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The busy couple's GUIDE to sharing the work and the joy
By Kathy Peel
PICKET FENCE PRESS Copyright © 2009 David Edmonson
All right reserved.
Chapter One the business of doing family
If you've read any of my previous books, you know that the Family Manager system turns on sound business principles. Every family is an organization, and every organization needs a manager. Most often it's the mother; sometimes it's the dad. In every case, the partner who answers the high call is no autocrat. To the contrary, he or she leads by serving. He or she shares responsibility and helps individual members identify and develop their gifts and talents. In our family, Bill and I are peers and colleagues, committed to a single mission, matching values, and building equity in the Peel Family Organization. The years have shown us that the dozens of roles and tasks that constitute a household all fall into one of seven departments. (See sidebar on page 2.) Applying business strategies-such as team building, delegating, and increasing productivity-promotes efficient management of each department.
Although business strategies work wonders when it comes to the business of running a home, many people make the mistake of viewing marriage as a business transaction, a common practice in cultures throughout history. Monarchies have long used marriage as a tool to strengthenalliances and treasuries. Across centuries and cultures, women have entered marriages with dowries-money, jewels, real estate-and as part of a package deal. Take the biblical account in Genesis 24, for example. Abraham sent a servant to trade a number of expensive gifts for a wife for his son.
It would seem that we've come a long way since the days when women were treated like a commodity. The trouble is ... now men and women both are viewed as a commodity: "He got a bargain," we say, or "She's back on the market" or "He married above his pay grade." Both partners weigh what they believe to be their contribution to the relationship against what they expect to get. Then when they marry and learn that they didn't get as good of a deal as they anticipated, they often withhold and withdraw. "He's not doing his fair share, so I'm not going to do mine." Or "She's not giving me what I want, so I'm going to withhold what she wants." Relationships that operate on bargaining terms are time bombs ticking toward self-destruction.
Although the business transaction concept doesn't translate well into family life, many other business practices do. Strategies like knowing your mission, casting vision, and creating standard operating procedures are key to building a strong family and a happy, organized home. Creating a positive "corporate culture" is important too.
Every organization, be it a small business, a nonprofit organization, a Fortune 500 company, or a family, has a corporate culture-an environment that either promotes or discourages qualities like productivity, loyalty, and score keeping. Publicly held companies typically place a lot of value on pleasing shareholders, so everything revolves around profit and the bottom line. In other words, there's lots of score keeping. This type of working environment often produces employees who feel as though they're treated like a commodity, and they often adopt a bargaining mentality: If you don't value me, I won't value you. Complaining and blaming become the norm. Productivity declines, company loyalty dwindles, and achieving revenue projections becomes more difficult.
At least one public company does things differently. Southwest Airlines puts its employees-they're called "family"-at the top. One of their mantras is, "Happy employees make happy customers who make happy shareholders." Interestingly, Southwest is the only domestic airline to show a profit every year since 1972, one year after its inception. Recently I heard Dave Ridley, senior vice president of marketing and revenue management at Southwest, give a few examples of what it looks like behind the scenes when a company values its employees-putting "family" first.
He told of the gate attendant working at the New Orleans airport during Mardi Gras who would not allow an inebriated man to board a plane. Angry because he missed his flight, the man wrote a letter of complaint to Southwest's customer relations department. After investigating the situation, Southwest responded by backing up the gate agent's decision and writing a letter to the man requesting that he take his travel business elsewhere.
In another instance, a passenger left her Bible in the seat pocket of a plane that landed in Kansas City. When a flight attendant found it, she took it upon herself to track down the passenger and mail the Bible (at her own expense) to the passenger.
During the summer of 2008, Hurricane Ike blew the Texas coast apart and crippled city infrastructure, bringing Houston and surrounding communities to a halt. When airports in Houston were finally able to reopen, Southwest told its Houston-based employees to stay home and put their homes and lives back together-a project that took weeks. To fill their vacant positions, hundreds of SWA employees from all over the country volunteered to fly to Houston to cover for their fellow Southwest teammates.
So why did Southwest side with the gate agent and lose a paying customer? Why did the flight attendant go above and beyond her job responsibilities? Why did Southwest employees go the extra mile and choose to do more than their fair share to help out coworkers in Houston? It's because the Southwest Airlines culture is centered on its people first-before shareholders and paying customers.
This type of corporate culture doesn't just-poof!-happen. It is championed by company leaders who live out attitudes and actions like these as they go about their business. Day in and day out they practice servant leadership, creating an environment that positively influenced the attitudes and actions of employees. Most Southwest employees don't feel like commodities. They know they are loved, respected, and supported by company leaders. The result: Southwest has become legendary for its customer service and the way team members serve each other. Should it be any different in a family? Obviously not.
Southwest doesn't believe in corporate "big shots." Inverting the usual management pyramid, their managers are trained to serve those who report to them.
when life gets out of balance
Likewise, there are no big shots in a family. Everyone should feel loved, respected, and supported. Household operations should be supervised in a way that considers each family member's gifts, limitations, and proclivities, with everyone working together to create an environment that encourages members to identify and pursue their God-given callings. Jobs in a home should not be delegated according to gender or divided into an exact 50-50 split; this leads to mutual policing as much as it solves family needs. The scales of responsibility never fully balance in any family; to expect that they will only seeds resentment. Situations pop up and push one parent or another to double up here or back off there. If Mom is an accountant, Dad's domestic duties spike during tax season. Should work pull Dad out of town, Mom adapts her schedule to meet the kids' needs. And then there's serious illness.
Tyra Damm of Frisco, Texas, is the mom of Cooper, eight, and Katie, four. When she and her husband, Steve, both worked full time-Tyra at the Dallas Morning News and Steve at Children's Medical Center in Dallas-the Damms also split grocery shopping, bill paying, cooking, cleaning, and laundry duties. They didn't split things 50-50; they divvied up tasks according to available time and personal proclivities. When Cooper was born, Tyra adjusted her business hours for mornings at home. Steve picked up Cooper from day care and was the primary parent until Tyra got home at night. Following Katie's birth, Tyra quit full-time employment to freelance and increased her household duties. Still, when Steve walked in the door at night, he also jumped right into the chores, whether cleaning the kitchen, bathing the kids, or reading books at bedtime.
Family balance shifted overnight for the Damms when doctors diagnosed Steve's brain cancer, a grade-four tumor that hurtled him into a risky biopsy and six weeks of concurrent radiation and chemotherapy. Initially he responded well, but the treatment damaged his vision and weakened his left side so he could no longer drive (or carpool the kids to soccer practice or preschool). While the Damms once enjoyed a fluid division of labor, Tyra now ran all seven departments. Sadly, Steve passed away in September 2009. Throughout their ordeal, Tyra never wondered whether Steve would get well and compensate her for the months of imbalance. She knew that healthy families don't keep score.
What about your home? Is it a positive place to do the work of being a family? Does the environment promote going above and beyond to serve one another? What about loyalty? Do you stick up for each other in good times and bad?
Corporate culture is difficult to define because it's intangible. It's the collective state of mind of people who work at a company, so it means something different in every company. But the businesses that win a place on the various lists of Best Places to Work embrace some common "best practices" for creating a positive working environment. Consider these examples and how they can be adapted in the home.
Company strategy: On a regular basis, have lunch or coffee with randomly chosen employees and really listen to their concerns and suggestions.
At home: Make sure your spouse and children know you care about their opinions. Carve out time regularly to listen attentively to their concerns and suggestions.
Company strategy: Make sure employees have clearly defined goals, understand their professional growth path in the company, and have the tools and training they need to succeed.
At home: Make sure family members understand family goals for household tasks they are responsible for. Provide the training and tools they need to succeed.
Company strategy: Recognize and reward employees for creative solutions and doing good work.
At home: Look for ways to encourage and reward family members for exhibiting a cooperative attitude and doing tasks well.
Company strategy: Check out your own behavior. Are you the kind of person you'd like to work with? If you aren't, then hone your attitude, keep your promises, and be less critical. At home: Ditto. Enough said.
As it does in a company, a home's working environment trickles down from its leaders-what they value, how and what they communicate, and how they exhibit loyalty. A couple's attitudes and actions affect everyone who lives in their home.
This means, for example, that if building your career and making money are what you value most, relationships will suffer. If you are not willing to negotiate your standards, or if you habitually criticize, speak disrespectfully, or point out your spouse's or children's mistakes to others, you can expect similar attitudes and actions from them and a home that's a miserable place for all. No one in his or her right mind sets a goal to create such a negative environment. But it happens every day. And it could happen in your home before you even realize what has happened. None of us is exempt.
a man's point of view family communication Fifteen years ago Kathy and I decided to share home office space. It made sense-on paper. We would be in the same place at the same time when projects called for joint input. We could work more as a team on parenting and income-earning responsibilities. When one of us was traveling or pushing to meet a deadline, the other could cover parenting responsibilities and household tasks. Like I said, the plan looked good on paper. Reality was a different story. Loving words and feelings morphed into heavy sighs and puckered brows. Before sharing the same space, we had both become accustomed to a quiet atmosphere when working. Now we had to listen to each other's phone calls, frustrated self-talk, and exasperated computer abuse when technology rebelled. We expected each other to know when we needed silence. I expected Kathy to cheer me up when I was stressed. She expected me to understand the importance of ambience; she wants her office to be colorful, creative, and "cute." This proved difficult since my side of the room usually looked like the aftermath of an explosion. Even worse, she expected me to drop everything to help her solve problems, and truthfully, I expected her to do the same for me. It wasn't long before the question arose: can a loving, understanding couple turn into monsters that devour themselves and their young? The answer is probably yes. On some days if one of our unsuspecting offspring had wandered into the office and asked a simple question like "What's for dinner?" one of us might have snapped his head off. As tension grew palpably, one thing became clear: we needed to make some changes, because working together wasn't working. Here we were: two reasonably sane people with at least average intelligence who understood the benefits of healthy communication and had established boundaries about how we would communicate in the rest of our life together, but who had not stopped to hammer out the details about working in the same office. After our epiphany, we carved out some time to discuss our preferences and frustrations, and negotiate our way to expectations we both could live with. We also prayed for patience and the ability to remember that our highest calling as husband and wife is to help each other do the will of God-which sometimes means dropping everything to change an ink cartridge so handouts can get printed for a speech Kathy's giving. Today, except when we're in meetings or traveling separately, Kathy and I work together most of the time, helping each other with individual and joint projects-and we actually enjoy it. The days when a monster rears its head are few and far between. No matter how much time you and your wife spend together, shared expectations and a vibrant relationship depend on setting up and then meeting communication guidelines . When a husband and wife understand how the other is wired, when they honor one another's uniqueness, and when they know that they're on the same team and committed to each other's success, their entire family can thrive. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Find some time when you and your mate can have an uninterrupted, focused conversation. (If you have small children, you may have to leave the house to make this happen. A weekend retreat is ideal.) Use the His Normal-Her Normal worksheet on page 13 to share and record when and how you learned what you consider to be normal ways of communicating. Talk about what you want your family's new normal to be. Then get more specific. Ask each other the questions below. As you do, talk about how certain words, tones of voice, and actions make you feel. When appropriate, ask for forgiveness and graciously give it. 1. What are the little things I say that bother you the most? What makes you angry? 2. What ways do I communicate with you that make you feel appreciated? unappreciated? important to me? not important? 3. When is the easiest time to talk to me? the most difficult? 4. How can I show you more love and/or respect in the way I communicate? 5. Are there things you want to hear from me that I am not saying? 6. What is the most refreshing way I communicate? What is the most draining way I communicate? 7. What do you wish I would share with you that I have not been willing to talk about? 8. When is the best time and what is the best way to approach you about something that is bothering me? the worst time and way? 9. Do you ever feel dismissed by me when you are trying to say something important? How can I respond more positively? 10. What kind of words, gestures, or body language do I use that you would rather I delete from my vocabulary and actions? Once you've finished discussing these questions, agree not to bring up old wounds again. Negotiate some mutually agreed-upon guidelines for how you will and won't communicate with each other. Create your own Communication Covenant on page 14 to make your guidelines "official." This will promote faster change and serve as a check when you slip back into old patterns every now and then.
increasing your chances for success
Bill and I meet a lot of people whose dreams for a vibrant marriage and happy home have gotten buried in the clutter and confusion of everyday life. They are good people. Smart people. Husbands and wives who are faithfully trying to run their households, nurture their children, care for their own parents, earn a living, and pay the bills. Yet when they stop long enough to consider where all their busyness is taking them, they feel frustrated-sometimes even desperate. They wonder how they will ever take charge of life instead of allowing life to charge right over them.
If you can relate, take heart, because things can change. But before change can happen, you and your spouse need to know what you want to change, and how and when you're going to do it. This book will help you partner in every area of your home and family life to bring about the changes you want to make.
Chapters 2 through 8 contain a wealth of practical ways to help you make positive changes in each department of your home. As you read, choose some of the strategies and tips that make sense for the age, stage, and makeup of your family. Then try a few of the suggestions. Planning and communication tools will help you personalize the ideas and pave the way to a vibrant partnership.
The ACT (Assess-Clarify-Tackle) process will help you and your spouse identify your stress points, priorities, and desires for each department, and then guide you to sensible ways to divvy up tasks and responsibilities between the two of you and your children, one department at a time. It will lead you-and this is very important-not to my strategies for running your household, but to yours.
To give you a better idea of what I'm talking about, here's a sample of the ACT process in the Home and Property department.
Excerpted from The busy couple's GUIDE to sharing the work and the joy by Kathy Peel Copyright © 2009 by David Edmonson. Excerpted by permission.
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