Every Saturday morning we clean the house. We start by sitting down together and listing all the jobs that need to be done. Then everyone gets to be the boss for half an hour. We always start with Shuba, our youngest. While he is boss, everyone must do what he says. He is the king. He will check if you are cleaning thoroughly, allocate the jobs, and tell you when you can move to a new one.
We started this game when he was seven. You might anticipate, as we did, that it would be chaos, that he would give crazy commands or not know what to do. But he turned out to be the most caring and careful supervisor of the family. I remember him coming into the bathroom while I was cleaning the toilet. “Do you have what you need?” he asked. “Are you clear about what to do? Let me know when you want to take a break.” I pinched myself. Was I dreaming? When his half hour was up he resorted to his usual personality, complaining bitterly about having to work at all. I learned that we all rise to the occasion.
Of course, we don’t want to make this a daily practice. Kids need time to be kids. But giving everyone a chance to change their role in the family in this way, once a week, shakes up encrusted habits. Everyone, kids and adults, can experiment with other ways of doing things, gaining insight into what it’s like to play another role in the family. When my child gets to be in charge of the family for half an hour, and I get to be the one ordered around, he can feel what it’s like to be boss, and I can feel what it’s like to have someone either bark an order at me or be considerate and patient. My son makes a much better boss than I do; I learn a lot from him about how to supervise others.
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