Like millions of parents across the nation, and billions across the globe, I am now at home with my children. All the time. We have been a family for over two decades, but we haven’t lived this way together ever — because even when my girls were quite small, either my husband or I, or both of us, left the home to work every day. Life together 24/7 is even stranger because our children are, at least technically, adults. One is an 18-year-old high school senior, and one is 21 years old, called back from her junior year at college.
Do I love my family? Of course. Enormously, with every fiber of my being. But love enough is not enough to help us to live together in harmony in a situation none of us chose. As a family, we are having to literally remake all of our traditions, our routines, and even the way we talk to each other.
And to do that, we’ve made a family charter, just like the RULER charters that hang on the walls at Hewitt, and the one we use as a team of advisors each time we gather to work. Dr. Marc Brackett, the director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, where RULER was developed, wrote this timely piece on how families can use the charter tool.
Even though it makes my daughters cringe a bit, our family charter has also become the cornerstone of our lives together. In the four weeks we have been sheltering in place together, we’ve referred to it nearly daily, and we’ve revised it twice. Instead of having family “rules” or just a chaotic free-for-all of needs and wants, we have a shared agreement based in the way we all want to feel when we are together.
To start, we sat down together at the kitchen table, and made a list of one-word answers to the question: How do we want to feel at home? We grouped the words together, and came up with five core words: Safe. Purposeful. Loved. Present. Respected. Once we had those words, we made a list of behaviors that would make it more likely we would feel that way. “Wash your hands” was one of the first we agreed to, although some of the behaviors were less practical and more emotional. “Offer hugs, and understand if they aren’t accepted” was the wise suggestion of our more introverted child.
Since then, we’ve had a lot of moments where we’ve broken aspects of the charter. Lots of them. Because we are in close quarters, that’s inevitable. However, we also continually come back to the set of shared principles that we have agreed to, and committed to. And we try again.
Over the holiday long weekend, we amended our charter. To the first five words we added that we want to feel “connected,” and “growing.” We added a scheduled time to spend together each day, and also the insight, “Live the life we have now, to the best of our ability.”
Sheltering in place in a pandemic is not what anyone had in mind for this spring. It’s not what any of us would have chosen for ourselves or our children. However, we know that once this virus is gone, we will all remember these days together. I personally am hoping that we can remember these days as days of connection, growth, and presence. Writing this charter together, and giving ourselves the space and time to embrace it, makes that a lot more likely.