- If you're like many American parents, in spite of your best efforts, your family can seem to be about as far from perfect as possible. Your kids appear to lack all semblance of motivation; you have to nag them to clean their rooms and do their homework. When you try to talk to them, they grunt at you, because they're zoned out in front of the TV or texting their friends 24/7 (or both). Meanwhile, you and your spouse aren't doing much better: It seems when you do communicate you're either complaining about your day or snapping at each other. And don't even ask about the state of your house - it's a wreck!
In short, your family is out of control. So many things seem wrong it's hard to know where to even begin to fix it all. There's good news, though - David
and Andrea Reiser
say that you can change your family dynamics and home life for the better.
"Essentially, your household is an organic system," says Andrea, co-author along with her husband, David, of the new book "Letters From Home: A Wake-up Call for Success & Wealth" (Wiley, 2010, $27.95, www.ReiserMedia.com). "That means that making the right changes in certain areas - those connected to basic life values - can yield dramatic improvements in seemingly unrelated ones."
"Take, for instance, respect," suggests David. "When you respect your family members, you'll not only speak kindly, you'll be on time for dinner and hang up your clothes instead of throwing them on the floor. You'll naturally want to help each other instead of making your family members miserable or creating more work for them to do."
In fact, the fruits they've seen grow from instilling basic life values in their own household inspired Andrea and David to write 'Letters From Home.' Written in the form of letters to the authors' four sons, the book explores 13 basic American virtues that built our country and that foster individual and familial success.
"From our own experience - as well as through observing others we respect - we've come to the conclusion that if parents want aligned, appreciative, and (relatively) angst-less households, they've got to explicitly identify the values they want their kids to learn," asserts Andrea. "And they've got to invoke limits, set expectations, and impose moral guidelines.
Ready to start overhauling your household? Read on for 13 simple but powerful changes that can make a big difference in how your family operates:
• Make a "positive meal times" rule. No one is allowed to gripe or argue. Many days, meals are the only times when everyone (or nearly everyone) is together - the prevailing mood can set the tone for family interactions for hours, if not days, to come. Instead of focusing on what's wrong, consciously discuss good things that have happened, and what you're all looking forward to doing in the future.
• Homework comes before free time. No exceptions. Even if your kids have five hours before bed and only an hour of homework to complete, they should tackle their assignments before engaging in the "fun" stuff. This will teach them to prioritize responsibly because their best efforts will be going toward the tasks with lasting value.
• Divvy up household chores and insist that they're done daily. It takes a lot to keep a house relatively clean, in good repair, and fairly tidy. And just because you're the adult does not mean you should do it all! Make sure everyone contributes. Even small children can put their toys away. Not only will this keep the house clean, it will teach a healthy work ethic and demonstrate the value of sharing responsibilities.
• Become an on-time (or early!) family. How often are you and your kids scrambling around, frantically trying to get to school or work or soccer on time? From now on, strive to make the answer "almost never." Building a few extra minutes into your schedule isn't hard - but it has immense value. Timeliness reflects well on anyone's character and contributes greatly to peace of mind. Get behind a slow car? No matter! This erstwhile annoyance won't set you off because you've got extra time.
• Make one day a week a "no electronics" day. Yes, you read that right. The Reisers really are suggesting that you ban all types of electronic entertainment for one day a week. On this day, no one can watch TV, play video games, or text their friends. No one can zone out in front of the computer (yes, this means parents, too!).
• Choose a "cause" to support as a family. While America seems to be filled with an increasing number of selfish, entitled children (and adults!), your family doesn't have to swell those numbers. One of the biggest antidotes to self-centeredness, say the Reisers, is giving back - plus, donating time and money to those who need it fosters perspective, counteracts the "gimmies," and establishes a meaningful connection with the human race as a whole.
• Make sure that politeness is paramount
. These days, courtesy isn't so common anymore. Explain to your kids the importance of using respectful language like "yes, ma'am," "no, sir," "please," and "thank you," and also teach them basic politeness tenets like looking others in the eye and extending a hand to shake. Model these behaviors yourself in public and at home, and praise your kids when you see them following your lead.
• Teach your kids to disagree agreeably (and do it yourself, too). Getting into disagreements from time to time is part of life - but outright fights don't have to be. Model the art of healthy conflict to your kids - at home and in public. For example, hear your spouse out when you disagree and reply without raising your voice. Strive for direct communication instead of passive-aggressive manipulation. These communication strategies will foster mutual respect and help create authentic relationships - inside and outside of your home.
• Place a premium on respect. Respect isn't something you can choose to show when you feel like it - it's an attitude you either have or you don't. Don't allow bad language or name-calling under any circumstances, and teach your kids to be polite and deferential to all established authority figures - regardless of whether they agree with what they're being told to do or not.
• When big decisions or issues loom, hold family meetings to get everyone's input. Obviously, Mom's and Dad's opinions carry the most weight in a majority of situations, but as long as the issue or decision at hand is age-appropriate, it's important for everyone's opinion to be heard and considered. This sort of consideration and transparency will foster respect all around.
• Make saving a family affair. There's no doubt about it - raising a family and running a household are expensive! While it's true that everyone can't contribute equally, it's a wise idea for everyone to contribute something - especially toward non-essential but much-anticipated objects and experiences. Involving your kids will teach them more about saving, prioritizing, and the value of a dollar than words ever could!
• Insist that everyone set goals and report on them regularly. Without goals, most of us would merely drift through life, making the best of whatever came our ways. Sometimes this strategy works, but most of the time it's a recipe for disappointment and regret. Teach your kids early on that setting realistic goals is a great way to stay on track and to get to where they want to be - especially when folks who care about them are there to help them along!
• Promise that everyone (yes, you too!) will face the music when rules are broken. "Do as I say, not as I do" is no way to teach your kids lasting values. When you or your spouse make mistakes, admit it! You don't have to ground yourselves, but you should issue apologies where necessary and do what you can to rectify things.
The Reisers are proud to contribute 100 percent of royalties and other income from the publication of the book by supporting three personally meaningful charities in the following proportion: 50 percent to Share Our Strength
(www.strength.org), 40 percent to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (www.mskcc.org), and 10 percent to FORCE (www.facingourrisk.org).
About The Authors
David Reiser is a senior vice president-wealth management at MorganStanley SmithBarney, with offices in Westport, Connecticut, and Newport, Rhode Island. With over 24 years of professional wealth management experience, he is a Certified Financial PlannerTM, a Senior Investment Management Consultant, and serves on MSSB's Consulting Group Advisory Board. David is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He holds an MBA from The Lally School of Management & Technology and an MS from the College for Financial Planning. He is a co-author of "Wealthbuilding: Investment Strategies for Retirement and Estate Planning" (Wiley, 2002), and has appeared on CNBC
TV, and PBS
. In his free time, David enjoys fine dining, Broadway theatre, and bodysurfing with his four sons at the beach in Amagansett.