The Benji: Fostering Family Unity

Sometimes it feels like there’s always something going on with a family that takes some effort to fix. (Relationships are like that. If you don’t pay attention to them, then they go downhill.) Lately, something that’s been on my mind is trying to encourage more family unity. Not that my kids have been turning into hellions or anything, or that we’ve had non-stop squabbling, but there’s been more attention being paid to what people are doing individually in the family than I’d like. What I mean is that for a family to work well, it’s got to be a team sport. As soon as you start keeping score of who does what, worrying that someone’s doing less than they ought to, things can deteriorate.

So as I was driving to Bangor for a library meeting, I was thinking through different ways I might help solve this issue. Typically, I’ve reverted to some sort of goal tracking system, but that didn’t feel right in this case. Ultimately, what I wanted was for everyone in the family to be looking out for everyone else. To be searching for ways to do nice things for each other. I really believe that when you serve other people, you grow to love them more, but if you’re just doing something because you expect someone to do something for you back, then that’s not really service. It’s a business transaction.

I wanted more service and less score counting.

Requiring everyone to do a certain number of acts of service each week didn’t feel like the way to go. It’s punitive, and I wanted no resentment from anyone. Resentment = bad. I also wanted people to recognize when someone had done something nice for them. For a bit, I thought about doing some sort of marble system, where any time you did something nice for someone, then you put a marble in a communal jar. Jar fills up, and the family celebrates somehow. But I worried that would make it so not everyone was necessarily participating, so I thought about having four individual jars. That still didn’t feel right. I also dismissed the idea of having people put marbles in the jar when they saw someone else do something nice for them. The problem is that people don’t necessarily recognize when someone is serving them. They can take things for granted, and all I needed was for this to turn into a series of fights over whether or not something was marble-worthy.

On my mission, I lived in an apartment with three other missionaries for a while, and we had issues with doing the dishes. (Namely, one Elder ended up doing all the dishes, and he got fed up with that system for some strange reason.) So he came up with something called the Dishes Bear. It was a tiny light blue stuffed bear, and whenever you did the dishes, you then gave the Dishes Bear to someone else in the apartment, who was then on the hook for doing the dishes. People were motivated to do the dishes regularly, because if they didn’t, they still had to do all of them before they could pass the dishes bear on to someone else.

What if I could come up with something like that, but with a positive spin. (I didn’t want people to groan when they ended up with the Being Nice Bear, or whatever it would be called.)

In the end, I settled on this. My old Benji stuffed animal is now the sign of someone having done something nice for someone else in the family. For example, I had been given Benji a few days ago, and so it was up to me to do something nice for someone else. I decided to go out and play in the snow with MC for a while, something I rarely do these days. She had a blast, and at the end of it, I told her that was a Benji, and it was up to her to pass it on next. So whoever has the Benji is expected to do something to pass him on within a day or two.

One rule is that there can be no judging on whether or not something is Benji-worthy. You can’t tell the person who gives you a Benji that their action didn’t count. I want people to recognize when someone’s doing something nice for them. Or even at bare minimum when someone thinks they did something nice for them. Denisa wondered what we’d do if everyone just started doing tiny things to get rid of Benji. I told her that we’d set the tone by what showing the girls by example what’s Benji-worthy.

We’ve been doing it for about a week, and it’s gone very well so far. Well enough that the girls both mentioned how much they like it, which doesn’t always happen when I come up with some new thing for the family to do. Will we stick with it? Who knows, but I tend to think we will, mainly because it’s kind of self-policing. Everyone in the family knows who has the Benji, and who wouldn’t want someone to do something nice for them? So there are gentle reminders that someone’s had him long enough . . .

Here’s hoping it keeps going.


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