Betsy Hart

Here's my summer plan:

Wait, back up. Four kids, three animals. (Did I mention I recently adopted a 2-year-old shepherd mix and two kittens? Yes, it's crazy. More on that later.) And me. Ten weeks. That's why I need a plan.

I don't mean a plan for day camps and tennis camps and reading logs and travel. I've got all that.

I mean a survival plan — for Mom and kids. When my children were really little it seemed so much easier. Now the age spread is 13 down to 6. Which makes me think that when it comes to raising kids it doesn't really "take a parent" — it actually takes a small army of very energetic adults.

Anyway, I sat the kids down at a meeting. Here's what I've decided. We have to do things differently this year. My goal is to work on "gratitude and graciousness."

This is not something at which my kids — or I — excel.

Now back up, back up. This isn't about "peace and quiet" in the home. I like a little chaos. I grew up with it. Full disclosure: I rather like the running and chasing and yelling my kids do. Most of the time the noise my children make is life giving to me. What I don't like, what isn't life giving, is when the decibel level gets high because of screaming, which is very different from yelling. And I don't like the bickering and especially don't like "MOM!!!" followed by complaints, accusations, general whining, ridiculous requests etc.

So, back to "gratitude and graciousness." For the first time, I'm developing a "summer contract" for each child. It starts with a preamble about family life, and peace, and gratefulness and, well, you get the picture. Of course, they'll skip right over it to see what's required of them.

What's required are little things like:

"I will neatly put away my shoes when I come into the house, and I won't complain about what's being served at mealtime."

Bigger things like:

"I will do my daily chores without delays or grumbling."

Really big things like:

"I will treat others with graciousness just as I would want to be treated."

And really, really big things like:

"Before I yell 'MOM,' I will ask myself: Can I solve this problem myself?"

In return, Mom will really try to be patient and to not raise her voice too much. For a certain number of "good" family days together — "good" being defined by me — there will be rewards like going go-carting. Or maybe indoor "rock climbing." Things we wouldn't otherwise typically do. (I'm afraid of heights, so I haven't actually put rock climbing in the contract yet.)

Meanwhile, we are going to be working on a great book for families this summer, "The Young Peacemaker" by Corlette Sande. It's about resolving family conflicts, and I'm really, really hoping it's as good as everyone says it is — because we could really use it.

Now, back to the animals. Here's where it all came together for me. The kittens are basically "plug and play," but the dog is different. I've never owned one before, but I've been promising a dog to the kids for about five years, so it was time. Anyway, I'm learning that with a dog, one has to be a "pack leader" right from the start. (I've become a devotee of "The Dog Whisperer" by Cesar Millan.) When a dog trusts and follows his leader, it seems most everything else falls into place.

Shazaam.

So my ultimate summer plan is just that. I think the "contracts" are a great start. But the big picture is that I simply need to do a better job this summer of establishing myself — re-establishing myself — as my children's pack leader! For all our sakes.


Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service. Her column on cultural and family issues, “From the Hart,” is distributed each week to hundreds of newspapers cross the country. Betsy’s first book, "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting out Kids – and What to do About It," was released in September, 2005, and was a top seller for its publisher, Putnam Books.