Jon used to do this thing where he and I would be together in the bathroom, brushing our teeth. It would be morning. Like early, early morning. I would barely be awake, trying to accomplish minimal grooming rituals, before stumbling into the kitchen for coffee and Jesus Time.
But Jon. Jon would be wide awake. His eyes, bright. His mind, alert. And he’d want to talk about the budget. As in, math with large numbers. I’m talking details of the freaking long-term investments. At o’ dark-thirty.
You guys, discussing investments at that hour is akin to screaming profanities at me. Maybe worse. It hurts my head and my heart. It makes me want to punch things.
The best I could do under those impossible circumstances was shoot him a look that said, “Are you kidding me?!?” and exit the bathroom, before I opened my mouth. Or hurt him.
Later in the day, he would try again. Maybe he’d get a minute between meetings and call me at home. I, of course, would be in the midst of a kid issue or in the middle of a workout, or in the shower, or in the line at the grocery store or any number of important things stay-at-home moms do.
So, I’d call him back when it was good for me. He, of course, would be in a meeting, or negotiating a contract, or rounding the hospital, or any number of important things hospital presidents do.
Then, he’d try to call during his 30-minute commute home from work. But, I, of course, would be smack-dab in the middle of the Bewitching Hour, overseeing homework and meltdowns and hungry children, while simultaneously trying to cook dinner.
After a full 12 hours away from each other, he would walk through the door, where I would
greet him assault him with “This one is still getting a D in math, and the school called again, and we need to transfer some money into the checking account because I needed to make a payment on the upcoming D.C. trip, and we have a conflict for Friday night and I can’t handle this kid’s meltdown and we need to discuss vacation because OH MY GOSH I HAVE TO GET AWAY FROM THIS WEATHER.”
Then, it would be Jon’s turn to shoot me the “Are you kidding me?!?” look.
We might give it one last shot at bedtime. But this never went well. I have precisely a 30-second window from the time Jon’s head hits the pillow until he begins snoring. This is not enough time to discuss investments.
Once or twice a month we have date night. We love date night. And while we have never completely avoided talking about the kids or the budget on date night, it’s not our favorite thing to do either. I mean, as a woman, I don’t want to compete with our mutual funds for my man’s attention.
So, after nearly 20 years of this mayhem, we invented a whole new thing we call The State of the Union Meeting.
Here’s how it works:
A few times a month, usually on a Sunday afternoon, after church and lunch, we drop off our kids at home and head out to a coffee shop for the expressed purpose of discussing our family business. This isn’t a date, so I don’t have any romantic expectations. We carve out an hour or two, so we are not rushed. We’re caffeinated and it’s midday, so we are highly alert. We’ve spent the morning in church, so Jesus is with us.
We sit down with our coffee, face-to-face, and go right down the list of things we need to discuss.
We talk about each kid, where they are and where we want them to go. We develop a plan—spend more time with this one, crack down on the discipline with that one, encourage the other one.
We talk about the budget. We discuss where we need to cut back, and we plan for upcoming purchases and vacations. I let Jon talk about all about the investments.
We talk a little about us–where we are as a couple, what’s going well and what we should work on. If we have extra time, Jon might talk about work and I might talk about writing and ministry. But mostly we focus on our family unit and all the things that directly affect it.
Sometimes I take notes—like I’m really in a business meeting. Sometimes, we also eat muffins.
We don’t always plan The State of the Union in advance. Yesterday, for example, I was sitting in church thinking about All The Stuff, and I started to feel overwhelmed. I leaned over to Jon and asked if we could do a State of the Union that afternoon. He said yes, before football. Because: priorities.
So, it happened.
In yesterday’s meeting, we began by discussing our annual goals we had previously set for our family. We’re trying to focus on one thing each month with the kids. In January our emphasis has been “Speak Life.”
(This is because our kids are fluent in sarcasm— I have no idea where they get this —and, also, immaturity. Therefore, the tone in our home is often mean-spirited and degrading, like one of those stupid Disney sit-coms, but without the canned laughter.)
So, we talked about Operation Speak Life and things we’ve done to implement it, thus far. We talked about how we’ve made progress this month and how we want to continue our efforts, because this is something we should do always, lest we die. We talked about next month’s focus, which is Operation Clean Up Your Own Crap. I told him about a new chore chart I want to try (this will be about the 20th system we’ve sampled, yet, still, I somehow end up doing 99% of the housework). And, we discussed how Jon and Sandy were perfect children and never let mold grow in cups in their rooms when they were young.
Then we talked about how Rebekah will be 17-years-old soon, so we are going to develop a time-line for what needs to happen between now and college, including budgets and scholarships and college visits and probably a part-time job.
For Elijah, we talked about how his current school is not a good fit, and how we need to start the search for a new one. We talked about his emotional needs, his academic progress, and his friendships.
For Elliana, we talked about how she loves her new tumbling class and we want to also start her in piano lessons. We agreed that she’s in the easiest stage of child-rearing (those tender years between wiping her bottom and her storming out of the room screaming “I HATE YOU”). We rejoiced in this season, because we know it withers away, like grass in the hot summer sun. I think that’s a scripture.
And we agreed a beach vacation is in order this summer, because we love the beach and the beach loves us back.
And finally, we discussed the budget. I didn’t want to punch him or anything. Because I adore my husband always, but even more so when I’m full of coffee and Jesus, on a Sunday afternoon, away from home.
We’ve been doing State of the Union Meetings for a few years now, and it just hit me yesterday—this idea totally ROCKS. It really does. It works for Jon because it’s a meeting with a clear agenda, with a beginning and an end, and we move quickly through each item.
It works for me because I’m out of the house drinking coffee on a Sunday afternoon with my husband, and I have his full attention.
We both leave feeling like we have some direction and we are on the same page. And in a weird way, it facilitates intimacy between us.
Maybe you’ve already figured out a good time to discuss your family business with your spouse. If so, carry on. But after 22 years of marriage, I feel like we’ve finally figured it out a system that works for us during the child-rearing years.
Some day, when the kids are grown and gone, Jon will come home from work and we will be able to debrief over a quiet dinner. Until then, we’ll hammer it out over coffee and muffins in our State of the Union Meeting.