We have made a lot of stabs at family meetings over the last few months, mostly prompted by my reading – and ADORING – Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families.
I loved the idea of sitting with my kids and spouse, discussing the upcoming week, setting family goals, modeling how we handle daily disappointments, celebrating daily successes.
And I have friends for whom family meetings work great – in fact, I first started kicking around the idea of a family meeting after reading about them on Donna Tetreault’s blog.
So a few months ago, we tried having our first family meetings over Friday dinners, thinking our low-key Shabbat was a nice time to take a look at the week behind us, and the week coming up.
Family meals are a terrible time to have a family meeting.
There’s too much nagging about napkins in laps and forks in hands and move your cup further up the table before it spills and mopping up the spills and all the kids screaming over each other and it’s just too friggin’ hard.
Plus the boys are just too young to get it. Sorry dudes.
Which got me thinking about a better way to do family meetings and really make them stick.
1. Make them a regular part of your family routine.
Our calendar is a mess. Fridays we do Shabbat dinner followed by a family movie, or head out to evening picnics during the summer. Saturdays MrBigIdeas and I go out NO MATTER WHAT, HELL OR HIGHWATER. Sundays are usually chockfull of birthday parties (Jewish school rules say no Saturday parties), or we’re having friends over for early dinners at home. After spending a TON of time looking over our calendar, I decided to set the meetings for Monday nights, after dinner.
Then I went over to the calendar in our kitchen Command Center and wrote them in for every Monday night for the rest of the year.
2. Make them special.
Parents suggests using a team-builiding exercise as the intro to family meetings. I hate team-building exercises. Seriously. Ugh. Gag me.
Instead, I marked the first Family Meeting as a SPECIAL OCCASION by handwriting invitations and placing them MrBigIdeas’ and the kids’ Command Center inboxes.
The invitation set a weekly dress code (PAJAMAS AND SLIPPERS) and announced that all meetings would feature a special dessert item.
3. Trim the guest list.
The most useful thing I got out of the Parents’ article was the idea that ANYONE UNDER 4 was too young to attend family meeting.
Duh. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t figured that one out already.
So I set our weekly Family Meeting for Mondays nights at 745, after everyone was bathed and in their pjs, and most importantly, after the boys were in bed.
4. Set a productive agenda.
Our regular agenda items include:
- Looking ahead to the following week: Making logistical decisions such as who is making dinner on what nights, who is taking the kids to what activities, what special needs the kids have for those activities, etc.
- Setting goals for the following week: Last week, Gaga mentioned she was sad that Diddy won’t read to her or play with her as much as Gaga would like. Diddy countered that she didn’t enjoy playing with Gaga. (Yikes. Sisters.) Now, this is not true. There are tons of things Diddy likes to do with Gaga, most of which involve making Gaga the Monster, the Boyfriend, or The Baby. Diddy’s goal for this week’s meeting was to come up with a list of things she likes to do with Gaga.
- Discussing any new agenda items that have been listed on our Family Command Center wipeboard over the course of the week. On this week’s board, Diddy has asked we discuss additional chores she can do at home to earn more cash. I’ve asked that the girls help set up a penalty system designed to make me stop saying the F WORD. I really am trying, people. (In case you hadn’t noticed, I haven’t cursed yet, and I’m at least a third of the way into this post!)
- Reviewing the girls’ Morning Checklists. The girls’ updated Morning Checklists have checkboxes for each item and each day of the week. Any item they fail to complete is a $0.50 penalty.
- Reviewing other weekly checklists. Currently, we are working on flushing toilets in our house. We have a weekly chart up on the Command Center wipeboard, and now instead of nagging the kids about flushing the toilets, or trying to figure out which kid is responsible for which unflushed toilet, we just keep count of how many we see over the week. Each unflushed toilet is now work $0.50 ACROSS THE BOARD, meaning both girls are penalized for each unflushed toilet.
- Distributing allowance. We are now doing allowance at Family Meeting because it keeps me from constantly forgetting to dole out allowance and then having to play catch up with large sums of $1 bills.
- Also, doing allowance at Family Meeting lets us draw a concrete connection between goal penalties and the girls’ weekly cash intake. For instance, last week, the kids racked up $4.50 in unflushed toilets. Gaga only gets $4/week, so she actually had to PAY ME from her spending money, which was really upsetting for her. Diddy gets $6, so she had to split the remaining $1.50 among her spending, saving, and tzedekah jars.
Yes, there were tears. And protestations that the unflushed toilets were “HER FAULT!” “NO, THEY WERE HER FAULT!”
At which point I said,
The point of this exercise, the rules to which you both agreed to, was to encourage you both to flush the toilets. Punishing you BOTH is meant to encourage you to pressure each other to FLUSH THE TOILETS. You know what else it’s meant to do? PRESSURE YOU BOTH TO HELP EACH OTHER! If you see an unflushed toilet, your goal is to flush it before I see it, even if it’s not your fault! You guys are a TEAM. Against ME! Your team goal is to keep toilets flushed. Period. Together. Because you are SISTERS! And you will be a team for the rest of your life!
Okay, fine. In some instances, I am all for team-building.
HOW TO CREATE THE PERFECT FAMILY COMMAND CENTER
(Hint: Involves A Close Relationship With Command Strips)
Some people have separate mudrooms or elaborate entryways where they can hang coats, leave shoes, sort mail, sort keys, check their family calendar, leave their family bags.
Or maybe they don’t. Maybe that Pottery Barn spread is the one mudroom in America, constantly re-decorated so that we believe mudrooms and dedicated entries are a thing EVERYONE has.
Well, we here at ChecklistMommy absolutely DON’T. We live in a fairly contemporary home designed in the modern style. We have an entry-ish sort of area. It kinda does it’s job housing coats and shoes and backpacks (I’m working on a better system as we speak) but it sure as hell doesn’t STREAMLINE our life. It doesn’t scream,
HERE’S EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR DAY AND YOUR WEEK AND OUR LIVES.
NOW GO LIVE, PEOPLE, GO OUT AND LIVE!
That’s because my front door is just not Command Center friendly.
It’s too exposed to our entire upstairs living space.
I want less there, not more.
And a TRUE Command Center really needs to do more.
In my view, a TRUE Command Center accommodates:
- A family calendar
- A family shopping list
- A weekly menu list
- Inboxes for every family member
- A system for messages to/from family members
Basically, a Command Center keeps a family functioning on the same page.
You don’t need one so much when your kids are super-tiny, but by the time they’re in school – and this fall, ALL FOUR OF MINE WILL BE IN SCHOOL, HOLY MOLY – Command Centers are pretty much indispensible.
I mean, can you imagine how many permission slips I’m going to be dealing with this fall?
THE THE ABSOLUTE KEY to putting a FUNCTIONAL Command Center together
is figuring out WHERE ON EARTH IT GOES.
Turns out, it needs to be somewhere EVERYONE in your family will see it.
- As in: a binder that works for Mom is never in a million years gonna work for Dad or their four kids. They are never going to flip through it. Even if you leave it on the kitchen counter. And you tabulate it. And you talk about it. Every day. (It’s been six years of this system and NO ONE EVER LOOKS BUT ME.)
- It also won’t work BEHIND THE PANTRY DOOR. No one spends time hanging out behind the pantry door. Pantry wall, sure. That might work. But most pantries I know are chock full of shelves and PANTRY ITEMS. Which is why I initially went for behind the door. Whoops.
- I considered our laundry room for awhile, but NO ONE in our house likes to hang out in there because that’s where the litter box for our ancient cats live. They no longer have a great sense of aim. AND THEY JUST WON’T DIE. (And before I get all sorts of hate mail for that one: I believe that cats are not pets so much as hunters. Mine were hunters. MrBigIdeas’ cats were softie princess pansy butts. He moved in and turned mine into pansy butts too. Add to that ANCIENTNESS and incontinence and the fact that I now have four children who demand all my attention, and then go ahead and talk to me about the cruelty of my active fantasy life involving ZERO CATS AT ALL.)
Anyway, it took me three years but I finally figured out:
In a mudroom-less home, a Command Center lives out in plain view in the kitchen.
- We already had the magnet board under the TV (1), where our calendar lives, and where all sorts of other flotsam and jetsam ended up too. I was over the flotsam and jetsam.
- So I bought inboxes (2). And because it turns out no one in our house ever CHECKS their basket-y inboxes (I know, because they already lived and malfunctions and overflowed in our fancy entry cabinet / shelf thingy), I bought MAGNETIC inboxes. So that people who might not look INSIDE would still see important notices stuck to the FRONT. And I made them small. I am hoping SMALL means people will check them more often. Flotsam and jetsam is now sorted to whomever thinks that crap needs a home in the first place.
- Then I hung a second magnet board, which doubles as a wipeboard, to house our weekly menu, our shopping list, and any agenda items from or for our Weekly Family Meetings (more on those soon. We’re 2 in and they’re AWESOME!) My favorite thing about this new board is that now, as soon as we run out of ANYTHING, we write it on the board, and when one of us goes shopping we can just take a picture of the list on our phones and bring that to the store. GENIUS. GENIUS. GENIUS. If I do say so myself.
- Finally, I added Command Hooks for everybody’s lunchbags. They were taking up a whole drawer in the kitchen, but more importantly: everyday someone leaves their lunchbag in the car and I don’t know about it until I’m scrambling around searching for lunchbags when I’m making lunch. Now I’m training the kids to unpack their bags everyday (HELLO, AFTERNOON CHECKLIST!) and unpack their lunches and hang their lunchbags on the hooks. That, my friends, will be nirvana.
I did it all of this – ALL OF IT! — with Command Strips!
Easy peasy! The inboxes, the second magnet/dry-erase, the lunchbox hooks: Velcro Command Strips, people. Learn to love them. I do. I wanna marry them. MrBigIdeas is always singing a song that goes:
I’m sticking with you
Cuz I’m made out of glue
Anything you wanna do
I’m gonna do too
That’s me and Command Strips. Forever and always.
Or at least until I find my drill in the disaster that is our garage and make my relationship with my fab new Command Center permanent.
Considering how bad our garage looks, I may be waiting on that a VERY LONG TIME.
I had the great pleasure of attending the PLUSH Show in LA last weekend. PLUSH (The Posh Little Urbanites Show) is a weekend-long, business-to-business AND business-to-consumer event, showcasing great baby and child products and nursery items.
I went as press – ChecklistMommy.com garners credentials, lucky me! – and was happy to connect with some of favorite product reps, meet new vendors, and hang out with retailers and LA personalities I love.
Full disclosure: This is a semi-sponsored post.
Some vendors gave me samples to bring home and test of my kids. Some didn’t.
Swag did not determine the lines I’m talking about today – several vendors who offered product are not featured in this post, as I’m still unsure about those products and don’t want to talk them up until I know more.
Some brands / products, though, I can never say enough about.
Here’s what I loved best at PLUSH this year:
At MomciergeLA, we have a lot of clients who are expecting twins. Not a few have their hearts set on Bugaboo Donkey strollers, so I made a point to a do compare/contrast between the Bugaboo and the Baby Jogger City Select on Sunday. City Select won HANDS DOWN.
- It’s SMALLER: in-line, not side-by-side.
- It comes in TWO FINISHES: silver or black.
- It’s A MILLION TIMES EASIER TO FOLD. Three steps instead of the NINE — yep, NINE — steps I counted while watching the Bugaboo rep fold the Donkey.
- Oh and: it’s HALF THE PRICE, PEOPLE!
I can’t say enough about this carseat. It’s heavy, but that’s because of it’s steel construction. It’s collapsible. It installs INCREDIBLY EASILY. And you can fit three of these seats across one row of a car, saving you the expense having to buy a new car just because you’re family has grown from 2 kids to 3. I actually own SEVEN of these seats, believe it or not. Obviously, I’m sold!
Our clients at MomciergeLA love these pails for their sleek design and color options. Jessica, my partner at MomciergeLA, got one for her new baby and says it does a great job at controlling diaper smells. And it passes our “uses standard kitchen bags, not too many moving parts” test, too. The fabulous rep let me take a pail home to try for myself. We’ll see how it stands up to twins, but if Jessica is already sold, then who am I to differ?
OK, remember when I told you how to pack your diaper bag? My system is all packing cubes and lists on luggage tags – THESE PEOPLE PUT ME TO SHAME AND I WANT TO BE THEM. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this product. It’s absolute genius. And they make a set for when your kids are OLDER, too! LOVE LOVE LOVE THESE. Sold, sold, sold, and … sold.
I have told a LOT of people to buy Munchkin dishwasher baskets, because they are indispensible for washing small pump and baby bottle parts in the dishwasher. However, over time, they fall apart.
The BOON basket is designed to avoid that problem – it’s got hinged points of connection that are SEPARATE from the lid. Love that. I’m hoping to get one from Boon and test it out for awhile to confirm my feelings, but even now I am feeling pretty good about this product. Sold!
And, what may be THE HOLY GRAIL in kid products:
I think I found a sippy cup that doesn’t leak!
- Drop them, turn them over, bang them against a table – no leaks.
- Dishwasher safe.
- JUST THREE PARTS THAT ARE IDIOT SIMPLE TO PUT TOGETHER.
I brought two home to test on the twins, who have managed to out-maneuver every other cup I’ve ever handed them. I am rooting for these cups hard! If they work, I am dumping every other cup that’s ever come into this house and investing in the company, which also makes health-care cups (for people with shaky grips due to age or disease) and – genius! – wine cups for tipsy Mamas.
Anyway, more updates as I continue to test the products I saw at PLUSH 2013, but in the meantime, I’m basically endorsing this stuff.
If you’re in the market right this instant, go try these products. You won’t go wrong.
Summer makes me want to live lighter.
I stop with the endless blow-outs, for one thing. I do this hairband-wrappy thing, instead, which by the way and oddly enough gets a TON of compliments when I’m out:
Basically, you just grab a stretchy headband and wrap your hair around it. My friend Morgan over at The818.com does a good instructional video if you wanna go take a look. Somehow she makes the whole second step pay off, but that doesn’t work for me. I stick with the first part, and then on day two I shove a hat on it.
Both of these hats came from Target. I love me some Target, though this whole Bangladesh Safety Accord fracas is starting to wig me out and I may be rethinking my ENTIRE shopping strategy over the next few months, so stay tuned as I get serious about that.
In the meantime though, and aside from the hair,
Summer makes me want to just Do. Generally. Less.
And I am finding, as with most things, that the less you wanna do, the more you gotta prep to do it.
- I wanna wear less clothing that exposes more skin. This means ramping up the running so that skin – and the flesh beneath it – isn’t all, umm, flabbyickyyuck. I bought shorts yesterday, people. I need to up my toning game in a SERIOUS WAY, and now. Last night Diddy woke me up because her effing bracelet fell off her wrist at 230 in the effing morning and I ended up LOSING IT on her and she wept for what seemed like hours and when my alarm went off at 5 am I thought OMG THERE IS NO WAY I CAN RUN THIS MORNING and then I thought, oh hell, MY THIGHS. It’s summer and people are going to see MY THIGHS. That got me up, lemme tell ya.
- I wanna go out less and hang HOME more. But all this more-at-home time means ramping up the de-cluttering and basic functioning-home org projects (like my awesome new spice drawer) so I don’t spend all my home-time itching to run around DOING things around here when I could be:
- reading on the deck,
- swimming in the pool, and
- entertaining friends.
- I love summer entertaining. It’s all swimsuits and BBQ and throwing out paper plates and plasticware and no one caring at all that I’m serving leftovers and Trader Joe’s ice cream because we keep them happy enough with great beer and Sangria that they don’t notice. (What? You don’t give your kids beer and Sangria? JOKING PEOPLE. THAT WAS A JOKE.) Like I said, in summer entertaining: LESS IS MORE.
- I wanna argue / micro-manage my family less. This has meant implementing more home managements systems, like: our new family command center in the kitchen, rows of LABELED (!) key hooks in the entry cabinet, and our bright shiny and new weekly family meeting practices. (More on all these things to come, promise. If you want sneak peaks, hang out on Instagram with me!)
- I wanna work less, too.
Ah well. We can’t have everything, can we?
I’m wading into the “weekend link” thing here, mostly because I finally realized how I use the Weekend Links that other bloggers create:
I read them when I’m stuck WAITING for things, and need something to do, but don’t QUITE have the brain power to crack open my Kindle app.
So, as a service to all my readers who also get stuck waiting on things — sleeping toddlers sweating in their carseats, tiny ballet dancers learning to passe, INTERMINABLE soccer practices, girlfriends running late, doctors running late — I give you:
Some of the best things I read this week, be they funny, sad, smart, have anything at all to do with parenting, or literally have NOTHING AT ALL to do with parenting:
- Frank Bruni on siblings: hallelujah and I hear that and this is EXACTLY why MrBigIdeas and I never considered being “one-and-done.”
- HandsFreeMama on a GREAT way to encourage kindness and cooperation and general HAPPINESS at home. I don’t think I need to say much more about why this resonates for me, short of, I am de-cluttering our lovely entry built-in, and I think some pom-pom jars would look mighty cute there.
- Gretchen Reynolds on whether it’s better to run or walk (she doesn’t say where to). Interesting because this week I started running again after a six month hiatus.
- Malcolm Gladwell on late-blooming genius, an article I tore out of the NYer five years ago and meant to blog about over at my writing blog, sklevy.com, but then never did. I think I found it encouraging as I wasn’t getting any younger then, and umm, it’s just getting worse. (Speaking of which: is there any interest among you guys in my folding the writing site into ChecklistMommy? I’m torn.)
- And along the same lines: Susan Dominus on Maddie Corman, a mom who’d always dreamed of acting, and finally made it to Broadway — despite being a full-time, hands-on Mom of three. Again: I find this sort of story VERY encouraging, which must be why I clipped it way back in 2010 and just found it again as I was decluttering my office this week.