I am blessed with having two sons. Boisterous, busy, inquisitive and switched-on lads.
As they got to the age of starting school, I was shocked at the things that they were commenting on in regards to my parenting of them. One son would say: "You love him more, because you say yes to him all the time and always say no to me!"
Quite frankly, I couldn't remember who I had said yes or no to, but apparently they did!
I was trying to referee and be as fair as possible to each son and their individual needs of me, but seemingly failing at this part of my mother role. I needed something to keep the balance and make sure that I had fair and equitable boundaries for consistency; that the boundaries were not elastic and the boundaries known to all involved in our family.
I had always hoped to have well-mannered and manageable children. I expected that if I taught them how I wanted things to be, they would just do it. It sounds so easy and straightforward. What I had not taken into account was that each boy had their own distinct and unique personalities and would challenge me at every single turn that I took with them.
While one child might be willing to accept things as they were presented, the other would buck the system. I had to find something that helped each child learn in their own way, but get the results that was going to give us reasonably behaved boys and a harmonious home life with them.
Rule-setting started early and my eldest boy liked the structure of learning and implementing of these household rules. He was happy to play with other children and didn't have too many problems doing this.
My second son, however, found playing with others far more difficult. He would push, shove, share things very poorly and I was at a complete loss to how this was happening after no trouble with my first child. It took me many years to understand that they are just different and had different ways of learning and understanding things.
The boys had active imaginations and while learning the rules of our household, we likened our home to a castle. We lived in a beautiful empire and we must treat each person and belonging within this empire, carefully and with respect.
As the boys grew from toddlers to pre-schoolers, house rules needed to be implemented, we incorporated them into our castle theme. I became the Queen of the castle. I had the final say in day-to-day goings-on in our castle. I was revered and respected in line with how a Queen should be treated.
One cold morning, I was trying to locate the older son before school. He had been up and had breakfast but I now needed him to be dressed ready for school. I was becoming more and more frustrated with every minute ticking-by that I could not find him. Eventually I found him sitting in the front passenger seat of the car. I lost my temper with him. We were now going to be late.
When I eventually calmed down to understand his motivation for doing this, it was simple. He had wanted to sit in the front seat on the way to school and, by ensuring that he got there first, he thought this would allow him that seat.
There and then I had thought of the concept of having a 'King' and a 'Jester' in the household also. Let me explain the two roles and how they work.
Every Monday, I had a new 'King'. King is in for a good week. He has to look after himself by way of still having to clean his own room and generally tidy up after himself. But for the week of being King, he also gets to:
1. Make a decision if there is debate over who gets to do or have something.
For example, if the boys were arguing over which television program they wanted to watch, the King would get to decide. "
At bath time, "King, would you like to go into the bath first or second tonight?" This way if the boys were playing King, could decide to play a few minutes longer or get into the bath first. Either way King has to have a bath, he just gets a say in how he is going to have it.
This is important for toddlers to some input into how their world works. It validates their likes and preferences, but still meets the expectations of the household.
2. Sit in the front seat for the week ahead.
This way there was no arguing over who had the front seat (although it is relinquished if another adult is travelling with us). It made travelling in the car a stress free exercise.
3. Television viewing choice if the children can't agree on what to watch together.
While viewing time was reasonably limited at home, I refused to be the referee to allow both children to watch what they wanted.
After a few years of this system being in place, I could start to hear the boys disagree on what to watch next. I did not intervene. To my disbelief, they started negotiating. The ‘king’ was not about to relinquish his right to make a decision; but the ‘jester’ was desperate to watch a video. The ‘jester’ went to his room and quickly returned holding up a shiny $2 coin to his brother. An offer of payment had been made. Both parties were happy with the transaction. No arguing or punches and, best of all, negotiated without any input from me.
The Jester had to do the jobs that no one wanted to do and take second option to King's choices. As the children grew and were able to participate more in the running of the home, so too did the role of Jester. It would be a tough week being Jester, but at least they knew the roles changed over the following week. Here is his role description:
1. To accept the decision of King without argument.
That is life. Many times we have to manage undesirable situations without complaint and just get on with it.
2. Help set and clear the dinner table.
This started with a simple getting the knives and forks, counting out how many of each was needed for the meal. As the children grew they took on more of this role.
3. Take the rubbish out to the garbage bins.
I would leave the full bag of rubbish at the end of the bench and the 'Jester' knew that he had to deal with it. There was no arguing of who did it last, or ‘you always ask me’, the job just got done quickly.
4. Put garbage bins out for collection.
The Jester's last job of the week is to make sure the bins are out. The new Jester on a Monday brings them in. Simple.
5. Poo patrol.
Cleaning up after the dogs. This job did need a lot of coaxing, but it was Jester's job to clear the back lawn of dog poo. This job came in much later when the boys were old enough to manage this on their own.
6. Help with dishes.
This job was known as 'Dish Pig'. My dishwasher broke and I decided that boys needed to learn how to wash dishes by hand. As Jester, the boys had to help each evening. This was the most undesirable of all jobs.
I soon dreaded the finish of the meal as I knew the complaining Jester would arrive. It would have been easier to scrap this Jester job, until I found a remedy.
The new rule for dish pig became, "Moan and groan, do it on your own." I was happy to help Jester doing the dishes each evening as long as there was no protesting. It took a few rounds for each boy to understand the gravity of protesting against doing the dishes. They watched me get a glass of wine and get comfortable on the couch while they finished the dishes, alone. For a while, I enjoyed this evening ritual of doing the dishes together. I found the boys started communicating and talking to me.
After four months, I decided that we had all had enough of not having a dishwasher, and bought a new one!
Lot of fun
As my sons are now teenagers - one of them being officially an adult - the time of King and Jester has come to an end.
The bins still get put out by each son on alternate Sunday nights, and jobs at home get done according to who is home and available. With sport, work, school and uni they are not home that much anymore.
While 'King' and 'Jester' will not suit all families, it is nonetheless a concept that can be adapted to your own family and interests. For example, your home might be a jungle, and you are the Lion - King of the Jungle and the children are Cheetahs, Meerkats and Turtles.
We have had a lot of fun with King and Jester - and more importantly, it gave me sanity and helped keep me calm while trying to do my best in raising the boys, who bring out both the best and worst in me as a person.
I didn't want to be a screaming, harangued mother with no way of managing two boys that were strong both physically and mentally. I wanted to prepare them for a relentless and sometimes cruel world that they would one day have to negotiate on their own as an adult. Ultimately, I wanted to them to be good men.