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?
Hooray for writing that articulates something true-but-unrecognized happening in my own life!
I love Charlotte Mason, unschooling, discipling my kids, and I implement all these (and everything else) so imperfectly (my perspective). I love the idea that we are “humanizing” them, adjusting them to the realities of our own particular families. Jesus said that the Sabbath (a day of rest, for goodness’ sake) was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, and if that’s true for the Sabbath, how much more so for the Big Ideas that guide the rest of our time? Thank you for this much-needed corrective to life-killing perfectionism!
Heather, thank you! This post was unexpected and so very encouraging. Knocked me right in between the eyes and gave me a lot to “chew” on. Had no inkling, but I AM TOTALLY AFRAID OF BIG IDEAS (and boy would this apply in other areas as well)! Thanks so much!
Thanks, Amy! I’m SO GLAD to know I’m not alone 🙂
Heather Caliri’s latest post: The Problem with Big Ideas for Simple Homeschool
“if that’s true for the Sabbath, how much more so for the Big Ideas that guide the rest of our time? YES. And for me, humanizing how I spend time with my kids, learning to relax has bled into my faith, and my work, and my relationships. It is a much easier yoke than scrambling after perfect execution 🙂
Heather Caliri’s latest post: The Gospel According to Nine Inch Nails
This is the best “homeschool” article I’ve read in a long time (because, really, it could apply to any kind of life). I am a Big Ideas person, hopelessly idealistic and determined to make things work. And then, they kind-of do, kind-of don’t, and I’m left disillusioned and unhappy. Which makes my kids unhappy. And my husband. But reconciling myself to the reality that Big Ideas must conform, somewhat, anyway, to my actual life, my actual family, is freeing. Thanks for the reminder.
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This was just what I needed to read. I often stay stuck because I don’t want to fail. Thanks for the encouragement to give it a try anyways!
Glad to know that I am not the only one paralyzed by fear/failure when it comes to these ‘big ideas’. I definitely need to pat myself on the back for effort rather than execution!
This post is SO timely! We literally just kicked off our family meetings yesterday :). I am dying on the inside because it went a little like your subsequent meetings sounded – ha.
I, too, fear big ideas. They start off big – which is bad enough – but the more I work up the idea, the more inflated and …err…unattainable …it becomes. By the time I actually pitch it to my husband (who does not speak my “big idea” language at all!) I’m so worked up myself and determined to make it work that it becomes more about the idea (checking off the list) than the purpose (relationships). Ugh!
You are so right that the only way to execute these marvelous ideas is to make them ours. I’ve got two kids on the spectrum, one that bounces off walls, and a near-two-year-old…big ideas tend to need much whittling before they become realistic in our home.
Pinning this for others to enjoy – thanks for bringing to light a way to face the fears that big ideas can bring!
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How do I overcome my fear of Big Ideas? I don’t. I love you, Heather! Thanks for your perspective.
From an aspiring novelist and mother of five trembling before all the wonderful Big Ideas