When Lee and Rachael Hamilton married 14 years ago, they never dreamed their home would become so stressful that Rachael would enter a Life Makeover contest out of desperation. But she did. And she won.
When I arrived at the Hamiltons' home in upstate New York, I found Lee puttering in the side yard. "Which (expletive deleted) one are you?" he greeted me with palpable hostility.
Hoping to boost his spirits, I cheerfully introduced myself and explained that I was the family management expert dispatched by the women's magazine that sponsored the contest.
He looked undecided whether to run me off his property or shoot me on the spot. Drawing on obviously dwindling reserves of self-restraint, he responded, "Look, I didn't need Joe Fitness telling me to work out every morning when we can't even get the kids to school on time. And it's ridiculous that they sent over that financial geek to plan our future when we can't find the bills that need paying today. And don't get me started on the meditation expert (more expletives deleted)."
It didn't take long for me to realize that Lee's frustration was justified. As part of the Life Makeover prize, the magazine sent a fitness expert, a financial expert, and a meditation expert—whatever that is—to "make over" these areas of the Hamiltons' life. Actually, what Lee and Rachael needed first and foremost was an organizational framework—and I'm not talking clutter—to bring order to their domestic chaos and peace to their frazzled family.
I spent two days at their disorderly home. I listened as they voiced frustrations and dreams for their family that had some-how gotten lost in the confusion five children can add to life.
I identified their key issues, suggested stress-relieving strategies, and helped them implement a few solutions before returning to the airport.
Rachael became teary-eyed as she held their toddler and waved good-bye to me from the door. Lee walked me to the car and expressed heart-felt thanks with a big hug. Their hope had been renewed, and they had a doable plan to create a smoothly running, organized home. I could tell he was glad he didn't shoot me.
Applying business strategies
The strategies I shared with Lee and Rachael are 35 years, one husband, three children, two apartments, seven houses, and a lot of prayer in the making. You see, I entered marriage domestically challenged. I grew up in a home where both my parents were professionals. Mother owned dress stores, complete with a full-time tailor on staff; she also had a housekeeper and cook to help at home. Consequently, I never learned to sew, clean house, or cook. I had a built-in job selling clothes at Mom's stores, so, unlike my friends, I didn't babysit to earn spending money. I knew next to nothing about small children.
Though I missed some domestic training from my family environment, I did pick up a lot of business know-how—such as team building, goal setting, research and development, and delegation. Although initially my business background seemed useless in the pursuit of homemaking efficiency, it became the framework for my philosophy of home and family, the foundation for the Family Management System, and the salvation of my sanity.
Simply put, the Family Management System applies the strategies of good business to the work of running a home. But don't think it's about creating a corporate atmosphere! It's just that things such as implementing a team game plan for de-cluttering your house one weekend can reduce a lot of family friction; having at your fingertips the records and receipts for tax time saves a lot of headaches; and knowing in advance what you're having for dinner—and who's going to prepare it—minimizes end-of-the-day frustration and makes evenings more enjoyable.
The following strategies can make the difference between chaos and calm in your home, as well as your marriage.
Decide who's your Family Manager. In our family, I'm the family manager, the CEO—Chief Everything Officer—and my husband, Bill, is Chairman of the Board. We both take seriously the job of building equity into our family. In some families, it makes more sense for Dad to be the Family Manager. Whoever assumes this role should understand the importance of the position. Thinking like a manager in charge of operations for the most important organization in the world—your family—is the first step to success. The Family Manager Creed sums up the job description:
The Family Manager Creed
I oversee the most important organization in the world—
Where hundreds of decisions are made daily
Where property and resources are managed
Where health and nutritional needs are determined
Where finances and futures are discussed and debated
Where projects are planned and events are arranged
Where transportation and scheduling are critical
Where team-building is a priority
Where careers begin and end
I am the Family Manager.
Manage by departments. All the chores and responsibilities of running a home and family—whether they have to do with the house, clothing, children, relatives, bank accounts, pantry, schools, vacations, furniture, holidays—fall into seven distinct departments. Compartmentalizing duties provides a way to manage efficiently the workload. These departments are:
- Home & Property: overseeing the maintenance and care of all tangible assets, including personal belongings, the house, and its surroundings.
- Food: meeting the daily food and nutritional needs of the family economically and creatively.
- Money: budgeting, investing, paying bills, saving, and handling other monetary issues.
- Family & Friends: dealing with family life and relationships, including child rearing, education, marriage, friends, neighbors, and aging parents.
- Special Events: coordinating large and small projects—birthdays, holidays, vacations, garage sales, family reunions—that fall outside the normal family routine.
- Time & Scheduling: acting as the facilitator so the household runs smoothly and family members get to the right places at the right time, with the right equipment.
- Self Management: taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.
Have a base of operation. Every manager needs a "control central"—be it a desk, countertop, or office. In a company, it's the place from which he or she calls the shots. In a home it's the place from which the family manager organizes, tracks the family's schedule, notes changes, responds to messages, makes lists, and keeps important papers in their places. By setting up your own Control Central you can better oversee your family's comings and goings and manage the countless tasks, responsibilities, and decisions made every day.
Know your mission. Successful businesses know why they're in business, what's most important, and what they're aiming at. Families should, too.
Have you and your spouse discussed what's truly important to you? What are your core values? When your children leave home, what memories do you want them to take with them? Knowing the answers to these questions will give you a yardstick against which to measure your many daily decisions.
One autumn when we were young parents, Bill and I met at a coffee shop on Monday mornings after I dropped off our boys at pre-school. In a quiet booth we talked and made notes about our dreams and goals for our family, the values we hoped our children would embrace, and the memories we hoped they'd take with them when they left home. We not only experienced some great one-on-one time as a couple, we formulated our family mission, values, and priorities. We asked God to help us be aware of opportunities to fulfill our mission, teach our values, and live by our priorities.
Build a family team. Family management, like all good management, is not about autocratic rulers imposing arbitrary standards from on high. It's not about engraving in stone a family bureaucracy that will give you headaches, make your children want to join a union, and have your spouse filling out forms in triplicate just to get a Friday-night date with you. Modern management provides peace, fun, and a sense of satisfaction—for everyone in the family. By functioning like a team rather than individuals, you'll have more fun and increase your productivity. Activities that aren't particularly enjoyable, such as weekly cleaning chores, take less time and gain new meaning when everyone shares in the burden. Delegating also helps balance responsibilities and workloads between marriage partners. And it builds on the idea that home belongs to everyone; therefore, everyone contributes to its care.
Maximize strengths, minimize weaknesses.Good family management demands a set of skills that no one person has. We each have a unique operating style—a certain energizing way of managing and accomplishing things. When we work in harmony with the way God created us instead of trying to be like someone else—or trying to make our spouse like someone else—things run a lot more smoothly. Don't let your weaknesses—or your mate's weaknesses—get you down. Don't beat up yourself or your spouse because the towels aren't folded in perfect squares. There's more than one way to fold a towel.
Manage time and resources.Unlike other "businesses," the family never shuts down. Much of what goes on in the home— productivity, morale, organization—depends upon the Family Manager. How the home is managed will set the tone for whether the atmosphere is chaotic or orderly. Creating morning, afternoon, and evening routines—standard operation procedures—for housework and weekly maintenance tasks, laundry, meals, saving money, communication between family members, family fitness, taking time to care for ourselves (even God rested on the seventh day)—are critical to our family's peace of mind and evenness of spirit.
Whether you're newly married and settling into life as a couple or, like Lee and Rachael, at your wit's end, it's never too late to discover new ways of working together on the most important organization in the world—your family. Let the first chapter of Genesis serve as a reminder that when it comes to bringing order and beauty to chaotic situations, God is the expert—and his help and wisdom are but a prayer away.
Kathy Peel, founder and president of Family Manager Network, is author of numerous books includingThe Family Manager's Guide to Summer Survival
(Fair Winds Press).
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine.Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.