We always say “the more the merrier,” and while that’s true, sometimes it means more chaos when you add the other elements of family life, such as careers, kids' school and extra-curricular activities, relationships with in-laws, home management, date nights, and so on. There's a lot of multi-tasking, and, as we all know, it can be stressful. How do you maintain calm and keep everyone happy the family? The secret, according to Bruce Feiler, author of The Secrets of Happy Families, is to look at it like you're running a small business.
In his book, Feiler says his family embraces an "agile development" approach, a method used by software developers. Instead of ideas and orders coming solely from top managers, a group manages itself and works in small spans of time so people can get quick feedback and respond to changes.
Agile development in families begins with a meeting--short, about 20 minutes every week or so. Think of it as a "how was your day" conversation and answer with these questions: What was the best part of last week? What issues contributed to disagreements and arguments? Then the whole family discusses and agrees on what the group can improve or address the following week.
Feiler swears by its effectiveness after only three years of having an agile family programming in place. He notes there was better communication, decreased stress, and everybody is happier to be part of the team. “My wife counts them among her most treasured moments as a mom,” he says.
Feiler, who is a dad to twin girls, broke down the three key pillars for an agile family programming to transform your family dynamics from chaos to calm.
1. Adapt all the time. "What's great about the agile system is you build in a system of change so that you can react to what's happening to you in real time," Feiler said. If one technique is not working for your family, change it up! For example, if family dinner does not work for your family, why not a family breakfast insead?
Feiler says it’s important to “break parents out of this straitjacket that the only ideas we can try at home are ones that come from shrinks or self-help gurus or other family experts." Nobody knows your family better than its members, so don't discredit ideas and solutions that come from within -- yes, even from your kids! You'll be surprised as to what you can nitpick from their brains. "Be flexible, be open-minded, let the best ideas win," Feiler said.
2. Let your kids help you raise them right. You’re probably thinking it’s easier for you to set the rules (and you are the parent!). But Feiler says that involving the young ones in establishing rules at home will be good for the whole family--and it will still keep your parental authority intact.
In fact, letting the kids have a say on the punishment they'll get if they break a certain rule is training them to be independent. Yes, teach them the right skills and attitude, but then we also must learn how to let go, to take a step back, and let them learn to navigate life on their own. "The point is, we have to let our children succeed on their own terms, and yes, on occasion, fail on their own terms," Feiler said.
3. Tell your story. Share your roots with the kids. Feiler cites a study that found the children who have a sense that they're part of a larger narrative have greater self-confidence. “Spend time retelling the story of your family's positive moments and how you overcame the negative ones. If you give children this happy narrative, you give them the tools to make themselves happier," Feiler suggests.
While it’s vital to be able to flexible and to adapt to the changing times, it's also as crucial to stick to your family’s core values. Feiler stressed, "Research shows that parents should spend less time worrying about what they do wrong and more time focusing on what they do right, worry less about the bad times, and build up the good times. This family mission statement is a great way to identify what it is that you do right.”
Throughout his research, Feiler ultimately believes that happiness is not something you find. First, you have to decide to be happy, and then try to work way towards bliss. "You don't need some grand plan. You don't need a waterfall. You just need to take small steps, accumulate small wins, keep reaching for that green stick," Feiler said.
Instead of profit, however, your ultimate goal is happiness--living comfortably, less stress, and having the best relationship you can have with your spouse and your kids.
You can watch the full video of Bruce Feiler's TEDTalk "Agile programming -- For Your Family" here.