I apologize for how long this got, I found it easier to make my point with examples.
Originally Posted by gaialice
At the family meetings, we state what the problem is, then everyone says what solution they would prefer and we strive to reach a compromise -- which is not always possible but we try. It is really frustrating that we keep our end of the deal and they do not keep theirs. Which was also the case last night.
So I'm going to say what jumped out at me when I read this part. I have found that this approach, as I understand it from your description, is really, mind-bendingly, agonizingly hard. And it took me a long time to understand why, at least for our family, it is so hard. When there's a problem, each party brings a concern to the table. It is possible to reconcile two concerns. The problem is, most of the time people bring solutions to the table rather than concerns. Like, we might bring to the table things like "I want you to brush your teeth when I ask you to, because it's so frustrating when I ask you to do it several times and you ignore me. How can we make that happen?" Or the kids bring to the table "I don't want to brush my teeth." Also, we often only bring one concern to the table (usually ours, the parents'). So: the kids are refusing to get dressed and brush teeth, which causes mom to be late for work. If this is how we phrase the problem, only one concern is on the table and that's mom's (not saying this is exactly how you phrase it, just trying to illustrate what I mean). Mom's concern is that she'll be late for work. Now, if you're like we tend to be you jump right from stating mom's concern to generating solutions (maybe with some perfunctory empathy like "we know you don't like to get dressed, but..."). But at this point, only one concern is on the table. Likewise, even if you put on the table that the girls "don't want to get dressed," that too isn't so much a concern as a solution.
We've had to learn to get concerns on the table, each person's concern, rather than solutions. That's been hard for us, though it doesn't seem like it should be. We find that we're more successful if the interaction goes more like this:
us: "We've noticed that lately getting dressed and out the door in the morning has been kind of tough for you. What's up?"
child: "I don't know. I just don't like to get dressed."
us: "You don't like to get dressed. Can you say more about that?"
child: "I don't know. I just don't like it."
us: "Okay, you don't like to get dressed. Do you not like your clothes?"
us: "Do you feel tired in the morning?" "Do you feel rushed in the morning?" keep guessing/talking until the child's concern is clear-maybe it's hard to get going in the morning, maybe it's something to do with leaving/missing mom, maybe it's something about school, maybe...who knows?
us: "So, you don't like to get dressed in the morning. You're tired. Is that right?"
us: "You don't like to get dressed in the morning, you're tired. My concern is that I don't want to be late for work. I wonder if there's a way for us to work this out so that leaving in the morning isn't so hard for you and I get to work on time. Do you have any ideas?" And think kind of outside the box. Maybe getting dressed the night before is a possible solution (some people do this), maybe there's some solution having to do with helping them get more sleep, maybe if it's that they miss mom there's a way to address that issue, maybe if they're wanting to exert control in order to have more autonomy or security there's a way to meet that need in another area/way. I have found that usually we can come up with some realistic, creative ideas. (Some ideas we actually came up with when our then-7 year old dd was having trouble getting up and out the door on time for school, using this process, were: go to bed earlier, have a lamp that simulates sunrise to make waking in the winter easier, an alarm clock (part of her lamp, it turned out) so birds wake her instead of mom--apparently, I'm unpleasant to wake up to
, get up early enough to have time to cuddle with dad before getting dressed.)
And the thing is, sometimes when we first talk and arrive at a solution the solution turns out to not work. That could be because we didn't get to the actual relevant concern (either ours or the child's), because we agreed to a solution that didn't really work for either us or the child (or wasn't realistic), or because we only had one concern on the table.
I know this sounds unwieldy, I thought it was too at first. But it has really simplified our lives a lot. Because as long as we're not getting at everyone's concerns
about the situation, as long as we're pretty much only putting solutions on the table (or not getting to the real concerns), we're going to have difficulty and power struggles rather than durable solutions. (I'm not saying we go through this for every single thing that comes up in life. But for ongoing problems, or problems/situations that are likely to recur, it's essential for us and makes a big difference in how life feels.)
It's the difference between negotiating as we tend to think of it (where two sides sit down with their competing ideas of what solutions they want then (in a way that feels tough and like a struggle) each giving up a little of what they want in order to reach a compromise) and being on the same side working together to find solutions that really do work to satisfactorily address both our concerns (so, we're not really giving up something in compromise-but rather, finding creative ways to address our concerns without that sense of having had to give up on something. So mom and dad feel that their concerns have been satisfactorily addressed, and so do the kids). And the more proactively we address a problem, the better. I have been engaging in this process with my 4 year old for awhile already, so it can be done with young children.
Real example (but not a proactive one, as the problem had already arisen): dd asks for cake at 10 am. Reflexively, I want to say no. Instead I say "you want cake. What's up?" (because really, she could want cake because she's hungry, because it just sounds good, because she's bored...) She says "I don't know. I want some cake." I say "you want cake. Are you hungry?" She says "I don't know. Not really. Maybe a little." I say "You want cake, you're not very hungry. Do you want it because you saw it and it looked good?" She says "yes. It looks delicious." I say "That cake looks delicious and you'd like to eat some. I'm not saying you can't have cake. My concern is that you haven't eaten since breakfast, which was a long time ago, and if you eat cake now you probably won't be hungry for lunch. When you go a long time without eating something healthy, you get cranky. I wonder if we can find a way for you to have cake and not go so long without healthy food that you get cranky." She thought for awhile, then said "what if I eat half a peanut butter sandwich, then have a piece of cake?" I thought, had no concerns about that, and said "that works for me, does it work for you?" She said yes.
Also, I can't say enough about the value of one-on-one time. Even 15 minutes for each child a couple of times a week can make such a huge difference. The more connection my kids get, the easier they are to work with.
Parenting is a tough gig.