Written by Heather Caliri
I was the kind of new mother who read discipline books when my child was too little to hold up her head.
Let’s call that well-prepared instead of terrified, shall we?
My first foray into discipline books was Positive Discipline. Among other things, the author, Jane Nelsen, recommends family meetings to help resolve problems.
What’s a family meeting? Sit everyone down in a circle, plan fun events, share intentional, kind compliments, and also address grievances and problems in a democratic fashion.
I loved this idea when I first read it nine years ago. I loved imagining facilitating discussions. I loved imagining us growing together as a family.
But I didn’t like imagining the implementation.
Why? I was afraid it wouldn’t work.
- I was afraid my kids would roll their eyes and refuse (Yes, I even imagined my toddlers snarky and disaffected).
- I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to facilitate the meetings kindly.
- And I was afraid I wouldn’t be consistent enough to make it part of our routine.
With all that fear in my brain, I let the idea of family meetings languish in my brain, mentally chastising myself about it every time they crossed my mind. I hated that I wasn’t a good enough mother to actually make them happen.
More than eight years went by like that. Eight. Years.
Let’s be honest: it’s easier to not suggest, not try, not get hopeful about new ideas, because staying stuck means we don’t have to fail.
But long term, shutting off my hope and substituting self-loathing does me no favors either.
Photo by Chris Tazewell
So a few weeks ago, I finally brought up the idea with my kids.
I braced myself for rolled eyes, but to my surprise, they ran with the idea. It was a club! We were having a club, and we needed signs and a clubhouse and a roster and —
Within a few minutes we were squashed into the downstairs closet, an agenda in hand, and blinking at each other under the single naked light bulb.
Sorta. Because the first meeting went smoothly, but the ones after?
They went about how I’d feared.
One daughter lost interest after the first meetings and—wait for it!—rolled her eyes. Worse, my own diligence about carving out time for the meeting? Less than dependable.
We’re home all day. I couldn’t find a half-hour? Really?
The last “meeting” we held, I had to cajole my reluctant one’s participation, no one sat in a circle, we didn’t plan family fun or compliment each other and I held it more than a week late.
I don’t even know if you could call what happened a “family meeting”. It was more like an on-the-fly conversation. It didn’t feel like it counted or like I was doing it right. All my worst fears came true. Except —
In that short conversation, we addressed an issue that had been niggling at me for months. My kids came up with creative solutions, and I felt considerable, real relief.
I’m not sure I can keep up with a formal, weekly family meeting.
But that doesn’t mean trying it out was a failure.
So often, I avoid trying Big Ideas because I am afraid of them.
I’m afraid of not following their rules. I’m afraid I’ll prove weak or fickle. I’m afraid I’ll make a hash of their elegance.
Fitting into Big Ideas sounds wonderful. “Family meeting” sounds intentional. “Classical homeschooler” sounds rigorous. “Unschooler” sounds free-thinking. “Vegan”, another ideal I aspire to, sounds virtuous.
But the problem with Big Ideas, wonderful advice, and my shiny ideals is that they’re not people.
They don’t automatically adjust to my family’s needs. They don’t squeeze my hand when I don’t know how to implement them. And even on a good day, making them happen them perfectly is not realistic.
Does that really have to stop me from learning what they offer?
I have a feeling that if I’d stop mentally overanalyzing Big Ideas, I’d humanize them, and by extension, be more open to their lessons. If I thought of them as ordinary tools I jerry-rig, bend, and strip down until they fit in our life, I might more willingly invite them into my home.
Because at their best, big ideas invite us to move beyond our limitations, learn from amazing mentors, and hope that we can grow and better ourselves.
It’s not in perfectly executing big ideas that they empower us. It’s when we embrace them bravely, and make them ours.
Are you afraid of Big Ideas too? How do you overcome that fear?