Books on Family: The Secrets of Happy Families, Part one
“What would you boys think if we started having family meetings every Sunday night?”
I venture in casually, trying to keep my voice light as I pass the green beans around the table. Two pairs of teen-age-boy eyes regard me suspiciously, aware that their father is out for the evening. My fourteen-year-old lifts one eyebrow.
“Yeah, you know…just to check in and talk about what went really well for us as a family during the week.”
They look at each other and then back at me.
“What does dad think of this?” The fourteen year-old asks, ever the spokesperson for his older brother.
These two boys know that any attempt of family programming is usually dependant on their father’s cooperation. It is a well-known fact that this man I married chafes against hard rules and regular schedules. From my attempts at weekly meal-planning (“But what if I’m not in the mood for spaghetti on Wednesday?”) to that one Advent season I tried to have nightly family devotions (He took the Mary figurine and, making her fly through the air above the smoking candles of the Advent wreath, began singing Smoke on the Water), they have amassed an entertaining collection of memories of good intentions gone bad.
“Well, I thought if you guys were on board, Dad might be more interested too,” I said, avoiding their eyes. “I’m reading this book, see—called The Secrets of Happy Families—and in it, the author says that having a weekly family meeting is one of the secrets. I thought we’d try it and see if it makes things run more smoothly around here.”
The fourteen-year-old glares.
“So, you want to make us a social experiment.”
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
I wrack my brain for a good sound argument, like how the family meeting helped one family in the book greatly reduce the chaos and stress of the morning routine, how they continued to have success with it when their children were well into their teens, how—when the author and his wife started their own family meetings—they were counted as treasured family moments.
I am thinking these things when I remember the title of the first section of said book. Author Bruce Feiler has called this first part of The Secrets of Happy Families “Adapt All The Time,” and in it he takes a look at how applying the business concept of agile development to family life has boosted everything from communication to productivity to, yes, happiness. In the business world, agile practices involve collaborative problem-solving in which workers are grouped into small teams that meet briefly each day to assess/discuss how they are doing in meeting their goals. Wikipedia tells me that agile development “promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development…and encourages rapid and flexible response to change...”
When David Starr, a software engineer and father of four, decided to apply the same agile practices employed in his work to his home life, he and his wife noted benefits for the entire family. Practically speaking, the Starrs implemented a self-directed morning checklist for each child in the house, they started having weekly family meetings, and they empowered their children by making them responsible for their own punishments--among other things. These changes reduced the morning chaos in their household, allowed them to work together to set goals and evaluate progress, and improved communication in general.
In this section, Feiler also talks about rethinking the family dinner (hint: it’s not about the dinner but about the time together) and creating a family brand. It’s all fascinating, creative, fun, novel-thinking kind of stuff.
But it does require cooperation. And prior consent.
So I am thinking about what it means to be agile—to be flexible in response to change as I consider my boys’ response to the idea of the family meeting. I keep coming back to something Eleanor Starr said when Feiler asked about the most important lesson learned in the agile process.
“In the media, families just are. But that’s misleading. You have your job; you work on that. You have your garden, your hobbies, you work on those. Your family requires just as much work, if not more. The most important thing agile taught me is that you have to make a commitment to always keep working to improve your family. That’s what no one believes until they start doing it themselves.”
I want to make that commitment. Besides, I’ve already read the next section in The Secret to Happy Families: "Talk. A lot".
I lean back in my chair and eye my two boys. Instead of arguing, I decide to take a cue from the book.
“Well,” I say. “Let’s talk about that.”
And we do.
On Mondays in August we're discussing The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More by Bruce Feiler. Join us next week as writer Kelli Woodford leads us in our discussion of chapters 4-6. If you are reading along, join the discussion in the comments or drop you link there if you blog your thoughts. See you next week to talk about more secrets!