Life has changed a lot in my house in the past year, that’s for sure. After having our first baby in February, I decided to take a break from the workforce to concentrate on continuing my education – and my husband decided to join in on the fun and go back to night school, also.. So instead of long nights at the office or fun weekends away like we did during the first three years of our marriage, our day to day routine revolves around our son and his needs. Baby, school, and home – and trying to manage it all on one income, instead of two – requires a lot of coordination. So we instituted the idea of a weekly family meeting.
The Family Meeting is run by me, the President and CEO of Ferguson Enterprises, with the CFO (my husband) and our Non Voting Shareholder (our son) in attendance. We plug through the meeting’s lengthy agenda, discussing finances, schedules, and family priorities. The meetings take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours – and by the end of them, we often found ourselves exhausted and frazzled. After all, who wants to spend precious free time talking about money (we don’t have enough) and schedules (we have too much on them). The early family meetings often created a tense atmosphere by the end of them, such that Ferguson Enterprises was on a solid footing but the workplace environment was a little rough. It was a little heartbreaking, but I couldn’t figure out what to do about it.
Then, one day, I was doing dishes – which is the new mom equivalent of being in the shower when it comes to sudden epiphanies.— and I had a thought!
“I have a great idea for our next family meeting,” I said to my husband. “Why don’t we have the last agenda item be something called A Compliment and A Gripe? I say a Compliment and a Gripe about you, and you say one about me?”
My poor husband laughed, because (1) he does not think I react well to criticism, to which I say, what the hell is he talking about?!?! (2) he figured I had a nice little list of gripes to dish out to him.
But we knew it was a great concept and so at the next family meeting we gave it a try. And instead of ending the meeting skulking off to our respective corners of the house, trying to regroup from a depressing activity – we ended the meeting laughing and eating lunch together!
The Compliment and Gripe Time is a safe space. No Gripe is off limits; No Compliment is too small or silly. It gives my husband
and me a chance to unload things off our chest in an appropriate setting – which I will tell you is half the battle when it comes to “fighting fair”, and I think “fighting fair” is the difference between going the distance as a married couple or not. It also gives us a chance to acknowledge what the other is doing right – and at a time in our marriage when we might spend a whole day communicating in grunts while passing a baby back and forth, the chance to give kudos and thanks is absolutely key.
Our next family meeting is tomorrow and I can’t wait for Compliment and Gripe Time – I guarantee we’ll come away laughing and smiling. And when Mom and Dad are laughing and smiling, the Non Voting Shareholder tends to be pretty pleased as well.