Little Way of the Family


Forget the New Year’s Resolution. Try Writing a Family Strategic Plan Instead

Litany of Broken Resolutions

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I used to make New Year’s Resolutions. The same ones year after year. They were always broken, usually by mid-January.

The problem is that New Year’s Resolutions typically are little more than good intentions and wishful thinking. Neither gets you anywhere except frustrated and disappointed. But every year we keep trying. We keep telling ourselves that this is the year we will keep that diet, stick to that exercise regimen, or drop that bad habit for good.

Then one day my lovely and intelligent MBA wife introduced me to the concept of strategic planning and proceeded to apply that concept to our family life. With that strategic plan we are able to make substantive long-term changes (for the better!) to our family life. And it’s not at all hard to do.

Writing Your Family Strategic Plan

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What is a strategic plan? It is a method of figuring out what you want to accomplish, why you want to accomplish it, and how you are going to accomplish it. You start out at the highest level with the big “why”, the mission statement. Then you write down a vision for the future. Then you break down specific objectives designed to meet that vision. Then you write down steps, or goals, that will help you to achieve those objectives. Does that sound hard? If so, lets take it step by step.

The Mission Statement

Most businesses have mission statements. These represent the business’s raison d’etre, its reason for being. Usually it is something that seems, from the outside, to be either self-evident or rather meaningless. Something like “To meet the needs of our customer’s and employees with integrity and excellence”, but perhaps with more specifics.

But it’s not meaningless. It is a yardstick by which any action can be measured. The business decision makers can determine if any particular action furthers the mission, works against it, or is a distraction from it. It helps keep the focus.

A family needs a mission statement too. What is the purpose of your family? Why did God put your family here on earth? It is not an easy question to answer.

It took us quite a conversation to write our first mission statement, and it evolved over the first couple of years, especially as our faith matured. But we now have a mission statement that accurately reflects our family and that I believe will do so for years to come. Here it is:

To be witnesses of Jesus Christ within our family, in our community, and throughout the world.

Simple, isn’t it? It wasn’t when we started. It took awhile to distill our mission into what is, on the face, rather simplistic. That process, however, told us so much about our family life, and it gave us a renewed focus and determination toward simplicity of life. Hopefully your mission statement will be just as succinct and just as meaningful to you.

The Vision

Where do you want to be? Who do you want to be? What do you want to accomplish? This is your vision.

Take some time to discuss with your spouse where you see your family in a year. In five years. Perhaps you want to move closer to extended family. Perhaps you want to get out of debt. Perhaps you want a reinvigorated faith life. Perhaps you want a stronger marriage, or more children. If you see yourself exactly as you are now, that is a perfectly wonderful thing.

Be specific. If you want an employment change, what kind of employment do you desire? If you want to move, where? If you need a bigger house, how big?

This should be a fun and enriching activity for a couple. You likely shared your dreams of the future when you were engaged or first married, but for many, those conversations get overwhelmed by the day-to-day effort of living. So take your time, and enjoy it. Remember to make separate vision statements for one year out and for five years out. Here are some questions that might guide you. (I am presuming you are married.)

How many children will you have?
Where will you live?
Will you and/or your spouse be working? In what field? At what job?
What will your relationship be like with your extended family – parents, in-laws, etc?
What will youu faith life be like?
What kind of lifestyle will you be living?
What will your kids be doing?
Is there some sort of vocation that you wish to be engaged in?
Are there any major changes to your life you desire or foresee?

You can write it any way you like, in a list format or a narrative paragraph or some other way. Try to keep it realistic, but don’t be afraid to be ambitious. Try to avoid materialism. Remember that this vision will represent the kind of person you will be. If your vision is focussed on money, so will you be.

Objectives: Breaking It Down
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Now that you have a one year and a five year vision, start thinking about how you are going to get there and what you need to accomplish this year to make that vision a reality. But to do that, you need to break it down into pieces you can get your arms around.

What are the important parts of your life? Each of these will have an Objective.

The key areas of my family’s life are:

1. God and Faith
2. Marriage
3. Children
4. Careers
5. Education (both children and parents)
6. Recreation
7. Health and Wellness
8. Finances
9. Household
10. Community Service/Charity
11. Extended Family
12. Time Management
7. Finances
8. Recreation

Setting an Objective

Each area gets an objective. This objective is a little bit like a mission statement for that part of our life, its guiding principle. Just like the mission statement, it should be succinct and should accurately reflect your most cherished values. And just like the mission statement, it should not change from year to year, once you really have it nailed down. For instance, our objective for our children is:

“Build a legacy of faith through the generations.”

Pretty simple, but everything we do for our children leads back to that one statement.

The Steps/Goals
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Now to the meat of it. Here is where you lay out the specific things you are going to do to meet the above objectives and to reach the vision you set out for yourself.

These will include steps to take daily, weekly, or monthly, as well as one time goals, possibly with a due date attached. For instance, in the above example, we have a goal to keep our kids in Catholic school. We also have a goal to maintain family faith-based rituals to strengthen their faith. We also have specific goals for extracurricular activities that will strengthen their character and self-discipline as well as let them make the best possible use of their God-given talents. One goal is to involve the children in weekly service projects. Another is to ensure that each child is taking lessons on a musical instrument.

Don’t put steps here that are vague. Saying “eat less” won’t get you anywhere. Steps here should be of the type where you can say, with no uncertainty, whether or not it was accomplished or at least whether progress toward it is being made. If you don’t yet know exactly what to do but have a general idea, put in a planning task such as “create meal plan”. This plan would then be a supplement to the strategic plan.

Finally, these steps should be realistic. Don’t make commitments you are pretty sure you won’t be able to meet. Therein lies frustration. You may find you need to adjust your one-year or five-year vision if the steps you need to take aren’t do-able. Perhaps scale the vision back and make your one-year vision a little more intermediate.

Following Through

No plan is worth the effort if it isn’t carried out. There are several necessary steps toward following through.

1. Log both the specific dates and the recurring tasks on your calendar.
2. Review your calendar (as a couple) daily, weekly, and monthly.
3. Review the strategic plan (as a couple) once a month.
4. If you are straying from the plan, consider revising it to either make the goals more realistic, eliminate items that have become moot or obsolete or add steps to remove roadblocks.
5. Reward yourself when you have accomplished one of the more difficult steps.

Don’t get discouraged if you fall behind in any particular area. This is a plan, not a “resolution”. You work toward the plan until you complete it, even if it takes longer than you originally thought. And don’t be afraid to decide that you were wrong, that one or more of the objectives you wrote down wasn’t really what God had in mind for you. Part of this whole activity is a process of discernment, giving you a framework on which you can struggle to find out just what it is that God wants of you in the here and now.

New Years doesn’t have to be a time for false promises or the cultivation of future disappointments. It can be a catalyst for real change, and a Family Strategic Plan can be a road map to that change.



Advent is Upon Us
December 10, 2013, 6:47 pm
Filed under: Advent, Children, Culture, Daily Life, Family Time | Tags: , , ,

Hard to believe there are two purple candles already burning on my kitchen table. Hard to believe that Thanksgiving has passed and the leftover turkey is a pleasant memory. Hard to believe I haven’t posted since October.

It is a time for reflection and preparation. Our Lord has given me opportunities for reflection that I would rather He hadn’t: health issues kept us busy throughout the month of November. Kept me from blogging. Put us way behind on our decorations. (Yes, that’s important!)

It has put me in a reflective mood, though. The little worlds we build up for ourselves can come crashing down so easily. When we treasure the wrong things, we are crushed when we lose them.

In this life, nothing is more important than faith. In this world, nothing is more important than family. Sure we treasure those things in our thoughts and promises and declarations. But what about our actions? Do we treasure them in our actions? Or are we dismissive and impatient? Do we neglect, thinking that God and family will always be there, but this TV show/game/work opportunity will be lost if I don’t act now?

Treasure every little grace from God. Treasure every moment with your family. That is the best way I know to keep the oil in the lamp, ready for Him to come.



A Different Approach to Family Prayer Time
July 31, 2013, 9:40 am
Filed under: Children, Devotions, Family Time, Passing on the Faith, Prayers | Tags: , , ,

Recently, we shook up our family evening prayers, and it’s been such a blessing that I thought I would share it.

My wife started a subscription to the Magnificat about six months ago, and that his been a great boon to her spiritual life. We were inspired a couple of months back to incorporate it into our family prayers, and it has evolved into something special. Here is what we do:

Setup
As always, family evening prayer takes place in our bedroom where there are no distractions of TV, computer, toys, telephone, or food. We have a little prayer corner with crucifix, statue of the Blessed Virgin, and a few icons as well as a Bible and Holy Water. To this we added two candles, the kind you find at the store, in tall glass containers with a picture of Christ on them.

Procession and Hymn
Yes, we have a procession! Mom, Dad, and oldest daughter sing the hymn, usually accompanied by music off of youtube (I continue to be surprised, finding music to almost every Catholic hymn on youtube). We will sing a capella if we have to. The younger three process in with the crucifix and candles.

Prayer Leader
Dad leads the prayers. We choose either the Magnificat evening prayer or night prayer, which are based on the prayers from the Daily Office. I start us off and pray the introduction as well as lead us through an examination of conscience.

Server
Our second son is the server. He is too young to be an altar server at Mass, but he longs to be, so this lets him live out that desire now. He takes the book from me and presents it to each reader in turn, bringing it back to me as necessary.

Readers
There are three key readings: the Palm, the Word and Mary’s Magnificat or the Canticle of Simeon. These are done by Mom, oldest son, oldest daughter, and even occasionally the younger kids with help from Dad. We have a special place in the room where the reader stands.

Intercessions
Dad leads the intercessions. After those of the Church, each person adds their own special intercessions.

Group Prayers
After the closing prayers, we prayer our group family prayers:
Our Father
Hail Mary
Glory Be
St. Michael
We will also add any others here that the younger kids have to learn for school, though that won’t be an issue till the fall.

Latin Prayers
Our summer project has been to learn our core prayers in Latin. We did the Ave Maria in June, the Pater Noster in July, and we are now working on the Gloria Patri for August. So at this point each person (even the 4-year-old) says their Latin prayer of the month as best they can. Then as a group we pray the Latin prayers we have already learned.

Collection and Announcements
Yes, we do a collection and announcements, but only on Sunday nights. Added on behest of the kids, we moved them to only once a week just to keep bedtime from getting too late. The kids are responsible for deciding what charity the collection will go to. The announcements are nice because they give the younger kids a little taste of public speaking.

Recession and Closing Hymn
And we end it with a hymn and a recession of the crucifix and candles. Then it’s off to bed!

The whole thing takes about half an hour. The blessings it has brought are:

1. All the kids are enthusiastic about prayer time. They have ideas for how to make it nicer and more holy.
2. The nightly prayers aren’t rote and they can’t be rushed.
3. Our nightly prayers are united with the nightly prayers of the Church, and the kids get a taste of the Divine Office.
4. Everybody participates and has a unique role.
5. We are praying more and better and enjoying it as a family.

So that is our new prayer tradition. I would love to hear about your family prayer traditions!



Lost In The Fog
January 29, 2013, 6:48 am
Filed under: Conversion, Daily Life, Love, Spiritual Warfare, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

The fog was amazingly thick this morning on the way to work. So thick that my headlights could penetrate 30 feet at most. So thick that streetlights and oncoming cars were invisible if more than 100 yards away.

There were moments where I felt that the entire universe had been reduced to me, my car, and a thirty foot sphere of existence. I was alone in the universe, an eerie and frightening feeling that was somehow exhilarating at the same time.

It is easy to live that way, in such a fog that all I can see is my own existence. Especially (and unfortunately) as a husband and father, it is easy to ensconce myself in my own little world of responsibilities and worries. People, even loved ones, can become objects, providers of my inputs and receivers of my outputs. When they have needs (or I have needs of them), they enter my little sphere of light. When I have met their needs or they have met mine, they depart, and it is as if they are no more.

If I shine, however, with Christ’s light, the fog is dispersed, and I can truly begin to see and love those around me as they really are. No longer do I love someone for what they can do for me or how they make me feel. I love them for one simple fact: that they are images of God.

But I have to keep my guard up. That fog keeps trying to roll in.



The “Mom’s Out of Town, Dad’s In Charge” Morning Checklist
January 16, 2012, 10:18 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

1. Pants on backwards? Check.
2. Socks don’t match? Check.
3. Breakfast of cookies and chocolate bars? Check.
4. Hair brushed? Nope. That’s too hard. Besides, it’ll just get messed up again.
5. 9am field trip to Chuck E. Cheese? Check.
6. All 4 kids accounted for on departure from Chuck E. Cheese? Ummm… wait a minute…
7. 11am field trip to hardware store? Check.
8. Assistance from two-year-old in den painting project? Check. Put that down!
9. Pantry door propped open so two-year-old can get herself a snack while Dad cleans up the spilled paint? Check.
10. Lunch fed? Oops. I knew I was forgetting something.
11. Kids bribed to smile for “we’re having fun” picture to send to Mom? Check.
12. Gone running to Grandma for assistance? Check.
13. Bedtime prayer for Mom to return really soon? Check.



Happy Anniversary, To My Beloved
July 10, 2011, 7:46 pm
Filed under: Love, Marriage | Tags: , , ,

Today my wife and I celebrate 18 blessed years of marriage. 18 years? It seems impossible it has been that long. It seems impossible it has been that short. Our wedding day seems like yesterday, and yet I cannot imagine that I ever lived a life without her. Even those years that I know were before I met her, it is as if she had been there; as I have shared my past with her over the years, she has become a part of it.

Ephesians 5:31
For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

People who aren’t married – and I dare say many who are – really don’t understand the reality and truth behind this most familiar bible quote. Of course there is the physical aspect of that, and our four children are miraculous manifestations of our love. There is also a more subtle, and perhaps more profound aspect of this becoming one.

As we progress in our marriage – as we progress in our understanding of love – our marriage ceases to be a story of “how she makes me feel” or “how happy he makes me”. The “I” in our story fades, and the “we” takes its rightful place. As we give up our selfishness (a lifelong struggle, no doubt!), life ceases to be a negotiation between partners. We begin to make decisions and live our life as a unit, and that unit is family. It is so hard to describe, but it is a beautiful thing.

In the last 18 years we have seen the most exhilarating highs and the most devastating lows. There were times when we did not think our marriage would survive. Thanks to God’s grace, we were able to learn from those times what marriage and love really are about.

The greatest gift my wife ever gave me was to be a lighthouse, leading me toward God. Throughout my faith journey, she has remained my lighthouse. Even beyond that, I have a lifetime of debt owed to this beautiful woman. She has forgiven me more than any man deserves. She has walked with me through the fires. She has rejoiced with me at every success. And she has suffered to bring forth my four beautiful children.

Eighteen years have passed like a sigh. I wish I could live them again, the good and the bad. But most of all, I look forward to the years to come. Thank you Cheryl.



Why Aren’t Video Games a No-Brainer for Parents?
June 8, 2011, 9:28 pm
Filed under: Children, Culture, Daily Life | Tags: , ,

Why aren’t video games a no-brainer for parents? My eight-year-old asked the other day why we don’t allow game systems in our home. Apparently he is the only person in his class (at a fairly conservative Catholic school) that doesn’t have an Xbox, Playstation, or Wii.

According to this article, 3 in 5 homes have game consoles. In my experience, the rate for households with children is much higher.

Why don’t parents realize how damaging this is to their children? As I told my son:

  1. Video Games Can Be Addictive
    Video games are designed to suck you in and keep you playing until you beat the game or hit a wall beyond which your natural abilities won’t take you. At that point, to feed the addiction, you’ll need the next game in the series. This addiction is real. In 2009, 8.5% of kids were found to be addicted to video games.
  2. Many of the Most Popular Games are Morally Questionable, at Best
    This is a well-hashed topic. Many games are over-sexualized or packed with violence to appeal to their target demographic: 18 to 30 year old men.
  3. Video Games Set Our Kids up for a Permanent Adolescence
    As just noted, The target market for video games is adult men. As men, it is hard for us to grow up. Part of us wants to stay in adolescence forever. The alcohol industry, the entertainment industry, and the video game industry all have a huge economic incentive to keep us overgrown children. I don’t want to set up my sons with such a handicap.
  4. When the Game is On, the Brain is Off
    Oh sure, there are exceptions. But those are exceptions that prove the rule. Most video games are mind-numbing contests to hone a particular – otherwise useless – reflex to the point where you can tweak the game controller in just the right way to win the game.

Are they fun? Sure. And playing the occasional game online or at the arcade isn’t harmful. But dropping hundreds of dollars on a console that is obsolete in a year, and up to fifty dollars on a game that is mastered in a short time, leads one to feeling that the game must be played, like TV must be watched, for hours on end, every day. With TV, movies, video games, and the internet all demanding our children’s time, where is the time for learning, for exercise, for family, and for God?

Why isn’t this a no-brainer? Why do parents feel they have to buy these things?