Remember that book I read, The Secrets of Happy Families? By Bruce Feiler, who writes a column for the NYTimes on family life and gives TED talks on successful families? I really liked that book, and I really like his ideas. Which I mentioned in this post.
And since that post, we have stuck with family meetings. We have them every Sunday – almost every Sunday - either before or after dinner. With an agenda and everything. I have this notebook from Staples (from the Martha Stewart Collection, in case you want to run out and get one), and in it I write the agenda, with occasional input from the husband. Here’s a typical agenda:
So we go over the week’s calendar and come up with tasks we have to do. The 13- year-old records everything because she is that way, and I record everything in my master planner, because I am the mom and thus in charge of remembering it all. I usually try to add something deeper to the agenda, maybe we talk about something we are grateful for that week, or an accomplishment, or set goals for the week, or play a round of Bananagrams or read a poem out loud. Then we adjourn.
Now, I’d really like to tell you that our family meetings are going well. So I will. They are going well. Really, really well. We all love them and look forward to them.
This might be a teensy exaggeration.
Now, a big part of the idea behind the family meeting is that everyone participates. That means everyone can add to the agenda. That means that the children have a big role in the meeting itself.
The other underlying idea is that the family is an agile system. This term originated in the software industry and has spread to other businesses. It refers to self-correcting project management. In other words, instead of working on a project from beginning to end, then handing it off for review, regular meetings ensure that there are no bad bugs in the system, and allow for fixes before the product is complete, when it would be much harder to change. Meetings are for self-correcting. You look at problems that crop up and tweak them immediately, rather than run farther and farther off course with no correction until your project is completed (or your children grow up and run as far away from you as they can as fast as they can and start intensive therapy.)
Well, this participation and self-correcting aspect (remember, these are fundamental to the idea) have been kind of hard to implement. I’m just not sure I have total buy-in from the key players, possibly including myself.
Just recently, I heard a snippet Brucie’s TED talk on the family meeting, and he said that you ask at each meeting, What has been working well this week in our family, and what hasn’t been working well? So, I have been a little FRUStrated lately by the laundry situation. The children are supposed to do their own laundry on Sundays. We tried other days, but Sundays was decided to be the best day.
Yeah. Well, guess what? Laundry isn’t getting done. Maybe it’s getting started on Sunday, but it’s not getting done. And Someone is beginning to suspect there is a strategy behind this – if the laundry molders in the machine long enough, and school starts, then Someone Else will take over and do it.
|Do I need to explain this photo? I think not.|
So. The husband and I were walking the dog, and I mentioned this laundry situation and the idea that the kids were supposed to contribute to the meeting and everyone is supposed to draw up a list of his or her responsibilities at family meeting so there is something to check in about. So I say to the husband, "Maybe we should talk about the laundry, which is definitely not working." And I also want to draw up the lists of responsibilities. So we decide that since the 17 yo is in the middle of applications and school, we will forego doing both at the next meeting and just lay the ground work for the laundry situation by having everyone draw up that list of responsibilities.
So here is how it went.
Ding, ding, ding, everyone to family meeting. 12th grader stands by table, looking at her phone. 8th grader grabs the Martha Stewart Collection notebook and a sharpened pencil and is ready. We go over old business. We go over the calendar. I fail to note that I’ve written down that the husband has ballet pick-up duties on Monday night, which is not the usual schedule.
We move on the agenda item – activity: list responsibilities. I pass out paper and pencils. We begin to write our lists. Except the 17 yo. Who refuses.
Why won’t she do this, we ask?
"I just think there is a hidden agenda," she says.
"What do you mean?" We say.
"Well, obviously, you want me to write ‘laundry,’ and I’m not getting the laundry done."
So we had to admit that, yes, the laundry situation is part of it. But also, the point is to write down our responsibilities to ourselves as well as basic chores. (of which there are way too few, probably, for us to create contributing members of society, but I feel helpless to change that.)
Eventually, she wrote this:
Then we adjourned the meeting.
The next night, Monday, we forgot to pick up her from ballet.
So you can see it is all going very smoothly.