Do you know those days of running from one task to another for your family and wondering how you can catch a breath? I had one of those days recently. Fortunately, it happened right before I went on vacation in the mountains and finally had some space and time to reflect on my many roles within and outside of my family. I took a long hike, got lost, and let my thoughts ponder the question, “How can I run my family more efficiently and with more ease?”
As a mom and a business owner of a psychotherapy practice in Washington DC, I often give and seek advice on how to juggle modern day parenting while thriving professionally. In meeting with parents in counseling sessions, I work with parents on how to seek happier, healthier personal lives and parenting roles. I don’t completely believe in the idea that we as parents can achieve “true balance,” in large part because our plates are too full. However, I do often share these tips to parents to help them get better a perspective on their family life and how they might parse out their family roles and responsibilities among all family members. I call this exercise the 4R’s of Family Life.
- Evaluate roles (yours and others). As I traversed my way back to the cabin on this long hike, I started thinking about what it would be like if I thought about running my family more like a business with clearly defined functional roles and responsibilities. For instance, the Director of Operations is the person who organizes and directs all the systems. “That would be me!.” I thought. CFO, or Chief Financial Officer, is the person who analyzes and directs financial matters. “That would be my husband!” I went on to list out the following roles: Facilities Director (me!), Human Resources Director (me!), Recreational Director (me!) etc. I began to realize that I had what is called “role overload,” and at times me and my husband would experience “role confusion.” Role overload is when we have too many hats to wear in a business and we then struggle to do any of our jobs well. Role confusion is when we aren’t sure what we are supposed to do in a particular role. In sorting through how to make my roles more manageable in our family, I discovered that I had to get clear about exactly what my responsibilities are in the family, what I’m good and bad at, and then reassign responsibilities to clear up confusion and minimize overload.
- List responsibilities (yours and others). My second step to considering how to run my family like a business was to take a very honest look at what responsibilities existed in our family–what got done, what didn’t get done, and who did what. Go ahead, try it! Write down all that you do and all that needs to be done in a day, in a week, in a month. Then record who does what. If there isn’t consistency or at least a plan for meeting that responsibility, then assign it. If it is completely unbalanced and there is resentment, then consider letting go of and reassigning some things. If people are happy, do nothing. At least this is the advice that I gave myself, and I realized a few things. I’m not very skilled at managing details and my husband–as an engineer–is very good at managing details. So, he now is officially in charge of two organizational systems in our family: 1) He is the primary organizer of our family google calendar, and 2) He is the point person for completing all of our registration/enrollment paperwork for camps, school, etc. I also noticed that there are several roles that I really like and am good at–meal prep and planning for my family–and some tasks that I am awful at and I detest–all aspects of doing laundry!! I reassigned several parts of that to family members, including my husband and kids.
- Consider your family’s routines. In my analysis of my family, I looked at our family’s routines–drop offs, pickups, breakfast/lunch/dinner, bathtime, wakeup and bedtime etc. I chose to make one person “the primary” for each of those routines, and then identified secondary persons. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Then why don’t we do it? I believe we ignore designating and delegating these roles because we expect our families to run smoothly on their own without attending to their structural and functional needs. In the world of running a business, routines are considered rhythms and often center around such ideas as marketing and sales cycles, billing and collection processes, etc. We wouldn’t consider overlooking the need to market our products in a business, nor would we forget to collect from a client or vendor for a service. That same idea can be applied to a family’s operations. What are the daily routines that structure your family’s interactions and tasks of daily living? Does it include family meals, and if so, which one is the most important meal of the day in your family’s flow of daily life? Research supports a consistent family meal, yet it doesn’t have to be dinner and it doesn’t have to exceed 10 minutes of positive, productive conversation. Do you have a primary and secondary person designated for most tasks and responsibilities in your family? Do you know what routines bond your family together for the day or the week?
- Identify one behavior that helps support each relationship in the family. This step is the hardest one. Let’s be honest! It takes a lot of work and time to run a family, and often parents are depleted at the end of a long day. That is why this step is the most important step. Families are a series of relationships, right? Mother-Father or Mother-Mother/Father-Father, Parent-Child, Partner-Partner, etc. We operate and function better when we are anchored to each other through a solid bond or connection. And, at the same time, the stress and “busyness” of living can cause our bonds to weaken or remain unattended. Therefore it is important to think about what is the one activity that helps strengthen each relationship in the family. For instance, in my family it goes something like this. I like to end of the day in meaningful conversation. My daughter likes to cuddle and craft at bedtime with us nearby. My sons both really crave playtime, especially with their father. And my husband refuels with quiet activity. Even if for just 5 minutes, these simple activities when done together can strengthen our family and make us “run better” as a family.
While it is likely harder to run a family than it is to run a business, it can seem more manageable when we face our daily roles and responsibilities with a business mindset. It gives parents some actual steps to follow and perhaps offers a practical perspective about how to achieve the tasks of maintaining a healthy family life.