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Commentary: 21 Days


In the last year, our family has become distant. We don’t talk to each other, and we don’t spend time together. We argue, we complain and we go from one day to the next, just getting by, making due.  

My son, 17, is totally obsessed with computer games and, being a teenager, his friend time is at the very top of his happiness hierarchy. We have moved often, and his friends live all over the country. He is not interested in chores or school work, just the newest computer game and getting a driver’s license.

My daughter, who is 12 and autistic, is all about being social. She cannot do anything without having someone do it with or watch her do it. Video games and trading cards are what it’s all about for my tween.

I really began to notice about a month ago that we never spend time together, and when we do, everyone seems to be on edge, arguing about every little thing. Arguing turns to yelling, yelling turns to everyone going their own way, doing their own thing, alone or with friends.

Last week was a rough week with my daughter. She was out of control, missed school Monday because she didn’t “feel like going.” It turned into a true spectacle on Tuesday, taking a small army to convince her she needed to go to school, the resource officer, vice principal, teacher, and all. She did finally come around and enter the school, after bolting across the school yard and walking nearly half a mile toward home.

After a dramatic couple of days, I realized our family was falling apart. A little crying and a lot of thinking brought me to the 21 day approach. I heard somewhere it takes 21 days to change a behavior. I thought, I can do this, we can do this. With some work, we can change the rut we are in, and we can do it in 21 days.

So, when I got home last Tuesday evening, I had a plan, and they were going to participate, like it or not.

I talked to both kids separately and explained what was going to happen. I got moans and groans, but I was very thorough in my explanation. I want us to be a better family, and any behavior can be changed in 21 days because someone, somewhere said so.

It began with rule number one, when I get home in the evening, with daughter in tow, the kids will sit at the dining room table and talk while I make dinner. They can talk about their day, their friends, the latest game or movie, whatever they want.

That seemed to go over well and everyone seemed calmer. I was impressed. Then, dinner was ready and I joined them. They ate, and all was quiet. I asked some questions, and got short answers, but at least we were all in one place and the arguing was minimal; “He bumped the table,” and “She is acting stupid.”

After dinner came rule number two, clean up your own spot. To my surprise, the tween jumped up right away and took care of her dishes. The ‘nearly a man’ took some dishes to the sink, but left utensils and a glass on the table. When I pointed that out, nicely, the groaning began. It continued when I told everyone to sit back down, we were not finished.

“What now? We sat and ate. I want to go get on the computer.”

Now, I said, rule number three is, I want everyone to say something nice about everyone else.

You could have cut the silence with a knife. They looked like I had just asked them to do something evil or embarrassing. I was told it was not going to happen… ever.

So, we continued to sit, and after a few minutes my sweetie decided she would go first. She told her brother she was sorry that she got on his nerves so much, and he just stared at her. After some prodding, he responded, “Thank you.” Then, I said something nice about them both. Then, it was ‘The Man’s’ turn. He sat, and sat, and sat. He thought, then thought some more. I asked if he was done thinking, and he said he not yet. After about five minutes, when he realized we were going to sit there until he came up with something, he told his sister ‘thank you’ for the Pokémon cards she gave him the week before.

We all hugged and everyone went on their way, playing and gaming, separated once again.

As I sat at the table alone, in a quiet house, I thought about how well my plan had gone, and was amazed that it had actually worked.

Wednesday night went the same. I only had to tell them twice to sit at the table. Thursday went just as well, but then, low and behold, Friday came along. My son decided he would make dinner. He did a great job, but because his sister was in a bad mood, and grandma had joined us, I let her stay in her room and play while we ate. Her brother was not pleased with that decision. He wanted to follow the new rules, but I didn’t want to deal with the grumpy one on a Friday night.

Saturday everyone was out and about, and dinner was a free for all. Sunday came, and it was pretty much the same thing, a typical weekend, one was hungry when the other wasn’t. It was a snack fest and everyone kind of grazed throughout the evening.

It was around 9 p.m. on Sunday when my sweetie sleepily asked, “What happened to our 21 days? I want our 21 days.”

What a revelation! It was not that we couldn’t change, but we had to learn how to stick with it, continue what we started and not get distracted by all the little things that get in the way. We have to stand fast, overcome the obstacles and succeed. We have to find the willpower and determination to bring our family back together, no matter what.

So, tomorrow night we will start our 21 days all over again, and hopefully, this time, we will make it to day 21… and beyond.  


Note:  Since 1986, April has been declared the Month of the Military Child to recognize the commitment, contributions and sacrifices of military children. In Texas, Apr. 13 was chosen as this year’s Purple Up! Day to honor our youngest heroes, military children, and thank them for their courage, character, resilience and patriotism.