Monday, May 22, 2017

SPENST SUMMIT & FAMILY RESET

As the spring has unfolded, I've made no secret of the fact that its been a harder season for me.  In fact, I think I've pretty well worn out my friends and family with whining about how "stressed" we've been (probably for years now).  I have most certainly worn myself out.  John has been patient with me, and we have spent a bit of time brainstorming what I needed to help pull myself out of this slump.

One of the things that felt overwhelming to me was the state of our family life.  It all at once felt chaotic and a bit oppressive and out of control.  I wasn't sure how to best enjoy time together, and knowing just how fast these days and years are sprinting by had me panicking that we were screwing it all up.  While this does lead us to a healthy place of examining certain routines, I also needed a healthy dose of #CutTheDramaCarol.  Unfortunately, that is often called for when my mind spins in the wrong directions, because while there are things we need to change, there are also a lot of things going well in our family.

As a way to address some of these issues, John and I planned a full (school) day away from normal life to think, talk and pray.  This year we have been setting aside Sundays as our sabbath, and we wanted to revisit that practice to see how we could improve, because we still haven't exactly felt "rested" in life.  (We have been doing sabbath with continued mixed results and feelings.)

Having a Spenst Summit was exactly what I needed, and we are already reaping benefits.  It is always helpful to get on the same page as your spouse and to address the many ways that you live life together.  It was also a good reminder that many things are out of our control in greater life, but we get to influence quite a lot in our home.

Here's an example:
Dinner time has been consistently stressful and frustrating.  I will also say that for the last several years we have been in hard core survival mode.  Welcoming newborn twins into our family when we had a two and four year old was really hard, and I think I have some PTSD from the whole experience.  Meal times were insanity just trying to make sure every mouth had something to eat.  We have been slowly emerging from that, but we have never really adjusted or laid out clear expectations for what dinner should look like, so it has gone like this by default.

I made a dinner (on a good night).  I served the food straight from the pots/pans onto plates doing most of the cutting up of everything at the counter.  We all sort of gathered at the table.  Sort of.  Children may or may not have started eating food that was on their plates.  Parents would sit.  Then two or three children would get up to get a drink.  Or a fork. Or a second fork.  Or a third knife.  (William really likes knives.)  John and I would eat food quickly, out of habit leftover from survival mode.  When we were finished, we would "encourage" the children to eat, while also getting up and starting to clean up from the whole ordeal, because bedtime's coming, and you know we were ready to get children headed that direction.  One or more of the children acted like the food was laced with rat poison, and everyone became rather frustrated by everyone else.

After thinking through the stress points, we realized that we could change the form of dinner and change quite a bit in just that thing, because it happens every day.  We decided to start that night, because we knew we could make it a special, fun thing.

We set the table with china, cloth napkins, candles and actual glasses for each person.

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We explained to the kids that while we won't be setting the table this nicely every night, we will be changing the way that dinner goes from here on out.  The table will be set by the kids - they are perfectly capable of doing this.  Drinks will be made and set on the table, and we will have a pitcher of water on the table from which to pour.  The food will all be served on the table by passing it around.  Napkins will be used at each meal and be put in our laps.  No one will eat until we have blessed the meal, and everyone has something on their plate.  John and I will make sure we do not have our phones at the table.  We will sit together until most people are mostly done, and children will asked to be excused and then clear their plates.  They will also help with clean up.

We have now done this several nights, and while it certainly does not solve all dinnertime woes (apparently some of the food I serve is still laced with rat poison), it does solve a lot of the issues we were having.  It also creates the expectations we want to have for our children to learn how to handle themselves at meals with people, and it makes for richer family time when we are all at the table together instead of jumping up for a second/third/fourth cup of water constantly.

We reset a few other things besides dinner time as well, and we are trying to be careful to not implement too many things at the same time.  It really is true that executing real change comes from doing something differently every day, and we are looking for ways to make small daily changes that add up big for our family.  We're also working to finish out some commitments and not take on anything else for the time being.  I think we've approached the last ten years as a sprint, and it turns out that we've actually been running a marathon.  We have to fundamentally change how we run the race, and that will take more time and thought and prayer.

So - I'm hopeful!  I'm looking forward to better family dinners and a better attitude inside my heart, because I was reminded that we can change things for the better with some thought and intentionality.  It is not rocket science, but it does take effort.  And, I'm working to #CutTheDramaCarol, because in all reality, we have a fantastic life with so much to be grateful for.  It's messy, but it's full of love.

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