Our third child threw us for a loop, and too many of our days were ending with a check mark simply for keeping all of our kids (and two dogs) alive. If there was a parenting award for Simply Surviving, we were for sure bringing home that golden sippy cup.
Kids were crying. Adults were crying. Obnoxious life-like baby dolls were crying. We were outnumbered and we were a hot mess. Three kids under three is, very simply put, freaking crazy, and our family seemed like a lost cause.
We did get lots of helpful “advice” on how life would be from then on. Things like, “well…now you’re outnumbered – get used to it,” and “say goodbye to any hope of ever having your act together again.” Thanks, friends. Thanks for that. As lovely as “suck it up and be miserable with the rest of us parents for the next decade” sounded, we just weren’t ready to throw in the towel . . . and that’s a good thing because kiddos numbers four and five are a hoot.
We didn’t just happen upon parenting. It was something we wanted and planned for. So why were we flailing about as if small humans were unexpectedly plopped down in our care? Why weren’t we being more intentional, more plotting, more strategic . . . like how we think about our own small business?
A well-run company is organized by systems and procedures and guided by core values. It establishes clear expectations for employees and managers. It cares about it’s employees and fosters a culture of growth, respect, self efficacy.
Since applying this same philosophy to our family five years ago, we haven’t looked back, and in every way, our bottom line has improved: happier, healthier, self-sufficient employees (kids) and mostly sane and happy management (parents). We all seem to be profiting.
Here’s how to get started with your own family.
Lay the Foundation
Just like in business, strategic planning can guide your family’s decision making to help handle bigger life issues like whether or not you get a dog or move to a different state or how to deal with a child’s learning disability.
You can’t always know and plan for the small details of these life events, but if your family develops core values and a mission statement, you will have a plan to guide you through those times.
“A family mission statement is a combined, unified expression from all family members of what your family is all about — what it is you really want to do and be — and the principles you choose to govern your family life.” -Stephen Covey
Covey provides a pretty cool online tool to help build a family mission statement here.
Once you become armed with a mission statement, your family is in a much better position to organize competing priorities and become proactive instead of reactive. You’ll be able to more clearly assess bigger life decisions and weekly minutia.
Successful businesses don’t just fly by the seats of their pants with no idea of what to expect next or how they’re going to handle it. Your family shouldn’t either. Life does have a way of surprising us, but reacting to life without any sort of strategic plan doesn’t often end well.
The first step in being strategic is…wait for it…to plan! This probably seems like a no-brainer, but many families are in such day-to-day survival mode that they haven’t even considered looking ahead three months on the calendar. Break out your planner and look at the rest of the year. Schedule all the kids’ school breaks, athletic season start dates, big trips planned, visitors coming, etc. Pediatrician well checks schedule three months out so go ahead and jot down the weeks you should call to schedule those. Things do pop up, but many things just don’t. Open a calendar and plan.
But where’s my calendar? Which calendar? Where are my pens? If you haven’t set up your home command center, what are you waiting for?!
Another a vital step in staying organized is to get everyone on the same page. The easiest way to do this is to set aside time each week for a family meeting. Just like in a company, meetings not only offer opportunities to deliver information and updates, but they also create space to review and reflect on job performance and to set goals for the future.
Managers cannot possibly do everything within a company, which is why there are employees. In order for you to effectively manage the running of the house and family, you need to delegate. Identify simple daily chores (making the bed, clearing the table) for kids to earn their keep around the house.
Delegate with the expectation that tasks may not get done exactly as you’d do them. For us Type A’s this is hard, but if you maximize teachable moments (there will be plenty), your productivity will improve over time. Teaching your 8-year-old how to fold laundry is initially painful, but the reward is great and it sure beats a future of folding your 28-year-old’s laundry.
For what you can’t (or won’t) delegate, create your own routines and systems and stick with them. Rather than plowing through the week with no real plan and frantically doing laundry only when there are no clean undies, make a plan. Put laundry on the calendar for Wednesdays and Saturdays. And then do it all the way on those days. That means putting it away too OR delegating someone to put it away. Vacuum on M/W/F, plan meals and shopping lists on Sundays. Do whatever works for you, but stick with it. Putting these not-so-fun tasks on autopilot frees brain space and allows you to manage the home and family with a more seamless rhythm. Again, lean on the family meeting to reinforce expectations.
Cultivate a team-first attitude
To build a team-first attitude, you must first develop a family culture that measures success by how well the whole family is doing – not just how well dad’s work life is going or how well Ashton is doing in math. When the kids see the family as a whole unit, they learn loyalty, sacrifice and selflessness. Their buy-in to the unit is crucial for family cohesion and happiness because it drives their behavior choices.
One great tool to get there is to offer opportunities for the family to work together toward a project. Maybe that means filling a jar with marbles every time someone offers a high-five shout-out at dinner. When the jar hits the top, the family heads to the movies. Whatever. Work toward a goal and celebrate together.
Our most recent High Five celebration was a kids-choice “breakfast for dinner” trip to Waffle House. Mmmm . . . I guess?
Also, seek teachable moments to discuss the impact of one person’s behavior on the whole unit. A temper-tantrum from one child upon leaving a birthday party, for example, causes the whole family to be embarrassed and maybe even late for something else. Constantly reinforce that individual actions impact the entire family.
At times, this also means that we miss out on opportunities as a family (maybe an ice cream trip) because we can’t all get our act together. It’s a bummer, but the kids certainly learn that we’re in this thing together.
Over time, “team-first” becomes the mantra and it looks pretty sweet:
Leaving the park without throwing a tantrum
Cheerfully spending the morning at a sibling’s soccer game
Pitching in to clean up messes in the house
Playing well with other kids at family friend’s home
Boost team morale
Who wants to work in a boring office cranking out TPS reports all day?
The best bosses know that happier employees are more productive and produce better work.
The same goes for members of our family, but too often we default to nagging and yelling. Eventually, kids (and grown ups) begin feeling like disgruntled employees so it’s important to make a conscious effort to boost morale.
Pull out your calendar and schedule fun, easy, confidence-building activities each week.
Here are five super simple things you can try this week:
Dinnertime high fives: Go around the table and give shout-outs to other family members who have done anything great/funny/interesting that week. Positive, specific praise boosts confidence and shows love.
Any time, anywhere dance party. Pick a fun song and encourage everyone to dance. We often do this after everyone completes their nightly contribution (chore).
Two-claps: Share something you are proud about and you get two claps from the whole family.