I didn't take this motherhood gig for the diapers, dishes, or temper tantrums. Yet, some weeks I can't dig myself out of the drudgery long enough to focus on the real reasons I have invested so much time, toil, and emotion into being a mom—reasons like joy, love, meaning, and all these beautiful little human beings that we're raising into big human beings.
This is why every time I create or refine a logistical system to run my household, I start by thinking about the big picture. Just like a general or a CEO, I think strategy before tactics or logistics. I take the time to write a strategic objective and I put it at the top of the page. Here are a few examples:
- Household management: To create systems so I can put housework on autopilot and focus on more important things, like spending time with my family.
- Meal Planning: To introduce my children to a wide variety of healthy foods so they like to try new things and understand how to take care of their bodies.
- Kids' chores: To teach my children the housekeeping skills they will need to be responsible adults.
- Housekeeping: To keep our home clean enough that we enjoy living in it and that we feel comfortable inviting other people in.
Writing out these objectives gives me focus, but it also makes all the mundane chores seem more palatable. I'm not just doing dishes; I'm getting the dishes out of the way quickly so I can take a few minutes and build a train track with my two-year-old. I may spend twice as long supervising as my kids clean their bathroom than it would take me to do it myself, with a much less desirable result, but I'm not in it for the clean bathroom—my Real goal is a future crew of competent bathroom cleaners who will not gross out their future roommates and spouses.
Of course, I am not alone in planning my family strategy, nor should I be. We try to follow the advice of M. Russell Ballard, who suggests holding four different types of family councils: "First, a general family council consisting of the entire family. Second, an executive family council consisting of a mother and father. Third, a limited family council consisting of parents and one child. Fourth, a one-on-one family council consisting of one parent and one child."
We hold family councils randomly through the year, but our big ones are in January and in August, when school starts. We sit down as a family and discuss our strategy for the year and beyond. These are big-picture discussions, like "What do we want our family to be known for?" "How do we want to spend our time?" "How can we help other people this year?"
We also use these big-picture meetings to update our family mottos. We started this after I read about the idea in "The Parenting Breakthrough," by Merrilee Boyack. Each year we revise them a bit, and then post them somewhere we'll see them often. Here are some of our mottos:
- Archibalds try new things.
- Archibalds are kind.
- Archibalds work hard.
- Archibalds have faith, not fear.
My husband and I also periodically have big-picture discussions about our kids over dinner at a restaurant. Several years ago I read an interview of parenting gurus, Linda and Richard Eyre, who set aside one date night a month to have a “five-facet review” of their children. They discuss how each child is doing physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
These reviews can then be a jumping-off point for discussions between the parents and each child. Sometimes we do this informally, other times (and not often enough) we hold little meetings with each child and even take notes, which makes them feel important. Some friends of ours hold these parent-child meetings the first Sunday of each month.
These meetings with the kids teach them to start thinking strategically about their own lives, and what they want their futures to look like. The biggest pitfall my husband and I fall into here is turning these sessions into lectures. That's not what they're supposed to be—they're supposed to be mostly led by the child, talking about his or her plans and dreams and how to get there. We're working on it.
Setting aside time to think big is hard. It's easier to let strategy get swallowed up by logistics and tell yourselves you'll figure it out later or just see what happens. But by taking time to think about the big picture, we can make sure all the little things are adding up to something meaningful.