The family is supposed to be headed to an extended family gathering. Dad is waiting impatiently in the car. Mom is running through the house, yelling at the kids to hurry up because they are running late.
Daughter No.1 "can't find anything to wear" and is having a meltdown. Mom tells teen son to comb his hair because "it looks like he just crawled out of bed." He informs her that it is supposed to look that way. The youngest doesn't want to leave the new puppy home alone, so she is taking it along for a ride in her backpack.
Finally, the entire family is in the car. Someone in the back is in someone else's space and the arguing begins.
Dad threatens to pull the car over. Mom gets flustered. Threats are made. "If you do one thing to embarrass me, you're grounded! When we get out of this car I expect you to smile and act right." Bickering continues as the car pulls into the parking lot. The doors open and the entire family, including the puppy in the backpack, step out of the car with smiles on their faces.
Let the cover-up begin.
If you haven't experienced this with your own family, you probably experienced it as a child. Fighting like cats and dogs when it's just family but, in front of others, being on your best behavior ... until you are alone and picking up where you left off.
What would happen behind closed doors if people acted like someone was watching? Would the talk, tone of voice and behavior be different? In many instances, the answer is probably "yes." How about trying something different? Instead of doing the same routine, be creative and shake things up a little.
• Try being more patient with each other.
• Give family members a head start for getting out the door by setting the time 15 minutes earlier.
• Watch your tone of voice. It is amazing the tone people use with loved ones but wouldn't think of using with co-workers or friends.
• Laugh. When your child decides to try out the new cookie press with chocolate chip cookie dough only to find that the dough won't fit through the press because of the chips, instead of getting irritated - laugh. Ask yourself, "Is it really worth getting angry?"
• Treat each other like you want to be treated.
• Have a contribution jar handy. When family members miss an opportunity to be on time, respectful, etc., they can make a financial contribution to the jar. At the end of the quarter, donate the money to your favorite charity.
• Model what you would like to see happen in your family. If you are typically uptight, yelling or negative, try lightening up. Avoid yelling and look for opportunities to be positive.
Someone once said, "You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family." While this is true, you can choose to treat them at least as well as you treat your friends. If the environment around your house feels chaotic, tense and uncomfortable, change is possible.
Do something different.
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at email@example.com.