Family planning

On the table. Kids and I on New Year's Day.

published January 21, 2014 - MST page 5

My kids know that when I convene a family lunch for the five of us, there is an agenda on the table. Of course, we all love a good sit-down meal, telling stories, poking fun at each other and celebrating accomplishments big and small. We also like to eat, period. But at times when I deliberately inquire about their availability, set a date, time and place, they – aged 19, 18, 13 and 11 – know I mean business. 

Once I talked to them about steps we could undertake to bring our electricity bill down. I pointed out their habits which I had observed and impressed upon them the need to cut down on wasteful living.

On another occasion, I asked them whether they felt their allowances were barely enough, just right, or too big. They laughed at this last one. For the oldest, who will be out of college next year and who already has a part-time writing gig, the issue is whether she is able to save some of her earnings or uses it all to fund her mountain treks. “Better save now,” I always say, “because it would be very difficult to put away a little something for yourself when you already have responsibilities of your own.”

Once we put together our holiday menu. Last Christmas, for instance, we decided to have a lean line-up (i.e., not too many, but very special) consisting of a previously-untested recipe for spaghetti. It was a success, and it went well with the mango-graham cakes the younger ones had made on their own. For New Year we kept it cool and had pizza and Jack-Coke (okay, for the older ones). And home-made corn dogs.  

There was another occasion we talked about how we were supposed to divide the household work with our maid on extended vacation.  The laundry and the dishes were the difficult part, but we proved once again that even chores could be fun when they’re done in a spirit of community.

Yet another time, I called a lunch to give guidelines on how the older ones should step up to my role when for some reason or another, I have to go out of town. This weekend we discussed whether we could afford to take a trip down South later this year, finances and schedule-permitting. It’s been a great exercise in communications.

Despite all these sessions to which the kids seem responsive, even enthusiastic, I am having second thoughts introducing a topic that I would like us to spend time on. Since another year has just started, and since I feel all of them are mature enough anyway, I would like to conduct some sort of planning session just to emphasize the point that nothing beats having a road map and knowing where we’re all going.

I figured it could work on two levels – the individual, and the family. The individual plan is to get them to think about their own respective paths. What were their accomplishments and failures for the past year? What are the strengths they should build on and weaknesses they should address? How do they envision themselves in three, five, ten years? What values best define their life? What are their short- and long-term objectives for each aspect of their lives (physical, financial, school, social, intellectual, among others)? How will they measure their success?

The other level is the family level. It is always good to move towards the same direction as a family. We generally have the same, if not similar, aspirations. And it is also good to know that nobody is being left behind. We’re a team, first and foremost.

What could prove difficult is how to package this idea in a manner palatable to teenagers. Remember, too, that even the closest of family members may have different temperaments. I may take comfort in planning even my wardrobe for the week, but a daughter may be a lot more spontaneous. This is the tricky part, because I would really and truly like to impart to them the value of foresight, and I would like them to participate not just because I said so, but because they appreciate the exercise for itself. The last thing I would want is compliance for compliance’s sake. The exercise would fail if it felt the tiniest bit unnatural.

The family, however it is made up, is the most basic unit of society. How children do in their communities, careers, and even in their eventual relationships will always be traced back to the quality of their home life. As parents, it is our duty to give them roots and give them wings, do it with a lot of love, and if possible a few laughs along the way.