By Cathi Brese Doebler
Sometimes the decision is about where to spend your money. Sometimes the decision is about how to spend your family time.
- “I wish we could go on a nice vacation,” thinks dad.
- “Why can’t you pay for me to go to hockey camp?” questions the son.
- “Why don’t we ever spend time together as a family anymore?” wonders the mom.
Everyone has priorities. Priorities might revolve around your family, job, education, faith, church, health, hobbies, and more.
The challenge is that people don’t always have the same priorities, and that can lead to family fights, misunderstandings, and stress. Then add the fact that priorities change over time! What is important for a family with toddlers might be different from a family with children in high school. What is important to newlyweds might be different from what is important to a retired couple.
The key to avoiding those family fights, misunderstandings, and stress is to find a way to communicate what those priorities are, and to decide which priorities are most important for the family as a unit. When you spend time communicating with your family, you are demonstrating that they are valuable to you. In John 13:34 we’re taught, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
Get together with your family to discuss what the family priorities are. You don’t want to rush this time, so make sure you have at least an hour. Meet in a place where everyone is comfortable, such as the living room or kitchen table.
Bring supplies and ideas
Bring several packets of sticky notes (3x3 size are good), markers (one for each family member), and your ideas. Give everyone a marker and about 15 notes to start with.
Go over the rules and get started
Explain that you are meeting to share ideas about what is most important to your family and that this will help you with decisions regarding how to spend your money and family time.
Ask everyone to write down one idea per sticky note. Give them examples, such as, “Alex, you might want to write down ‘playing board games as a family’ while Nicky might write ‘music lessons’. Mom might want to write down ‘getting more exercise’ and Dad might write ‘getting season tickets’.”
Ask everyone to write down as many ideas as they want to.
Share, group ideas, and make choices
After everyone is done writing, take turns sharing your ideas and putting the sticky notes up on a wall. If there are similar ideas (such as ‘board games’ and ‘family game night’) put them on the wall together in groups.
Give everyone a number of ‘votes’. Explain that each person can make a certain number of votes by putting a mark on their favorite sticky notes. Have everyone vote.
Take the sticky notes that don’t have ‘vote’ marks on them and put them on a separate part of the wall. You may want to add some of these back later, but for now focus on the notes with ‘votes’.
Discuss the votes
Talk about the themes you see and put similar notes together in groups. Talk about how the ideas benefit the family. Talk about the time and financial investments for each idea and if they are realistic for your family at this time. Spend time talking about which ideas might be able to wait a few years. And finally, talk about which ideas might be temporary and not be as important in the future.
These steps can be one way to help your family agree on priorities, discuss differences of opinion, and make decisions regarding finances and time spent together than can benefit your family. You’ll spend a valuable hour learning to communicate and listen to each other.
Cathi Brese Doebler is the author of “Ditch the Joneses, Discover Your Family: How to Thrive on Less Than Two Incomes!” You can find out more about Ms. Doebler, her book and her blog at www.DitchThe.com