Ken’s Story – Bring Work Home at Times
by Leila R. Ferrari
The tricky part in many professionals’ lives, is how to leave work at work, how to not become obsessed with it at home. In my colleague and friend Ken’s case, it was just the opposite – he needed to incorporate one work plan at home — putting structure into his daughter’s life, and lo and behold, once he took that step, it actually worked! The specifics were different, but the step was to duplicate what he did at work, in teaching high school students involved in a detention program how to succeed at school and in life. Any sections enclosed with brackets […] denote places where the author filled in with storyteller’s information for clarity, but not as an exact quote. This story is in Ken’s own words.
~ ~ ~
The thing is, once you set a contract, you can no longer listen to whining or carrying on or manipulation, or explosions. Explosions in our house usually resulted in loss of the phone, because the explosions were accompanied by some sort of profanity. It takes guts to get it started and to keep it going. It works best if you start this kind of parenting option really young, and then you have to stick to the contract, no matter what. It’s concrete, in that it helps the parent, especially the more teddy bear one, to see things in black and white. Where there are shades of gray, there is manipulation. One favorite quote is, where there are shades of gray, manipulation will play. Throughout junior high, she [daughter] was getting 2.9 or less. So progress report or report card time, she was not getting the freedom and privilege she could have had. This way, we diffused the situation rather than continue to escalate it. My wife was extremely pleased and relieved with this new situation.
I usually had to reiterate the contract with her, it was mostly me. If I provided the consequence, she didn’t go to her mom about it, because she knew her mother was the original disciplinarian in the family. If my wife started the consequence however, our daughter would often come to me and say, “Now mom isn’t being fair is she.” I would say to her, “Regardless of whether you perceive her as fair, this was a contingency. It was between you and mom and being the husband, I will support your mom every step of the way.” One example is that our daughter would say to her mom some very rude comment. Mom’s response became “No Phone.” Then she [daughter] would come to me and say it slipped out, she didn’t mean it. “Can I go out, use the phone.” I would say, “No, the contract says no profanity. Regardless of the fact that you didn’t mean it, no phone, no going out. It slipped out, but nonetheless, no phone, no going out.”
A grade of C is a C is a C. I remember certain friends, low-life, and all this in seventh grade. By her growing up, her selection shifted. Fortunately, some of these friends went to different schools. Now she’s a twelfth grader, applying to college. She’s turned over a new leaf. The grades started to improve, that is, to reach a 3.0 or better, during the second half of ninth grade. She has different friends, all Hispanic, interestingly. These friends are a little more academically earnest, not like those low-life ones from earlier days. The friends make a difference, for sure. She has friends who are boys but no boyfriends at this time. Maybe there was a teacher who influenced her. Possibly maturity helped, maybe the realization that it was getting to be time to apply to college. All these things, including our home behavioral contracts, we stuck to faithfully. Almost religiously.
She loves being allowed to drive. I told my wife it’s not that it’s meaningful to us, it’s that it’s meaningful to her. What means something to us as a privilege or consequence doesn’t necessarily have meaning to her. It’s individual. Earlier the phone was important, the going out with friends. Now it’s the car. We’ve watched her closely every step of the way and adjusted accordingly. New contracts were written up with every step of her maturity, starting in seventh grade. I would recommend starting even earlier. Just write it up as simply as needed for each age involved. What helps her maintain a B or better average? Our consistency helps, but I will say she loves driving, she loves the car. She wants to buy a car and we’re going to split the cost. She’s been saving since her bar mitzvah. We’ll put money toward it, and the way she’ll get a car is this. When she gets accepted to college and accepts a particular school, then we’ll go looking. It’ll be a used reliable car, maybe a Toyota. When she wants a fancy new car, she’ll get it after she graduates and is able to pay fully for it. Her high school is large; I don’t know the ratio of Hispanic to Caucasian. We’ve talked with her about drugs and alcohol. She went to one party a year ago and got sick as a dog on the alcohol. I told her that I’d wished she’d gotten so sick as to have to go to the hospital, but that I hoped it taught her something about binges. I know she learned from that experience. She got sick right at the party, which was good. Nothing else bad happened, which was also good.
Drugs are easily gotten at her high school, but she’s told us she won’t go that route, that she knows better. Our daughter has had only a few friends at a time. Right now, as I said, they are mostly Hispanic. We’ll give scholarships our best shot, though she’s not really scholarship material. She’ll most likely go to a state university, as private schools are just too expensive for our family to deal with. It would be good if she stayed in residence on campus and of course, spending all four years at one school would be ideal. We’ll see what happens.
~ ~ ~
Not all the resilience, problem-solving techniques in the world helped Ken until he brought it all home with him one fateful day. He often said it was one of the best days of his life. Resilience and all that it entails then started to show up throughout Ken’s life – he taught his daughter (who later became a nurse) about boundaries, multiple skills sets, resilience of her own in making sound decisions and solving problems. Not to mention how this change affected his wife’s life in a most positive way!
About the Author
As a psychology major, educator, and later a family therapist, Leila R. Ferrari has a keen interest in how individuals face difficulties and solve problems. She obtained permission among acquaintances in the business and professional world, co-workers, administrators, and personal graduate school friends at the time, to interview and tape-record their personal stories. The topics covered overcoming obstacles, surviving and thriving beyond traumatic events, as well as solving everyday challenges. This is one of those stories.
*Names and other pertinent details in this story were changed to protect privacy.