It’s not new or sexy, but if you use it right, it may be the best digital blessing your family has enjoyed since the dawn of email.
Last year I attended a men’s conference through my church, and by far the most crowded breakout session was dedicated to addressing the challenges of being extremely busy husbands, fathers, and workers. The pastor leading this session happened to be my brother-in-law, so I was especially interested whenever he illustrated his points with real-life anecdotes. Because we live life fairly closely with his family, I had no grounds for skepticism; I knew his life was at least as busy as mine, and the counsel he was sharing already worked for at least one Hamilton (my older sister) in my generation.
One practical piece of advice he offered was to develop a master, cloud-syncing calendar that both spouses can modify. Check, I thought at first. Been doing it since we sold our souls to Google for our first Android phones. But I’m glad I kept listening, because I found out we had been doing this wrong.
Syncing our lives with a shared, cloud-based calendar proved a pivotal first step toward recovering our sanity amid a combined three jobs, plus a startup, plus extra-curriculars (and did I mention kids?). But at first I missed the point.
The point is not to streamline investments we are making outside our family so that we can reduce conflicts at home. This would actually be a pretty low bar. The real point is to maximize our investments inside our family by ordering everything around our family’s best interests.
Here’s the difference. It’s not enough to load up the free space on Google Calendar or iCal while one is at home and the other at work, letting your spouse discover your plans when it’s too late to change them. Instead, use your shared calendar as a tool to help you plan with, rather than against, each other. It should not replace conversation, but ensure it.
In fact, it’s a good idea to schedule a weekly scheduling session. My wife and I do this on Sundays; my sister and brother-in-law do this on date nights. Personally, as a notorious compartmentalizer, the task of scheduling feels too work-related for me to bring that into dating my wife. But for my sister, scheduling the week with her husband is one of the most blessed activities they do together. Without it, they’re cooked. So rather than view this as a necessary chore, they look forward to it as a chance to bank some relief for the week ahead. And why shouldn’t they? Syncing your calendars in person is a conversational launchpad, to get–and keep–you talking, not only about your whens, but your whys, hows, and how wells. There are worse things we could ask ourselves, and each other, than “What does our family stand to gain from us doing these things?”
That last part, however, may throw some guys. Why should I have to justify that what I’m doing is “worth it” for my family? Shouldn’t my wife trust me to have our family’s best interest at heart? Absolutely she should–just as you should absolutely be worthy of that trust. Let’s assume you are. That means you have nothing to lose by talking through these things. Rather than view these conversations as defensive measures, view them as opportunities to be proactive, lead, and love.
Some of us may bristle at a shared calendar strategy, for the simple reason that not everything can be scheduled. Once the full implications of my sister’s family’s calendar system hit me, I wanted to run the other way. The logic went like this:
- A master calendar implies mastery.
- But some things can’t be scheduled.
- If a really important, unforeseen demand pops up that isn’t scheduled, I’m cooked.
- You can keep your stifling calendar.
My fears were unfounded. Syncing your family calendar with your spouse does not create a binding third-party arbitrator for your conflicts. It is not your master. You both are its master. And the more you put it to work, the fewer spontaneous demands will pop up unexpectedly. That benefit alone–reducing the volume of attacks on your family’s castle–helps everyone to absorb the loss of their claim to your time when irresistible opportunities or obligations call you away.
Buying into a quasi-authoritative, cloud-synced, shared calendar controlled by both spouses may sound like you signing over your flexibility, but the fact is you both will be more flexible to help each other meet unplanned needs. Frequently, unforeseen demands on a spouse’s time are only a front masking a far less comfortable, higher-stakes issue: suspicion and frustration that your spouse values his or her time over yours. Syncing your calendar together, on the other hand, is a tangible way to show that you care about your spouse’s time, and your collective family time, with both words and actions.
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