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Family life will never be easy. But it is possible to make it easier than it should be. I have read a bunch of articles on how to make life at home less grueling. They were insightful and well-written. My only sentiment, however, is all of them were from a mother’s point of view. I have nothing against you mommies, I love you and have learned so much from you all. It would just be nice to get some insights from the dads as well.
Nonetheless, that is what compelled me to write this post. I intend to contribute to the conversation through the lenses of a father. Read on to learn the strategies I use to make my family life easier.
1. Decide in advance
Pre-deciding will make your family life flow smoothly. It is a practice of setting up the ground rules or principles — so you do not have to actively decide every time. It lessens decision fatigue, and concurrently, allows everyone in the family to be on the same page. Deciding in advance will make every member capable of making sound choices that are beneficial to all. Below is a list of examples of how we pre-decide as a family:
- Define family priorities.
It’s Sunday, where should you go first?
a.) to church
b.) to parent’s house
c.) to the shopping mall
Believe it or not, simple questions like this can spark conflicts among family members. Defining your family’s priority is the most vital element in pre-decision. We are humans. Our time is limited, and we cannot be in multiple places at once. Clarifying what is important — and determining their order — will give us better control over our commitments.
As for me and my wife, here is the order of priorities we have agreed upon:
#1: Faith in God.
#2: Relationships with family and friends.
#3: Keeping ourselves healthy.
#4: Personal growth and development.
#5: Work and volunteer activities.
Because we have already established these priorities, my wife and I will more or less have the same answer to the question above, even if we did not talk about it. It was already pre-decided that we would go to church first, then have lunch with our parents, and go to the mall to enjoy some family time afterwards.
- Keep a family calendar.
One of our family principles is to let your yes be “yes,” and your no be “no.” We seldom say “maybe” or “we’ll see” whenever we received an invitation. We do this for two reasons. First, it is a sign of respect. We do not want to leave any person hanging. Second, making a decision right there and then saves us time and declutters our schedule. I personally cannot relate to those people who delight in being followed up over and over again.
We, in general, only say yes to our priorities, and when the schedule is free. Lalaine and I manage our family calendar religiously. We have set up a Google Calendar where we can get a bird’s eye view of each other’s agendas. This discipline helps pre-decide when to say yes and when to say no. As a result, many conflicts between us have been prevented.
- Discuss what-if scenarios.
My wife is a member of several mommy groups on Facebook. She has a habit of sharing with me the family issues she frequently reads on her news feed. These small talks eventually grew and became a regular brainstorming session with her. It is now a significant part of our marriage where we discuss matters and come up with a battle plan as if we were in a similar situation. This allows us to challenge each other’s thoughts and have a more synchronized approach to family life.
One of the concerns we tackled recently was about mother-in-law (MIL) relationships. Apparently, many wives feel like they are competing with their MIL for their husband’s love and attention; that they give more priority to their moms over their wives. Thankfully, we do not have this kind of issue in our marriage. But discussing what-if scenarios spurs us out of complacency, and pre-decide on solutions to impede such concerns.
To avoid this type of conflict, Lalaine and I agreed on the following order of relationship within our family:
The spouse always comes first.
other relatives fifth;
and friends will, in general, have the least priority.
So, if I was put in a situation where I had to choose between my wife and my mom (or even my children), I would always choose my wife. I have already informed everyone in our family about this pre-decision, thus no one takes offense when they have the lesser priority. I also expect them to do the same to me. This structure will, of course, change in case of emergencies.
2. Train your children
Family life will be a hundred times more challenging when you become a parent. But this is especially true when you try to do everything for your children. I do not mean to sound disrespectful, but many parents nowadays treat their kids as pets rather than apprentices. I don’t know what your parenting style is, but if you want to have an easier family life, start training your children to be independent. Besides, being the life coach of our kids is one of our responsibilities as fathers. See the 10 responsibilities of a father I learned in training here.
- Teach children to take care of themselves.
I cringed when I saw a five-year-old getting his teeth brushed by his mom while playing video games on one of our outings. A fifteen-year-old having his nails clipped by his dad. An eighteen-year-old who needed help from someone to slice his steak. A twenty-nine-year-old who didn’t know how to peel boiled eggs (true story).
As a parent, I can relate. There are legitimate reasons why we spoon-feed our children:
— for things to get done quicker
— to avoid the mess
— to remove the risk of them getting hurt.
But for how long should we do all these things for them? Ironically, too much service will do us and our kids a disservice. They will grow up overly dependent, which would stunt their confidence in doing matters on their own. It is no wonder many parents are so burned out today. Rather than always covering up for them, let us teach them how to be self-sustaining instead. We will not always be around for our kids. But knowing they are capable of taking care of themselves will give us peace of mind.
- Develop their sense of responsibility.
One of the ways we train our children, which has improved our family life, is through taking responsibility. We constantly remind them that it is okay to mess up, as long as you clean them up. When they spill their milk, instead of getting mad, we simply tell them to get the towel and wipe it dry. When they clutter their room with toys, we just tell them to pack up after they are done playing.
My kids are four and two years old (as of this writing). I don’t expect them to be exceptional at taking responsibility yet. The way they tidy up is, of course, mediocre. But since they have experienced the consequences of their actions, they have become more careful about creating disasters. Essentially, aside from being able to instill good values, this practice also saved us a considerable amount of time and energy on keeping up with their mess. Not to mention, the heartaches and headaches of having a chaotic house.
3. Learn to use technology effectively
We haven’t hired a house helper ever since Lalaine and I moved out of our parent’s house — see our story on leave and cleave here. Though we occasionally pay someone to clean our home for half a day, we have never employed anyone long term. Our objective was to develop our husband-and-wife tandem. But the more compelling reason is that we do not want to get caught up with the personal issues most house helpers have. It is a mess we by no means wish to be part of. Therefore, where we have put our money instead is in technology.
- Set and forget.
Set-and-forget is a term used for devices that can be configured to operate on their own. My wife and I are chumps for these types of machines because they make our family life incredibly easier. We will spend about fifteen minutes setting them up, and then come back when the job is done. In a sense, we can cook, do the laundry, wash the dishes and feed the cats all at the same time while writing this blog post or homeschooling the kids.
Here are the set-and-forget appliances we currently own:
— Air fryer
— Pressure cooker
— Washing machine
— Coffee maker
— UV sterilizer and disinfection system
— Automatic pet feeder
— Smart plugs (to program our appliance’s operating schedule, and make them accessible via internet.)
Set-and-forget is also a strategy I apply in my business. I use tools such as Social Champ and SendFox to automate my social media postings and email newsletters.
4. Embrace the mess
Who likes mess? Not me for sure. But that is an understatement. Seeing our house in disarray is actually one of my trigger points. It’s what initially made me regret having children. It’s what I hate about parenting (see story here). It’s what my wife and I fight about most of the time. Our family life only began to get better when I learned to embrace the mess. I have acknowledged it as a cost of having children; that it is only a phase me and my wife have to go through.
- Practice wu wei and wabi-sabi.
Wu wei is a Chinese word for the art of non-action. It is a discipline where you intentionally go with the flow rather than swimming against it. Wabi-sabi, on the other hand, is a Japanese philosophy of seeing beauty in imperfection. It is the perspective of accepting and appreciating the flow instead of complaining about it. Combining these two principles is pretty powerful. It enabled me to experience peace, joy, and contentment amidst the turmoil.
I always have the urge to fix things when something is not right. Thus, I am compelled to tidy up whenever I see any clutter — and will not stop until it is perfectly clean. This drive, more often than not, brews conflict in our house, especially when I am already tired at night. “After working all day, you expect me to clean all this mess?!” Wu wei tells me I don’t have to. While wabi-sabi encourages me to enjoy this moment of imperfection.
So does that mean I no longer clean the house? Absolutely not! But I only do it for about ten to fifteen minutes each morning. I simply cover what I can during the allotted time and be at peace with whatever I cannot throughout the day. I am starting to get the hang of it. Who knows, maybe when the kids are all grown up I’ll miss the feel of a messy apartment.
- Set up a mess box.
Another strategy to keep our home a bit tidy without giving too much effort is by setting up a mess box (or corner). It is a place where we can just dump everything there, and organize when we have the time. Determining a mess area is a quick way to declutter the place. It will also make stuff easier to find. If my kids look for their toys, or my wife for her charger, I simply tell them to check the mess box.
Keeping up with stuff can make or break your family life. The size of your house. The number of cars you have. The pieces of clothing in your closet. The more possessions you own, the more time, money, and energy you need to maintain them. If you want to have an easier family life, you should simplify your lifestyle by minding the belongings you invite to your home.
One of the verses in the Scripture we live by is found in Ecclesiastes 4:6. It says, “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” It has been our practice to focus more on elimination than accumulation. In terms of clothing, for example, I have set for myself a maximum of ten tops and ten bottoms. Anything more will be put in our donation box. It is also the same approach with food. Whatever does not fit in our fridge should be eaten or given away.
- Live within your means.
Another way to simplify your life is to pay only in cash. Paying in cash, sort of, guarantees you are only spending what you have. You can also use a debit card if you prefer, since it also settles payments like cash. But avoid credit cards or acquiring loans at all costs — if you are unsure how to use them. One sure-fire way to mess up your family life is by getting into unnecessary debts. Debts can lead you and your family to different levels of physical, mental, emotional, and relational strains. See how we conquered our debt problems here.
6. Synergize work and family life
Work-life balance is a myth. It’s like searching for seven orbs, so you can summon a dragon who can magically give you an awesome family life. But even if you did find the mythical creature, it would require great effort to keep it. You will continuously feel the tension between work life and family life — which could one day rip you apart. It is like being in a tug-o-war, where you are the rope.
Work and family life can be so much fun when you synergize them instead. Synergy means to combine or operate together. It is like being married. Like hitting two birds with one stone, or blending milk and strawberries together to make a delicious smoothie.
- Work at home.
Unless you work at home (or bring your family to work) I am not sure of other ways to synergize your professional and personal life. Lalaine and I had planned this set up long before we decided to have children. Of course, there is a cost for working at home (story here), but it is a cost we are willing to pay to be more present in our children’s lives.
Here are some ideas to make money at home:
— Start an e-commerce business. (Check out SpreadSimple)
— Host your unused spaces on Airbnb.
— Be a content creator. (Check out Income School)
I run a blog and an e-commerce site. One way we bond as a family is I would bring everyone with me whenever I deliver to clients. After I finished working, we would go to the nearest mall and spend the rest of the day there. It is one of the priceless benefits of being able to synergize home and work life. See also: How much do stay-at-home dads make? — My Actual Numbers
This is the area where we will wait and see. Based on my research, homeschooling isn’t for everyone. It will greatly depend on what the child needs, and the capacity of the parents to teach. It has been a year since our eldest started homeschool — so far so good. Kudos to my wife for doing a great job. We hope and pray this continues. If not, then we have no issues enrolling them in traditional schools. Giving what is best to my kids trumps work-life synergy.
If you are interested in providing your kids with a strong learning foundation at home, New Sphere is a platform I personally recommend. New Sphere is an online pre-school for children ages 2 -6 years old. It brings interactive, live sessions (via Zoom) to little ones at home, 5 days a week. The programs are designed for kids at home with their work from home or stay-at-home guardians. Each session is 45-50 minutes long with the same teacher and some group of students every day. Click the banner below to get your 1-week free trial. Also, use the code: “thelearningdadblog” to get a 20% discount on your first month.
7. Mind your relationships
I wish I could extend this post further. I still have a lot to give you. But I would also like to respect your time. So here is the final and most crucial tip before I close: mind your relationships. Rifts in relationships are generally the ones that make family life difficult. It can stem from mistrust, baggage from the past, or other toxic relationships we are in.
- Forgive and repent.
We are all flawed people. Yet when it comes to forgiving and asking for forgiveness, we act as if we are impeccable. That is why “I am sorry” and “I forgive you” are among the hardest words to say. Forgiveness and repentance are muscles we should train if we desire to have healthy relationships. No matter what we do, we will offend or get offended by the people we love. Keeping records of each other’s mistakes will only make our family life messy. Try forgiving someone today and see how it transforms your relationships.
- Choose whom your family associates with.
My wife and I do not shy away from cutting off unhealthy relationships. Pruning toxic people and creating healthy boundaries within our circle is a practice we do regularly. We take inventory and invest in relationships that will help our family mature. We have planted ourselves in a community where we can be active and fellowship with. It is so much better to have a few quality friends than a lot of people who can bring harm to the family.
- Live with integrity
I saved the best for last. The fastest way to make your family life easier, is by always telling the truth. No need to think of an alibi or excuses. No need to fake it. No need to build on a lie, after lie, after lie. If you have been living a double life, all you have to do is come out, apologize, and start living a life of integrity. You won’t appreciate how wonderful your life is until you start living with the truth. I know, because I have been there.
Telling the truth also revolutionized how I do business. It has saved me from a lot of unnecessary stress. If the item out of stock, it’s out of stock. If my delivery time is 3-4 weeks, I tell my clients 3-4 weeks. I will not bend the truth just to make a sale; it is simply not worth it. I always lay down all my cards, and it is up to them if they will make a purchase or not.
The truth will not only make your family life easier. But your life as a whole.
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