Recently, my 2-year-old daughter, Hannah, was with me in a discount department store when she decided she had to have a Barbie doll. I said no. She cried and screamed, and guess what I did? I bought her the doll. Big mistake.
Like most parents, I have wonderful intentions of negotiating with my children when they beg for things such as Barbie dolls. And, like most parents, I occasionally do something I wish I hadn't—such as give in to a screaming toddler. Those are the times I'm re-minded how valuable it is to have a family contract.
My dad is Gary Smalley, who is widely known for the Love is a Decision seminars he presents across the country and on video. While my family wasn't perfect, I had the benefit of growing up in a home that was filled with love. My brothers and I knew the importance of valuing and caring for each family member. Even Dad, the "expert", wasn't immune from needing to relearn this lesson.
Take "the flick," for example. Dad had this habit of snapping his finger against our heads to get our attention or to show he was displeased with our behavior—the flick, we called it. My brothers and I hated the flick and decided we wanted Dad to stop. My brother Michael agreed to take the first step. "We all met," Michael informed Dad, "and we don't like it."
There was one overriding principle in our family. Everyone was to be valued as a person and treated with respect. Mom and Dad taught us: "Love each other, and that means be kind to each other."1