Like any job, parenting requires tools.  Not of the hammer and wrench variety – more of the managing other humans variety.  As a manager of people, avid reader and life-long learner, I read quite a few books on managing people.  I figure that I can never get enough information or ideas on the subject, and that quest means I have read both amazing and annoying books.  But the good news for you is – I can save you time by telling you about some of my favorites.

In the workplace, one of the things that really gets in the way of productivity is drama.  In a family, drama gets in the way of learning, meaningful conflict, time to connect, and purposeful conversations.  How?  Drama creates a lot of noise in a household but not a lot of great results.  I’m going to start with a scenario, then explain how reducing drama has created some real results.

The Problem

When my DH and I first started dating, there were a couple of things that I noticed happened regularly.  These things involved drama, and the fighting and whining was just painful to my ears.  Usually someone cried, usually DH raised his voice, and usually the kids weren’t talking to each other by the end.

The first one involved bath time, and specifically, the bath order.  The conversation usually started during dinner, in which one person, usually the oldest, declared her position (“I am second for bath tonight”), which was followed immediately by “I want to be second” or “You were second last time” which THEN became a conversation about the last 10 bath times and the order.  DH would try to be peaceful, but as the fighting ensued, he would get impatient.  The bath order would then be fired off arbitrarily, and in the end, someone would cry.  All in all, dinner wouldn’t have been spent in a way that helped the kids build their relationship with their dad or each other.  And remember, these dinner/bath scenarios usually played out on the three nights DH had them overnight every other week.  He would be doubly frustrated because he didn’t want to spend the time fighting with them.

The Solution

As we approached the first time I was going to go on vacation with DH and the kiddos, I realized that spending every night for 7 days arguing over bath order would put a damper on our trip.  We were going to the beach every day, and the kids were going to need showers.  And so, I devised The Shower Schedule.  I created the order, with every person rotating to the next position each day.  I sat the kids down, and said “Look – I know everyone wants to be fair, and no one wants to fight with Daddy or me or each other over bath order.  So let’s try something new when we are on vacation so everyone can have fun!”  The kids were 4, 6, and 8 at the time, but they were willing to give it a try.  After a thorough walk-through and review of the printed document they agreed to try the schedule.

Amazingly, this worked like a charm.  There are days when switching may occur between siblings, or sports schedules dictate someone goes first while we wait for others to get home.  Overall it made our evenings better by:

  • Removing ambiguity. Especially for our oldest, the rigor of a schedule really helps them know what to expect.  This was especially important early on in my relationship with their dad, then later when we moved, and even when we went on vacation.  (Yes, a paper copy of the schedule accompanied us on vacation the first year or so.)
  • Moving from negotiating to interacting. Instead of bidding and arguing for their spot on the schedule, dinner was now used for talking about school, about our day, and generally enjoying each others’ company.

The Inspiration

The idea to create a shower schedule was inspired by a popular book by Cy Wakeman called “The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace” and the idea of standard work in lean thinking.  In her book, Wakeman encourages the reader to understand how to best add value in the workplace.  In the scenario above, I made the decision that I was not going to join in the argument, nor was I going to put down my husband and how he was handling the kids.  Instead I decided to succeed anyway.

In some of the lean manufacturing leadership books I had read, I knew that creating “standard work” – that is, a list of the work that was expected from employees, was a great way to make sure people are focusing on the right task.  Creating schedules or blocked time, checklists, and other tools help ensure success.

Neither of these two things are particularly ground-breaking on their own.  But there are many things that we do in life before we are stepparents that we can draw upon to solve the dilemmas that come up in our everyday lives.  Once you find something that works for your family it is helpful to apply that to other areas of your life.

In my next post, I’ll show you how I made one simple change to help foster an environment of accountability and ditch another perpetual argument!

What areas of your life have you drawn on to help you get through a difficult situation as a stepparent!  Share your experience in the comment section below!!