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FamilyTech Lightens the Chore Load

girl-cleaning-windowI’m a therapist, parent coach and mom. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to make the healthy shift from negative reinforcement to positive, using reward systems as tools. There are a bunch helpful chore systems online, but until now none did all that I wanted them to do. And there’s always good, old-fashioned DIY. None of it works so well as the set of apps from FamilyTech: Mothershp, ChoreMonster and Landra. Between my experience with my own family and that of my parent clients, implementing a reward system that is engaging, motivating and efficient has proved an enormously frustrating task. And though I wish I could say it’s been easy-peasy for me, FamilyTech has come to the rescue.

My family has been using the apps for the last couple weeks and I am not hyperbolizing when I say our quality of life has dramatically improved. Plus, the house has never looked better. I use the Mothershp app as a command center to set up profiles for the kids, assign chores, due dates, points and redeemable rewards to each child. My nine year-old son uses ChoreMonster and his teenage sister uses Landra to access the chores, rewards and more, on their ends. Kids go on to check what’s due and then logon again later to mark each chore complete. When they mark that they’ve completed a task, I get a Mothershp notification, and the points I’ve designated are either awarded or await await my approval, in case I need to check out the quality of work first, a feature I have come to love. When the kids have earned enough points, they can redeem them for rewards from the menu we created. Landra even allows big kids to come up with their own rewards, pending approval from the Mothershp, of course.

FamilyTech makes chore giving easier

What struck me the most was how the FamilyTech system takes the angst out of chore negotiations. Something about being assigned housework by an app rather than by me personally makes the kids much more agreeable about doing it. They’re grumbling less and we’re arguing less. This is actually super-important, since according to current neurodevelopment research, “what wires together fires together” in the brain. So if kids are feeling more positive as they work, they are more likely to want work in the future. In other words, taking out the angst helps build a healthy work ethic! It’s also flexible, way more than I am when I verbally assign chores, which allows my kids agency and encourages them to practice responsibility. As long as the work is done by the due date, they’re racking up the points. Sure it’s fun, but the kids are also really proud of themselves, and so are we. Did I mention how much happier we all are?

positive reinforcement throughout the apps makes kids happier about doing chores

I know this easeful chore-transacting is largely due to the fact that FamilyTech’s so motivating. It basically makes housework feel like play. More chores than ever are getting done here simply because my nine year-old enjoys using the dynamic ChoreMonster app. Not only does he accrue reward points for his hard work, but he collects “game tickets” to use for activities on the site. My thirteen year-old is loving earning rewards she’s chosen for herself on Landra. She feels organized, accomplished and is literally asking for more chores. Even though she hasn’t said it outloud, I know she’s also having fun sending me notifications and approval requests – communicating with me like coworkers makes her feel pretty industrious; and she gets to show off!

FamilyTech reduces MY stress

I’m also happier because frankly, I’m a lot less stressed not having to keep all this stuff in my head anymore. Keeping the changing household needs, the changing kids’ abilities, interests and effort all straight all the time is overwhelming in itself, not to mention all the other to-dos I have to keep track of. Parents’ bandwidth is so precious. The busier we get the more desperately we need trusty systems like FamilyTech to keep family life running smoothly. FamilyTech makes it so easy to keep the whole system organized and up-to-date, the chores get done and don’t get stale. Mothershp allows you to make updates so easily you can basically do it from anywhere, anytime and anyone who needs to know about it is automatically notified, so you don’t even have to remember it.

chore system supports development

As a licensed family therapist I can tell you without a doubt, FamilyTech is great for kids’ development. Kids this age are working on achieving initiative, industry and executive skills. With positive rewards for practising autonomy and responsibility (two things, believe it or not, we parents are actually not very good at allowing), FamilyTech taps into the developmental movement operating in kids and gives them the framework to exercise these emerging skills. As a mom I can tell you this system has been amazing for my nine year-old. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes worry about the level of scaffolding he seems to need to complete just one chore. But man, now that he is in control of his work instead of me, I am seeing amazing changes.

improvements

Still, improvements could be made. The Landra app is young and a little buggy – not enough to render it unusable by any means, but the glitches did give my eye-rolling daughter fodder for her scorn. That didn’t stop her from racking up as many points as she could so she could score a new Hamilton T-shirt. Also, I’m looking forward to a web version of the Landra app because as simple as it is for teens to use the app on their phones, I’d rather my kids spend less time on their handheld devices. While the apps are mostly intuitive, there are some places that could be easier to navigate. That said, the help section and tech support is pretty thorough. We’ll definitely keep using the apps and look forward to FamilyTech working out the kinks.

Portland Sidewalk Talk

Hey. I thought I’d let you know about this crazy thing I do. I guess it’s not really crazy, but sidewalk talk photothe fact that I do it is, since I hate being on stage. It’s not really a stage. It’s a sidewalk. Sidewalk Talk is a really cool community listening project that’s all about social good, belonging, evolution, consciousness, connection and well-being. I’m actually the Portland Sidewalk Talk City Leader, so I coordinate all the volunteers who join us and set up events where we actually listen to strangers on the city streets.

Why on Earth Would I sit on the Sidewalk and Listen to Strangers?

You may wonder why in the world I would want to sit on the street and listen to strangers. I’ll tell you. I do it because I am called to the work of connecting with people. I know that sometimes the tiniest connection, or even the idea of connection, is enough to settle a person’s nervous system even just that much. It makes a difference. When we are truly listened to, our deepest need to be seen and heard is met. When we are welcomed to sit and share with strangers, we feel a sense of belonging, which is too often sorely lacking in our communities. I do it because it’s a radical act for social change. People actually do sit down to talk and be truly heard, but many more pass us by, heads down, nose buried in their phones. Even for them, I know our presence has an effect. I trust that they may spend the day more mindful of listening. They may go and leave work and be better listeners to the people in their lives who matter, for having seen us. That matters because the idea is to remind our communities of the importance of listening to one another.

See Sidewalk Talk in Action

Check out the video of what we do, narrated by my friend and the project’s founder, Traci Ruble. Join me! Let me know if you’re interested! We’ll be out there for the World Day of Listening on Oct. 21.

When the Love Feels Lost: Small Actions with Big Pay Off

Jenny Kepler, MFT is a therapist helping people turn towards, improve marriage and rekindle loveOn average couples spend 6 years feeling dissatisfied before going to couples counseling. SIX YEARS. If you are nearing that mark then it’s time to switch tracks. I get it, nobody wants to have go to counseling. But are you happy with the status quo? Short of starting couples therapy, there is a LOT you can do to rekindle love and improve your marriage.

Most of it falls under the umbrella of creating a culture of positivity in your relationship. According to Drs. John & Julie Gottman, arguably the country’s most respected researchers in romantic relationships that last the test of time, couples that last share one fundamental mindset. They may vary widely in how much they argue and what types of relationships they have, but the couples who are “masters” in lasting relationships all create a culture of kindness and generosity between them. This is not to say that they never fight, but what it does mean is that they are building a culture of respect and appreciation into their partnership, even in the midst of an argument.

Turning towards

This may sound impossible. But with a little practice, you’ll find it’s not. The idea is to create a bubble around your couple, a loving shield of kindness and generosity the protects your relationship even during the hard times. HOW ON EARTH? you must be asking yourself. Here you go: The Gottmans found that the masters “turn toward” each other in many small ways all the time. It’s as simple as responding to what’s known as a “bid for connection” – the little things you say to each other throughout the day (“Hey, there’s a finch on that branch.” “I ran into the preschool teacher at the post office.” “I’m tired of kale, I want to find a new green vegetable” You get the picture…) How often do you hear these remarks and let them drop? Can you instead pick up the thread and respond? (“Yeah, I saw it too. Do you think there’s a nest nearby?” “Really? I haven’t seen him in years.” “I know! I’m so over it. What’s something we haven’t eaten in a long time?” etc…) When you do this, this picking up the thread with your response, it’s like sewing. You are actually  strengthening the bond of goodwill between you. Give it a try for a few days and see how it goes.

Increase positivity

Another thing that masters do is notice the things they appreciate about their partners and share it. It can feel VERY AWKWARD for folks who are not in the habit of sharing this stuff out loud. But do it. If you are facing the six-year mark and you need things to change – what have you got to lose? I can tell you that couples who do the opposite, who share grievances more often with criticism or passive aggression – those guys are hurting and don’t have to. Remember? You probably used to appreciate your partner more, and somehow along the way with all the stuff we juggle everyday, you’ve dropped it. A lot of people do. The good news is you can actually start turning it around this very minute. Send your partner a text message right now about something you love about them. What have they done lately for the family that you appreciated? Don’t keep that stuff to yourself!

The two of you against the problem

And the last tidbit I will share is to remember this when you are in conflict: There is the two of you, and then there is the problem. The problem is outside your bubble. Neither one of you is the problem, even if you are very angry – remember it takes two. Most likely, your partner does not want to hurt you or to feel hurt by you. Remembering this and reminding your partner of it as you open your conflict-solving talk can help set you on the right track. This is not to minimize the very real divide you may be experiencing right now. Conflict is a big subject that couples work really hard on in couples counseling, but if you are looking for small changes you can make on your own – adopt this mindset: the problem is outside your bubble and you guys can work on solving it together. By no longer viewing your partner as the enemy in a fight, but as a team member, by trying to understand their point of view and offering validation, you are turning towards your partner.

Improve marriage

This is not a cure-all, but it’s a start. There are lots of little ways to turn towards your partner everyday, and together they can help you rebuild a culture of kindness and generosity in your relationship. While they will not get to the root of deep-seeded issues that may have grown between you over the years, they will soften the ground making the bigger stuff more approachable, and possibly even more amenable to change.

5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Make Your Relationship Baby Ready

Is your relationship baby ready? Pre-baby counseling with Jenny Kepler, MFTThe baby’s almost here! You’ve spent the last couple trimesters taking excellent care of yourself and doing all you can do to prepare for the arrival of this very special new person. While you’re on a roll, put in a little extra leg-work now to keep your relationship running smooth as you enter the wild, unknown that lies ahead. Set yourselves up for optimal relating in the early days of parenting by following these steps:

 

1. ANTICIPATE

Knowing yourselves as well as you do, how are you likely feel when you’re both sleep-deprived and not getting the level of attention from your mate as you’re used to? Prepare for that to be the new normal, at least for a little while. Not sure? Here’s a hint: Many partners feel left-out when Mom is breastfeeding. In the beginning anyway, this adds up to a lot of time. How can you plan for this? Other new parents feel anxious and alone when their partner is not emotionally available. Practice some self-soothing and distraction techniques now so you don’t need to learn them on the fly. What else would be helpful?

2. MAKE LOVE

As committed as you may be to a different outcome, for the vast majority of couples, sex loses its spot on the priority list once the baby arrives. Focusing on it now is healthy for mom, baby AND you, as it gets bonding hormones flowing. It also tones and primes the body for birth; and being connected with her body makes laboring a much more empowered endeavor for a woman than not. Bonus points: Where will your baby sleep? How and where will you guys get down, given your tiny companion? Make a plan!

3. LEARN

Learn this excellent communication formula:  I feel ___(name your feeling)___when you ___(name your partner’s behavior)___ because I need ___(what do you need?)___. So would you be willing to ___(what could s/he do that would help)___? Get good at this formula now, so that when you’re raw, sleepy and hormonal you will at least be able to confidently negotiate your needs in a way that is non-blaming, and solution-focused. For more info, look at Marshall Rosenberg’s Non Violent Communication

4. TALK

“Better out than in, I always say!” — Shrek

What are your hopes and fears for parenting? Think about what is driving your concern – is it performance anxiety? Are you worried you will lose yourself to the family? These kinds of feelings are normal, and will actually bring you closer if you discuss them. Begin by stating your intention, so your partner knows your goal is to give you guys a great launch pad, not to criticize. Share your concern, using “I Statements,” and invite your partner to share theirs. This way you can make a plan – which even if you never use it, will make you feel more grounded. Make your own individual lists of values and priorities for you family. Share them when you are both feeling calm and open. Brainstorm around ways to achieve them.

5. PRACTICE

Practice asking your partner what s/he thinks, needs and feels instead of guessing. You’d be surprised by how much assuming we actually do; and you know what they say about assuming. What happens is that when we react to what we believe (instead of finding out from our partner what’s true), we often end up causing emotional distance. When in fact, a heart-to-heart where you ask about it instead, can actually bring you closer.  Also, practice identifying needs and feels for yourself, to make your sharing more clear and your connecting better. You may think you are already good at this one, but I promise you can improve. The more self-aware you can be, and open to your partner’s different experience from yours, the smoother your sailing will be!