Updated: Mar 24, 2020
By Laura Gassner Otting
For the past four years, my family has held a family meeting each and every weekend. Sometimes it’s in-depth, gathered around the kitchen table unpacking a deep and difficult problem, sometimes it’s fast and furious, in an airport lounge waiting to come back from a trip and just doing a run-through of family logistics. One thing is always the same: we start with a value — any value — that we hold dear as a family, and discuss ways we’ve manifested it during that past week. The current Coronavirus self-isolation days lasting for the unforeseeable future is no exception. One of our values is that we uphold each other, both in the best of times and in the worst of times. I think we can agree that these times are definitely in the camp of the latter with our current Coronavirus pandemic. Our kids are out of school, life has been upended, the schedule and routine of cooking and cleaning and laundry is blown to smithereens.
We are on our own, but we are on our own together.
My inclination in situations of hardship is to show up, shut up, and do the work. Dial it in, nose the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel. Alone. But I can’t get through this alone. Neither can you. I salute you for trying — I see you, I am you — but cut the bull already.
Last night I woke up at 3:58am, in a tizzy, thinking, “Is it garbage day?” It’s only been a week, and yet the days have run together. And as I laid there, scrolling social media and welcoming the rest of the world to my perimenopausal middle of the night toss-and-turn fest — it’s about time y’all showed up to this party! — I found myself staring down the barrel of weeks and months of nagging my kids to empty the dishwasher, walk the dog, wipe down surfaces with Clorox wipes, and, yes, take the trash bins to the curb for pick up.
And then I realized something that unlocked for me my next move: my kids are rising to this occasion just like the rest of the planet. Yeah, it sucks for them that they can’t see their friends, go on spring break, go to prom. And yet all day, they’ve done whatever I’ve asked.
They weren’t happy about it, but they did it.
But, here’s what I realized: it wasn’t the chores they weren’t happy about. It was the nagging.
You see, I self-inflicted upon myself the prison warden role, the taskmaster, the lieutenant job of telling them what to do when, when in reality, they were already on their way, had it on their agenda, knew it needed to be done.
So, I decided to stop listening to the way everyone else was doing it: stringently structured times where everything happens, and just decide what the rhythm of our family dictated. I wanted to shift my job from whip to wheel. And, here’s how I did it. I took a bunch of different colored post-it notes from the junk drawer in the kitchen that I’ve mean to clean out for years, and assigned tasks to “every day” or “Monday” or “Wednesday” or “Long-Range” and wrote things like “Wash hands and empty dishwasher” or “Throw in a load of (anybody’s) laundry” or, yes, “Clean out the junk drawer.” Your mileage may vary on the tasks but the important point is this: I didn’t assign chores to people. I simply put each of the post-its on the freezer, color-coded by day only, and asked the members of my family — my community — to uphold that community by grabbing a post-it from the freezer, doing the task, and simply moving it to the fridge. Each night, we review, add, remove, change, or edit and move them back to the freezer.
But, sharing responsibility – during the coronavirus or any other time – isn’t the only beauty of this system. It also allowed me to alleviate myself of the mental burden that I foisted upon my own shoulders. It allowed my kids to be full-fledged members of the community, leading where they want, following where they need. And, it allowed me to sleep a little better last night, perimenopause, and coronavirus be damned.
About Laura Gassner Otting
Washington Post Best Selling Author and Motivational Keynote speaker, Laura Gassner Otting, inspires people to push past the doubt and indecision that keep great ideas in limbo because her presentations make listeners think bigger and accept greater challenges that reach beyond their limited scope of belief.
She delivers strategic thinking, well-honed wisdom, and perspective generated by decades of navigating change across the start-up, nonprofit, political, as well as philanthropic landscapes. Laura dares listeners to find their voice, and generate the confidence needed to tackle larger-than-life challenges. She leads them to seek new ways of leading, managing and mentoring others.
Laura’s entrepreneurial edge has been well-honed over a 25-year career that started as a Presidential Appointee in Bill Clinton’s White House, where she helped shape AmeriCorps.
She left a leadership role at the respected nonprofit search firm, Isaacson, Miller, to expand the startup ExecSearches.com. Laura also founded and ran the Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group, which partnered with the full gamut of mission-driven nonprofit executives, from start-up dreamers to scaling social entrepreneurs to global philanthropists. In 2015, Laura sold NPAG to the team that helped her build it, both because she was hungry for the next chapter and because she held an audacious dream of electing our nation’s first female president.
Along the way, while serving on Hillary Clinton’s National Finance Committee, she was asked to do a TEDx talk, which became so popular that it launched a speaking career. Laura has spoken across the United States and internationally to universities, companies, conferences, accelerators, TEDx, and the US Military.
She is the author of Mission-Driven: Moving from Profit to Purpose (2015) and the Washington Post Best Seller Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life (2019). She lives with her husband, two teenage sons, and troublesome puppy outside of Boston, MA.