It is just after 10pm on a Wednesday night and I feel worn out. The dishes are finally done, stars twinkle outside the kitchen window and my kids, 11 and 14, are asleep in their beds. Just before flipping off the kitchen lights, I take the pencil that clings to the side of our refrigerator and make a note on the paper hanging by a white magnet clip. I scrawl, Sharing dinner clean-up. Then, lights out.
Fast forward four days; it is Sunday, late afternoon. Our family is sitting around the table with clipboards and a talking stick, having our weekly family meeting. Barrett, 11, is the meeting president this week.
He starts the meeting off with a rousing circle-game of high fives. We then give each other appreciations for big and little things that we noticed over the week.
After we each share something we appreciate about the others, it is time for the, sometimes, toughest part of our family meeting: “Family Matters.” Barrett has grabbed the sheet that hangs on the side of the fridge and reads it over.
We first review the issues we had problem-solved in our previous meeting and check-how things are going. Louisa shares that the ‘knock-first-before-opening-her-bedroom-door policy’ is going OK. She thinks, however, we need a little refresher on how to knock, wait for the response, and then open. Sounds like some people have been knocking and then entering. (It is noted that this is an improvement to simply entering without a knock.) We take turns practicing the knock, wait, then enter once invited concept, on an actual door. Play-acting usually finds us all laughing and this time is no different. Her brother hams it up. Satisfied that we’ve got it down, we decide to check back in during the meeting next week and, for now, move onto a new matter.
Barrett reads, “Sharing dinner clean-up’. Hmmm? Who wants to speak to this?” I tell the crew it is my issue. “I need help because it feels like the job of cleaning up after dinner has somehow stopped being a family task and become just mine.” There are a few nods. Others had noticed it, too. One shares that there is so much homework to do at night. Another person notes that by the end of dinner, he is usually feeling worn out and ready to get into the shower and go to bed. We decide this calls for the problem solving / brainstorming sheet.
We all brainstorm ideas and the note-taker writes each one down in a list. Anything shared, no matter how far-out, is noted. We read over all of the ideas and decide to try a combo of #5 and #3: ‘plan to have meals a little earlier’ and ‘use a wheel – task chart so everyone has a job that rotates’. An old wheel task chart from a couple years ago is retrieved and adjusted. We’ll try this solution for the next week and then revisit it in our next meeting to see how it is working for everyone.
The meeting moves on to “Encouragement Question.” It is Louisa’s turn to come up with a question. Everyone laughs as we give our individual responses to: “If you had a new pet turtle, what would you name it?”
The meeting wraps up with us planning a fun activity to do together later that evening. We adjourn with a family cheer. Another meeting completed.
These 25 minutes carved out of a week full of school projects, sports events, times with friends and work weave a web of friendship and joy around our little clan. It feels like no person is too small or unimportant and no problem too big or hard to handle when we take it on together. We also have the safe knowledge that we will listen to each other and work together to make our home a respectful place to be for each one of us.
So, here I am, three nights later, reflecting before I turn out my bedroom light. The kitchen has been clean and quiet for a couple of hours already. This evening, my job was to clear the leftovers and put them away. Louisa rinsed the dishes and Barrett loaded the dishwasher and dried the clean dishes in the rack. We’ll rotate jobs tomorrow. While the work was being done, we talked, laughed, sang, and one person even danced a funny jig. Just before turning off the kitchen lights, I noticed that the sink wasn’t rinsed quite as thoroughly as I might have done it. I smiled and let it go. Having someone other than me working at the sink is far better than a spotless kitchen.