It’s Sunday, and I’m craving some family time, the magical kind where we’re all grateful to be together, feeling close and enjoying the same activity, which is precisely the one I have chosen.
I mean really, is it so unreasonable to dictate our lives based on my values, Col and Rose following along good naturedly? (“You’re right, Mom, social media could be a huge distraction to our growing brains!”) In my dream-life, we’re strolling through the piñons, the kids divulging their hardships and dreams (but like, in a really digestible way, where everyone speaks with perfect self-awareness and responsibility). More likely I’d be practicing my labor breathing, two small people grumbling along in their lead-filled shoes, determined not to enjoy themselves because it was my idea.
To construct a Sunday plan, we try something more revolutionary than the democratic “one person, one vote” in which some win and others lose. We’re looking for an alternative to the fraught, score-keeping compromise; we want something everyone loves. We decide to each express the top three things we’d enjoy and then with all options on the table, cut and paste a plan that addresses everyone’s desires. (Even though one of us is happy to tinker in the opium den of his Lego pile and another keeps an ongoing list titled: “good deer-viewing spots.”)
We gather around the situation room of our kitchen table, recording ideas and trying to stick to our collective pledge to remain open, even as Dan mentions driving to Silverton and I watch the kids imagine themselves slowly perishing of boredom as we blur past another snowy mountain, forced to invent backseat fights just to keep things lively. Similarly, Rose’s “walk around downtown with hot chocolate and window shop” makes me feel slightly panicked. When Col mentions wanting to visit a gaming store, I bite back the thought: And, how does this include everyone? I share my desire for a hike, emphasis on roasting marshmallows over a campfire, trolling for allegiance like an opportunistic politician.
Once complete, we revisit everyone’s three suggestions aloud and amend as necessary. Alpine skiing gets nixed because two of us would actually need lessons. Visiting cats at the humane society is spontaneously added by both children. I thought the hardest part was withholding opinions as people announced their preferences, but turns out that was the appetizer for the meatier challenge of synthesizing a plan in which everyone wins.
We offer ideas that take into account as many people’s interests as possible: the cats, the hiking, the hot chocolate, the game store. Ideas are floated and recorded and eventually, Col comes up with: walk on the river path with hot chocolate to the humane society to visit the cats (and a quick trip for kids to neighboring gaming store while Dan and I walk farther up the river trail). The room goes quiet. And then everyone comes out with a unanimous “Yes!” This solution hits Dan’s and my desire for exercise outside, the kids’ desire to be with kitties, all of our desire to be together and the unspoken: our desire to contribute to each others’ happiness because (at the risk of sounding like Mr. Rogers) it feels wonderful to contribute to the well-being of others and (at the risk of sounding calculating) others will be more likely to care for our hopes and dreams when we care for theirs.
We stuff our pockets with bars and leftover waffles and set out under the thin winter sun. It seems like a dream, each of us getting what we want without coercion, persuasion, bribes or threats. And maybe this is the crux of finding win-win solutions. When everyone is heard and considered and the goal is to satisfy the most needs, there is nothing to fight for, just the collective, creative brainpower of the group caring for one another.
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.