As the mother in our house (and the person who most enjoys shopping for office supplies and other organizational goodies), I always had control over the schedule. The schedules, lists, paperwork, time lines and plans were all in my head. They were in my notebook, on my computer, in folders, on the wipe board, in the laundry room, and stuck on the refrigerator. For the most part, I was successful at this motherly duty. Everyone usually arrived at where they were supposed to be with what they needed to have. I am REALLY good at making a plan and adept at carrying one out. With four kids, two working parents, two dogs, multiple extra-curricular activities, volunteer organizations and a household to run, it was necessary.
That was until last fall, when our family decided to come up with a plan to eliminate debt. We decided that each child would sacrifice some of the extras by choosing only one outside activity. Mom and Dad also sacrificed by selling stuff (including our second car), by taking the DVR back to the cable company, and by finding a way to increase our income. For us, the best choice for the extra income was for me to take a second job at a local restaurant – something that could earn tips and wages netting more than the minimum wage Dad could bring home.
So off to work I went, three to four times each week. Nights and weekends were now Dad’s domain and we all began settling into a new routine.
After a few weeks, we were congratulating each other. Dad was massaging my feet after a long day of double shifts and I was thanking him for always having the laundry done. Then everything began to fall apart. We missed appointments, sent kids the wrong direction to the right activity. We skidded into classrooms with seconds to spare before missing the Parent-Teacher Conferences all together. And we began to bite into each other with blame. I realized that I wasn’t home to see the kids’ paperwork after school and Dad wasn’t used to keeping the schedule. We both assumed the other was handling it and balls began to drop.
My husband and I had a heart-to-heart and I took a much needed trip to the office supply store. What resulted is a small purple binder that has calendar pages, a section for each member of the family, and EVERY piece of information anyone would need about what’s going on in the Dodson home. There is notebook paper in each person’s section for notes – the kids know if they want to remind us of something to write it in the notebook. There are plastic sleeves to slip in reading logs so we are not frantically searching for them Monday at 7:57 am. Each Sunday night is reserved for family dinner and we review the week together. Then the paper schedule is entered into Mom’s work planner and Dad’s laptop for cross reference. (This may seem complicated but it works for us since the purple binder is not in my office to remind me and my planner is.)
The newest step in the purple binder plan is to give some control to our teenager; he is now responsible for transcribing his own information from the high school, his work schedule, etc. into the binder and then syncing it to his cell phone with appropriate reminders. The teenager plan is only a one-week work in progress, so the jury is still out on it, but I have high hopes my organizational genes are in there somewhere amid his one-grunt sentences and his video game skills.
Something else happened in this year-long process. I’ve learned that maybe I am great at organizing our family’s affairs; it’s likely I will be taking that task back on when we meet our financial goals and I have only one job again. But, when that time comes, hopefully I will have learned that organizing my family schedule is not a task I have to take on myself: sometimes, having the whole family work together is the best way to create an effective scheduling system.
QUESTION: What scheduling system works for your family? What hasn’t worked in the past? If you are searching for a new approach, who do you know that you could learn from?
CHALLENGE: If you are looking for a scheduling system, interview some mothers you admire or ponder an idea from the article. Assess the needs of your family and try a system out. If parts of the scheduling are rough, tell yourself it’s OK and to relax.
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