Control the Chaos: Streamline Your Family’s Communication

Earlier this year, I hit my limit. I couldn’t go on any longer. I was done … forwarding emails to my husband, receiving emails from my husband, and asking/answering the question, “What do we have going on next ___?” several times a week.

Let’s rewind a bit. I grew up in a household of five children (all girls, I might add), which made managing our family’s schedule interesting, to say the least. To control the chaos as best they could, my parents adopted a laser-focused mantra: “If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening.” That was their line in the sand. Cross it and your social events would magically disappear.

Our large family calendar hung next to the fridge for as long as I can remember. What amazes me is how the calendar stayed on the wall. My mom didn’t bring it with her whenever she left the house. My dad didn’t have it for easy reference on his office computer. We couldn’t access it with the swipe of a finger. Even without that level of convenience, our house ran pretty smoothly. How my parents kept up with all of us is beyond me.

Honestly? There are days when I can’t remember where I’m taking the kids or even where I’m supposed to be without checking my phone multiple times – I call those days Monday.

Along with our calendar, my family had a designated spot for the mail: a basket by the front door that rested on top of our library book shelf. Important or time-sensitive pieces of mail (invitations, report cards, bills, permission slips, etc.) were displayed on the wall, held by a monarch butterfly clip, signaling the envelope needed to be read by both of my parents. “It’s under the butterfly,” was a common refrain in our house. Despite the archaic feel of it all, the systems worked and allowed for little confusion and less stress.

This spring, I found myself in communication overload. Emails from our son’s school and school district, from our daughter’s Mother’s Day Out, from our kids’ swim school, from our bank, from our kids’ music program, from our church, and fifteen other places I’m forgetting. Emails my husband and I would forward to each other without much (if any) discussion. Those emails combined with the constant “what do we have going on?” conversation – which is only slightly better than the “what are we having for dinner?” conversation – had me at my breaking point.

After I almost forgot to take our son to a much needed haircut (he reminded me right when we pulled into our neighborhood), I found myself longing for the days of paper calendars and snail mail. A world where my husband and I could spend less time relaying information to one another and more time actually communicating.

Well, one night in March, I had an epiphany: a family email address, complete with a shared calendar. Streamlined, organized, centralized. Gotta love that late night insight. I usually get my best ideas around 11PM, don’t you?

Our family email now receives all messages pertaining to our children, our bills, our bank, our city parks and rec (all those activity sign-ups!), our healthcare providers, church, and … our Amazon account. Basically, any message that impacts our family’s schedule or spending comes directly to both of our phones, no forwarding required.

So far, I’ve only found one drawback and one unintended consequence. When one of us reads a message, it won’t automatically show up as “unread” for the other to see. Solution: re-label it “unread” and move on. The night our family email was born, I was too busy patting myself on the back to realize that my husband would be able to see all of my Amazon orders the moment I place them. Silver-lining: we’ve (read: I’ve) become more budget conscious.

As for calendars, we actually share two – one where we put events pertaining to us as individuals or as a couple that occur outside the work/school day, and another solely devoted to our kids’ schedules that’s linked to our family email account. I color code for easy glancing: ours is purple, the kids’ is green. I even have a third calendar for my own appointments and events that occur during the work/school day – it’s blue, in case you were wondering.

The transition was a bit bumpy since it required making some new habits, but I can confidently say after four months that it’s been a game changer. Instead of passively passing emails back and forth, we actually talk about what they say. And, we have fewer miscommunications about who is picking up the kids when and less frustration with scheduling conflicts because, as Mom and Dad used to say, “If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening,” which is a phrase we will gladly pass on to our own kids.

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Claire made her way to Kansas City after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she met her husband Scott (a KC native and Mizzou grad). Both are high school educators; she teaches English while he often schools her in history. They live in Olathe with their two small children -- Evan 5 & Abbie 3. Claire regularly spends time advocating for early childhood education/intervention and is always looking for ways to become more civically engaged. She loves cheering on the Huskers and the Royals, date nights, reading five books at once, writing, contemplating the deeper issues of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, and listening to her kids giggle together. Catch some of those giggles on Instagram @clairebear_kc.

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