be told, we’ve both been beta testing a few ideas with the kids and it really, really is that hard. We spend an inordinate amount of time on things like picking up toys that the baby won’t eat, prepping meals and cleaning up after prepping the meals. We know that there’s got to be a better way, and that’s where the beta testing comes in.

I have a theory – if you introduce “expectations” and “process” into your day, you’re going to save massive amounts of time and stress. “Expectations” are a big part of the way I parent and partner. I believe that the kids must know that we have specific and frequent needs from them, whether it’s getting out the door for school or how they treat the furniture.

Expectations also extend to the way we manage behaviour modification around here. Growing kids is about crafting kids, and that means the need for both positive and negative reinforcement. There are few surprises around here when it comes to punishment around here. We identify something that’s going off the rails. We warn and clearly outline the consequences. We deliver on the consequences.

“Expectations” represent the goal – this is what we need you (dearest child) to achieve. What the kids need is a way to realize those expectations and that’s where “process” comes into play. I do a whack of work in the area of professional recognition (it’s a thing!) and know that it’s not the outcome that influences behavior, it’s the path.

We guide everyone around here with a series of processes called “The Fives.” These are five things everyone needs to do at critical moments during the day. Getting up. Going to school. Coming home. Before and after dinner. By giving each person five simple tasks (and praising them for adhering to them), we set them up for a lifetime of organization – and getting stuff out of the way so they can do the fun things in life. Of course, it helps us out too. I don’t spend 90 minutes cleaning the kitchen every night. I spent half that time – all because the kids automatically know to clear off the table and load the dishwasher.

Expectations and process also work for us as partners. We sit down once a week to discuss a complete meal plan – and now shop once a week instead of five times. We also talk about other things (who picks up for school, signs forms, etc.) so things don’t get left hanging. I tend to be a vision guy (mediocre on execution), so this helps me a whole bunch, and frees up time for both of us.

On paper (web?), this all sounds so obvious and simple, but I know a lot of families who think this is a good idea, but fail to execute. We just get so busy in life that expectations and processes are just One More Annoying Thing. With a big brood to manage, we’re finding that if we don’t do this – and do it with precise consistency – we waste hours a week wandering grocery stores, tidying family rooms and yelling at children (me again!).

Jason also blogs about making better memories with your point-and-shoot camera – check out Frame One on Facebook. And he’s an active participant in Intel Canada’s online community – follow his contributions at the Intel Canada Facebook page.