How Family Meetings Are Saving Us Right Now
A few weeks ago, I shared a glimpse of Finn and me hanging in our backyard on Instagram stories. It was a beautiful evening and we were doing our bi-monthly family meeting at our outdoor dining table. When I shared this, I was bombarded with questions about our family meeting. What do we discuss? How does it help us? Any tips for others to implement their own?
Why Start a Family Meeting?
With two young ones and two full-time jobs, there isn’t much time left over to just sit down and chat with my husband. By the time the kids are in bed, and the house is picked up, so that we’re ready to do it all over again the next day, we are both completely exhausted.
During the day, I always think of ten things I need to talk to Finn about, but by the time 7:30 pm rolls around, I can’t seem to remember any of them! But there are lots of important things that still need to be discussed, like scheduling, childcare, finances – all of the not-so-glamorous tasks that come with adulthood.
I finally decided that we should set aside a dedicated time to sit down and talk. I thought that if it was on the calendar, then it was much more likely to happen. We started this back in April and have been meeting twice a month since.
Sharing the Load
As a couple, and as parents, we share the load as much as possible. Finn runs the show in the kitchen with groceries and cooking, while I handle scheduling and appointments, and we both do laundry — endless amounts of laundry.
I’ve found that in our marriage, the best way to avoid any future fights or disagreements is to over-communicate. In the past, I’ve sometimes felt like a lot has fallen on my plate, yet I would keep those feelings to myself and let them fester. That was good for no one. Now, I convey these feelings to Finn so he can help out.
For example, we’ve had a lot of childcare issues this year. Daycare closures and sickness have been rampant in our household and it’s tough to juggle watching two kids while working a full-time job. For a while, a lot of the childcare was falling on me. Finn has a traditional job with meetings and calls, while I work for myself and have a lot more flexibility. This was really overwhelming me and making me feel more and more behind each week as I missed out on crucial work time. But the moment I communicated these feelings to Finn, we came up with a game plan moving forward, to share the load and plan for these tricky situations.
So, long story short, if you want to share the load, come up with a plan and communicate your feelings to your partner. Our marriage is a partnership and that means we each step up for our family.
Get It On The Calendar
Okay, so back to our designated family meetings. We decided on every other Wednesday evening for our Finn family meetings. We put the kids to bed, order takeout or make a frozen pizza, and then sit at the table with our computers to get to work. The food, and occasional glass of wine or margarita, makes the entire process a tad more enjoyable. I made a Google Calendar invite for this, so it is on both of our calendars. I’d say they last about an hour to two, depending on how much we have to cover.
Right now, we have the first meeting of the month devoted to all things family related, while the second is more finance-focused. I’ve always let Finn run the finances in our house and that was putting a lot of pressure on him. I honestly didn’t even know our logins for our accounts, which was not good, so I had him walk me through absolutely everything. Now, we’re on the same page. This has been so helpful for us both.
Choose a day of the week that works with both of your schedules and then put it on the calendar!
Creating Our Agenda
So what do we discuss? Anything and everything! We have a joint Google doc that serves as our idea hub. Throughout the two weeks, we add anything we want to discuss to the document. If something comes up during the day, I open the document and add it to our list.
Some topics we’ve discussed lately: Ellis’ baptism and first birthday, our daycare plans for the fall, organizing our closets upstairs, creating a more concrete meal plan, projects we want to do outside this summer, dates we need to reserve a babysitter, and more.
As I mentioned, the second meeting of the month is more finance focused – checking our accounts, reviewing any upcoming large purchases, and setting goals for ourselves. I’m new to the finance side of things, so I’m still in the learning stages of this one. Two years ago, Finn shared this post, diving into his best tips to be financially healthy. It also includes how we budget, and a free monthly budgeting Excel sheet he created for our readers.
Creating Concrete Action Steps
We take notes right in our Google document as we go through our agenda. But the very most important part of the meeting is the action list. It’s fine to discuss all of these important family tasks, but nothing gets done without assigning tasks.
Our Google document has a section of action items from that particular meeting. We write the task, e.g. “Call daycare to discuss Ellis’ enrollment”. We also list the person in charge of said task, e.g. “Casey to handle”. That way, we continue to share the load and divvy up to-dos equally. We then have two weeks, until the next meeting, to finish or make progress on our task.
As I finish a task, I cross it off on our Google document or add any notes about where things stand. This keeps us on the same page and we can review anything we need to at our next meeting.
Different People with Different Brains
I need to emphasize here that Finn and I are two very different people with different strengths. Finn has ADHD, so his brain processes things differently than I do. We’ve been together for 18 years and it’s taken me a long time to understand that he doesn’t necessarily think the way I do. I see a task and I want to get it done and off my list (sometimes to my detriment). For Finn, it can be hard to see a large goal or task and know how to get started. Knowing this, we create our action plan accordingly. Instead of saying, “Plan Ellis’ first birthday party”, we create much smaller tasks, like “Choose a date for the party.”
Finn is also a visual learner, so he likes writing things out, taking notes, and drawing up plans that way. He needs to have action plans directly in front of him to keep organized.
Our New Kitchen Board
Since Finn is a visual learner, we recently added a whiteboard to our kitchen. I never loved the idea of a cluttered family command center in our kitchen, but I’m now changing my tune. I purchased this whiteboard with a wood border that is actually pretty cute! I used command strips to attach it to the panel on the side of our fridge.
We’ve only had it for a month and so far it has been a gamechanger for our family. Every Sunday, I take time to write out our week from a high-level perspective. Appointments, childcare plans, and any other big to-dos go on their corresponding day. We then write down our dinner plan for that day too. (I’ll share more on that below).
At the bottom of the board, we have a “Family Goals” area. This is still a work in progress, but we’re trying to use this area for fun and productive goals. Maybe “Check out a new park” or “Visit the donut shop” get added to this area, or even “Drop off packages at the post office”. We use this for things that don’t necessarily need to be assigned a particular day.
I’ll touch base about our kitchen board later in the year as we really fine-tune this system for our family.
Meal Planning – In Progress
One pain point for our family has been meal planning. Now that Ellis is eating with the family, we want to be better about eating together as a family and eating the same meal. I really dislike cooking, however, sometimes dinner does fall on me and that stresses me out. Having a designated recipe, and the corresponding ingredients makes things better for everyone. We also don’t have a great plan when it comes to groceries and it can be stressful to open up the fridge and not have milk and have to scramble to go to the store. Not fun. The white board has helped us plan out the week, but we’re still not 100% there.
This “meal planning” topic has been on our agenda for every single meeting and we haven’t yet figured out a great plan for us. I’m not looking for specific advice since we have a lot of ideas already, but this is a big priority for us to make things easier on our family. Stay tuned for how we figure out a plan that works well for us.
How Is It Going?
I can honestly say that these family meetings have been the best thing we’ve done for our marriage and our household. Hands down. We are more in sync and we are on the same page when it comes to the kids and our schedules. We’re even finding more time to have fun because we’re getting events on the calendar well in advance, and booking a babysitter! The whiteboard has also been a gamechanger for us. No more surprise appointments that ruin the day.
Are things perfect? Of course not! Things are constantly changing. Sometimes we have to push a family meeting back a day (or week!), and we’re certainly not this perfect family, singing “Kumbaya”. Trust me. But we’re putting the work in and it’s helping everyone.
I hope this was an informative post with some action steps that you can take for your own family. I love the idea of having the kids be involved (when they’re much older). Let me know in the comments below if you have any insight into how you run your own family meetings!
I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m married to Finn & mom to Rory and Ellis. Together we’re creating our dream home in Chicago, one DIY project at a time.