Living Your Own Life Agenda: Family
This is the second blog in a series aimed to help you develop a stronger life agenda. We will use the domains defined in the life wheel. Each blog in the series will focus on one domain with prompts and exercises to help you learn more about shaping your agenda for that domain.
"There’s nothing that makes you more insane than family. Or more happy. Or more exasperated. Or more…secure. "
– Jim Butcher
The first domain of the life wheel—family relationships—can have a profound impact on our life agenda. Whether it’s the family you are born into or your chosen family, maintaining strong connections to your closest relationships is critical to well-being. These relationships can be the most challenging and exhilarating. Families provide meaning and purpose for the life we want to live.
Making Family a Priority
Inevitably, all committed partnerships experience competing priorities. We can find ourselves falling short with the people most important to us. For example, with parents and their children, there is always something to feel guilty about; something that is not being done right. The life wheel helps us replace guilt with intention.
It’s easy to say that we want to be a good partner, spouse, parent, sibling, or child. But how will we meet the real needs of our families? Being more intentional with our family relationships can help us meet their needs better.
Conducting a needs assessment and analyzing the data is common in many professions. To support team members at work, we identify pain points and take steps to improve processes. Even if these actions might be useful in the family environment, it can be harder to apply them.
I constantly struggle with prioritizing family time. At the beginning of the year, I decided to ask each person in my family, “What do you need from me this year?” The answers varied.
My 20-year-old said he wanted me to meet him for lunch on Saturdays during his break at work. My 16-year-old said not to take things personally and listen without being reactive. Less specific but also helpful. My 8-year-old, without hesitation, said to put away my phone and play with her. She also added, “and don’t be snotty!” I’m still processing that last part. My spouse said, “I’m tired of being a cruise director for our family trips. Can you take over more of the planning this year?”
Asking one simple question revealed a lot about how I can show up for each person in my family. And their requests are doable.
Operationalize the Feedback
The next step is to apply the feedback. In my case, I wrote down a goal for each person using the smart goal framework:
- Have lunch with my son on Saturdays during his work break.
- Take time to play with my 8-year-old each day for at least 15 minutes without the phone—while trying not to be snotty.
- Listen to my teenager in a curious, non-reactive way for at least 15 minutes every day.
- Be the “cruise director” for two family trips this year.
I added these things to my calendar where possible. Then I took it a step further. To keep my goals top of mind, I added an album to my phone with pictures of the goals I wrote down and a photo of my family. I committed to look at the album and review the goals every morning before starting my day.
I also followed James Clear’s advice in Atomic Habits and added a habit tracker on a Google sheet to track completion of these goals with a simple “yes” or “no” for each goal.
Intentional and Incremental
So far, taking these steps with my own family has resulted in positive, achievable progress. Lunch with my son has opened up more conversations we otherwise would not have. Unplugging and playing with my 8-year-old is an exercise in training my mind to be more present in the moment (last week we made volcanoes). Tuning into my teen with curiosity hasn’t been groundbreaking but has led to a little more connection. Planning our spring break trip required pivoting to a staycation after a missed flight. However, we had a good time and I had plenty of time to plan (and replan) our next family adventure.
The process can be messy and improvements more incremental than immediate. But finding a way to prioritize these needs is strengthening the connection to my family. And I feel less stress and guilt.
Find time to prioritize the people who matter most to you. Ask them what they need, write down “doable” smart goals, and review/track them daily/weekly. This is one way to live your life agenda with your family with more intention.
Next time, we’ll explore the career domain of the life wheel. How can you find the most joy and satisfaction in your career? We’ll share some ideas for setting your career agenda.
Other Blogs in this Series:
Tom Hurtado, EdD
Tom Hurtado is the Senior Director of Student Affairs and Professional Development at the University of Utah Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine. Hurtado helped to develop RealMD, a ground-breaking professional identity development program for medical students. He also hosts the RealMD podcast for students, faculty, and staff to talk about meaning and purpose. Hurtado received a doctoral degree in Organizational Change and Leadership at the University of Southern California.