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.
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 am doing my best to gain some perspective over here at ChecklistMommy.
I want balance. I want equilibrium. I want less stress, and less noise.
To get there, I’ve been making some very active efforts at saying NO.
And you know where I’ve gotten the biggest bang for my “NOPE JUST CAN’T” buck?
This year, I backed slowly and steadily and stealthily away from the school PTA.*
To be fair, this hasn’t been the easiest adjustment for me to make. I am GUNG-HO for my kids’ school, and always have been.
When Diddy was 2, I signed her up for school and then I signed up for every single parent opportunity that came my way.
- Teacher appreciation? Check.
- Tot Shabbat Clean Up? Check.
- School-wide auction committee? Check.
- Need someone to make fundraising calls to parents? Check.
But then I had more kids. And took on more work. And over the last year I kinda stopped volunteering for things at school.
And you know what happened?
NO ONE NOTICED.
They just kept signing me up for things.
And I kept saying okay to that, because I have difficulty saying no to the people I’ve put in charge of educating my children so they can become happy, productive citizens.
At first, this situation stressed me out.
LAST SUMMER, I got an email confirming Committee Chair assignments for
the coming this school year. I was shocked to see my name listed as Chair of a Big City-Wide Event.
I tried to resign by sending a passive-aggressive email to the new PTA President, whom I had not yet met, but she is better at that game, and told me our School Head had personally volunteered me for the gig, which of course played to my vanity, so the assignment stuck.
I DID NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS SHIP.
(Yes, I know that says SHIP. I am working on my swearing this year, along with my SHOUTING. More about that soon, if and when it sticks.)
Then, about six weeks before the Big City-Wide Event, I realized I wouldn’t even BE IN TOWN to help run it.
I’d be in London at my cousin’s wedding.
I informed the PTA President and the School Head and they were completely unalarmed.
Apparently no Committee Head is actually NECESSARY for these events.
Once I figured that out, I immediately went on to COMPLETELY 100% drop the ball on the only other School Volunteer gig I’d taken on this year, also fairly reluctantly.
This was a fundraising party that I’d been asked to host.
I didn’t plan this party, as I very purposefully did NOT sign up for committee.
So someone planned it.
I was just going to be the one left holding the bag.
Except I really didn’t wanna.
And I really didn’t have time for it.
And my co-host, who happens to have a truly demanding office job, didn’t have time for it, either.
So at the very last minute we dumped it on HER wife.
Which was genius.
Because HER wife knew what she was doing and handled the entire last minute party with exceptional grace and humor and it went great. There was wine and couscous and cupcakes.
And it happened to be a shopping party at a great boutique in town where I found the insane pink leather jacket you can see here, as well as two great dresses for London, a pair of earrings, a necklace, and, oh, yeah, a bracelet, too.
BEST PTA OPPORTUNITY EVER.
Plus I learned a life lesson:
SLACKERS HAVE MORE FUN.
Here’s a photo of me, having more fun, in London, while I was supposed to be PTA Chairing a City Wide Event. I’m even wearing the dress I bought at the PTA Fundraising Party I pawned off on my co-host’s wife:
DOESN’T THIS LOOK WAY BETTER THAN ANYTHING YOU’VE EVER DONE ON THE PTA?
So here’s my advice to over-stressed, over-stretched, working parents who are killing themselves trying to volunteer at school on top of all their other daily responsibilities:
JUST. SAY. NO.**
*I believe this a piece of advice offered in the new book MINIMALIST PARENTING: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less, which is on my summer reading list. I’ll tell you more abou it when I finally get a chance to read it, but I will say I was very pleased to peruse the contents and see this idea offered there, as it made me feel like less of a heel for thinking quitting the PTA was a GOOD thing.
**ok yeah, I get it. You still feel like you have to make SOME effort for your kids’ school. I know I do. So here’s what I do: EMAIL-ONLY BASED VOLUNTEERISM. This morning I sent out thirty or forty emails reminding people to bring food for our Teacher Luncheon tomorrow, and/or show up to proctor the classrooms they’d pledged to proctor.Total time spent: FIFTEEN MINUTES. Fifteen minutes is about the amount of time I have left in me for the PTA. Everybody wins!
HOW (& WHY) TO LEAVE YOUR KIDS ALONE WITH YOUR PARTNER AS MUCH AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE
(Or: How To Have The Best Mother’s Day Ever)
Recently I suggested taking a quickie girl’s trip to a nearby hotel with a girlfriend of mine.
She immediately begged off because she doesn’t have family nearby to watch her kids – who are both older than Diddy – while she’s away.
The thing is:
This friend is happily married.
By DEFINITION, she has family REALLY NEARBY.
He’s called HER HUSBAND.
But my friend has NEVER left her husband home alone with her kids for more than a few hours at a time.
Her list of reasons included:
- How would he feed them?
- How would he get them to / from school?
- The house would be such a wreck when she got back it just wouldn’t be worth it to her to have left them in the first place.
My short answers were:
- He can feed himself, right? So supposedly he can feed them, too.
- He gets himself to / from work, right? He can probably manage carpool.
- Umm … really? The house being clean is more important than MOM HAVING A GOOD TIME FOR 2 DAYS?
I mentioned this conversation to another friend, and she reported OTHER friends of HERS saying the same thing.
And we agreed:
OUR FRIENDS WHO DON’T EVER LEAVE THEIR KIDS ALONE WITH THEIR PARTNERS (and I say this with love) ARE RAVING LUNATICS.
- Refusing to leave your kids with your partner robs YOU of kid-free / alone time. This doesn’t need further parsing, does it?
- Refusing to leave your kids with your partner robs HIM of time alone with the kids. This is also pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it?
- If you don’t leave your partner alone with the kids, how will he ever really understand how HARD being the primary caregiver ACTUALLY IS? Don’t you want ANY CREDIT for making it look easy? Leaving your partner alone with the kids IS THE ONLY WAY to show him that being the primary caregiver is HARD. EFFING. WORK.
- Finally, and most importantly: If you don’t give the poor guy time to practice, how will he ever get it right?
Now, I’m not saying this is always easy. I have on occasion left for a few days to learn that school snacks were forgotten, that dance classes were missed, that MrBigIdeas couldn’t find the shin guards or figure out the coffee maker (umm, hello, push “BREW”).
And god yes has my house often looked like a hurricane ran through it after I’ve been away a few days and left the kids and husband behind.
I’m just saying that the earlier and more often you leave the kids home alone with your partner, the better it gets over time.
And then this happens:
You mention you’re making a six-hour spa appointment on Mother’s Day and leaving the kids home alone with Daddy.
You come home early. The house is wreck.
You decide this is not your problem.
Dad is out in the garden with the kids, so you decide to take a nap.
When you wake up, the kids present you with a hand-picked bouquet and Daddy says – and I am not making this up:
I’m sorry it looked so terrible upstairs, I was putting the boys down for their nap and I forgot to clean up lunch. But I did it while you were sleeping, so it’s good now.
BEST. MOTHER’S. DAY. EVER.
Hear me, Mamas?
This too could be yours IF YOU LEAVE DADDY HOME WITH YOUR BABY,
SO HE CAN GET GOOD AT IT.