Life is always interesting, that’s for sure! We think we have one thing figured out for our family, and then something else pops up that requires us to make another decision. For the most part, decision making as a family can be simple: what to have for breakfast, what to wear for the day, who can take out the trash.
But what do we do when life calls for a decision to be made that might have a bigger impact? How do we weigh all of the options and know we are making the right choice for everyone in our family? Decisions such as moving to a different house or different state, changing jobs, getting a pet, changing schools, deciding to home school, just to name a few. When something has the potential to impact mom, dad, and all the kids on a bigger scale, it feels like more weight should be put on the topic, but how exactly do we do that?
Here at Families of Character, we often talk about the family huddle. If you are not yet familiar with the idea, it’s where the entire family gathers on a Sunday to talk about the upcoming week, review the calendar, and discuss things that people in the family may be thinking and feeling. WIth family life being so fast-paced these days, it’s a great way to commit to spending intentional time with each other and be together in one common space. Family huddles can often happen at dinner around the kitchen table. If a family is already in the practice of doing a regular weekly huddle, it sets the stage for starting a conversation about the family making a big decision. Since everyone in the family is in the habit of gathering together on Sunday nights, no one is surprised when mom or dad introduces a new topic of conversation - like a big decision on the horizon.
There is one character strength that can really help alongside the family huddle. The character strength of Assertiveness plays a significant role in helping families make decisions. Assertiveness is communicating in a direct and respectful manner and being clear in what we are asking for. Assertiveness has 3 vices: passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive. By being communicating assertively when making decisions, and not falling into any of the three vices, everyone in the family has a chance of feeling heard and validated; creating healthy relationships for the long run.
Here are 5 tips for making a big decision with your family, using Assertive Communication:
1. The first step is to be open and talk it over with your spouse. There is nothing like being in a conversation with multiple people, and out of left field you hear something from your spouse that you are not united about. Even if you do not agree on the situation, like getting a dog for example, at least have a conversation with your spouse so that when you talk it over with the kids you know where both of you stand, going in.
2. Have a time where everyone can have a conversation together and include the kids. Whether it’s a Sunday family huddle or a car ride to dinner, talking about it as a family teaches your kids how to dialogue about bigger issues. Allowing kids in on the decision-making process teaches them how to be discerning about something, and how to communicate their feelings to loved ones. Ask them open-ended questions to find out how they are thinking and feeling.
3. While dialoguing as a family, engage everyone in a pros and cons list. Explain that everything has a benefit and a risk, and making a list together helps everyone to better understand what those are and how they can impact your family. Make it fun and write them down.
4. Once all the pros and cons are stated, and people have expressed how they each feel about the topic, sit in it for a week or so. Let it marinate for a bit. Do regular life while thinking about how that big decision can be inserted into each daily action. Giving it time while doing regular life can help bring clarity and can also help add things to the pros and cons list as the week goes on. It also gives you or your spouse time to seek counsel from a mentor or someone you trust, who might be able to provide insight that your family has not thought about.
5. Once you all communicate how you feel and it comes time to make a decision, make sure that whatever decision you make you are all in on it--even if the decision is putting off moving forward for a certain amount of time. 6 months down the road it is not healthy for someone to blurt out, “well, if you would have listened to me about this, we wouldn’t be in this situation.” This is an example of being passive-aggressive, and no one walks away feeling good about that situation.
Before my husband and I settled in the house we’ve been in for the past 12 years, we had to discern what part of Denver we were going to move to. He worked north, my family was south, and we were looking at west Denver. The problem was that the housing market was not great, and the inventory was low. There were not many options on the west side of Denver for us, so we had to have a hard conversation about what other areas of Denver we would consider, and we had to decide fast because we were on a deadline.
At the time, it was just my husband and myself making the decision because our oldest was only a year old. But we had a lot to consider: school districts, proximity to extended family, and commute time to work were just a few. We discussed all the pros and cons, and ultimately a trusted friend said to us: “5 years goes fast, and in 5 years your baby will be in school.” The likelihood of us moving again in 5 years was not good. She pointed out how fast time flies and in that time frame we would probably have more kids. This gave us perspective and gave us something more to discuss and to take into account.
We then decided to move south because of school districts and close proximity to extended family. And she was right!!! 5 years did go very fast! We appreciated her assertiveness in giving us insight that we did not have due to lack of experience, and we took her example and were able to be assertive with each other to make the decision on where to move. It ended up being a positive experience for us.
How can you be more assertive with those you love? Are there areas where you want to bring something up with your spouse but don’t, because of a passive nature or because of fear of conflict? Maybe you’re like the rest of us and are struggling with a big decision your family is facing and could use the 5 steps mentioned above to help the family move forward in making a decision.
We’re behind you every step of the way! Your family matters. Working to develop character strengths such as Assertiveness is what strengthens and nurtures the bonds of families. For more information on how you and your family can become more united in character development, check out our Thrive Purpose Journal!