In which Ariel breaks down the process of how her and her partner set both long and short term goals in order to keep their family on track to accomplishing everything they want out of their time together.
How to Set Goals with a Partner, Co-parent or Co-parents
Why you Should Set Goals with your Partner, Co-parent, or Co-parents
Getting a group of people with conflicting goals to do anything is like herding cats. That is one of my favorite colloquialisms, because anyone who has ever been around multiple cats can instantly picture what you are talking about. This is especially true of parenting teams, whether you are married, divorced or somewhere in between. If your goals don’t align you may be going full steam ahead in opposite directions. Ultimately? This undermines everyone’s efforts.
For those of us who are married or in a long-term committed relationship, we like to think “my partner and I are so in sync and so in love that we are the exception to this rule!” I hate to burst your bubble, but you are wrong. Without purposeful, honest and consistent communication, we quickly lose sight of where we are going as a couple and as a family. And – for some of us – as individuals. I say this, because even though I am an obsessive goal setter, my husband is my sounding board, if I didn’t update him periodically on my personal goals, I would lose sight of my greater purpose.
My husband works overseas for half of the year. He is gone 2-3 times a year for about 2-3 months at a time. This can place an overwhelming burden on families, especially families with young children. You can easily slip into survival mode, being tossed around by the inevitabilities of life. Living this way left me overwhelmed and despondent. That is why my husband and I started goal setting together. The only way to get more out of life is to have a vision and a plan. The only way to get there as a parenting team is through coordinated effort.
I will be writing this as a mother parenting with my spouse, however, with some thoughtful changes you can alter my approach to work with all manner of parenting teams. Only you know your partner, co-parent or co-parents, so take some time to think through how each member impacts the decision making dynamic and fit the process to cater to your unique needs.
How to Set Goals with a Partner, Co-parent or Co-parents
1. Start by establishing the larger big picture goals
What do you want to accomplish as a team within 20 years? Within 10 years? Within 5 years? My husband and I prefer to set five year goals. Due to my husband’s career, our life tends to be a bit more up in the air than others, so we build a great deal more flexibility into our long-term goals. This needed flexibility makes setting anything more than five year goals a bit disheartening, since we might have to pivot at the last second right before we accomplish something.
How do you know what types of goals to set? What goals you set with a partner or co-parent will depend on your relationship. My co-parent is my husband so we tend to set financial, professional, parenting goals and – occasionally – travel goals. Some of our current goals include, owning a Jeep Cherokee and visiting New Zealand for our ten year anniversary. These types of goals work for us because I am proactive – some might say obsessive - about setting my own personal care goals, while my husband is less enthusiastic about structured goal setting in general. So what we don’t set goals for as a team, I will cover as an individual. A good list of possible goals to set includes personal health – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual – and covers the numerous facets of your identity. For example, I see myself as an individual, as a wife, as a mother, as a professional writer, as a professional social worker, and as a friend. Your list will be different. The point is to grow as a whole and balanced individual. These are merely suggestions. This is where I start, but every year is different. Some years I don’t set a spiritual goal but I set three physical goals. Not all of these types of goals make sense to set as co-parents, but then again maybe to you they do! I know a friend who loves setting long-term fitness goals with her partner. They just ran a marathon together! So start here and see what makes sense for you and your partner or co-parent. Maybe you only set parenting goals.
If you haven’t established your family values. It might be a good idea to do so before discussing your long term family goals. My husband and I often reference our family and personal values when talking about the big picture. For example, one of our family values is independence. To us, independence incorporates financial autonomy. So one of our five years goals is to pay off my student loans from graduate school. One of our ten year goals is to pay off the mortgage for our house. We set some intimidating goals, I know. But being financially independent is of the utmost important to us.
2. Divide these goals into quarterly goals
Once you have a destination in mind, less poetically known as your long-term goals, now we map out the route. We start by designating checkpoints along the way – smaller more easily attainable goals that will build towards your long-term goals. I personally prefer quarterly goals. To me a yearlong goal is easy to lose sight of and month long goals tend to feel so puny. Quarterly goals hit the sweet spot. Quarterly goals divide your larger big picture goals into manageable bite size chunks, so long-term goals become less daunting.
For example, if we want to pay off my student loans we can come up with a concrete number, say it is $50,000. If we want to pay it off in five years the arithmetic is fairly simple. Five years with four quarters each? We need to put aside $2,500 every 3 months. Now that is a S.M.A.R.T. goal! It is Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant and Time bound.
3. Decide how you are going to accomplish these goals
The only thing left to do is to decide how you are going to accomplish your quarterly goals. I am a fan of automating my goals as much as possible, especially when it comes to our financial goals. For example, we have all of our non-negotiable bills set to auto pay and for everything else (groceries, eating out, gas etc.) we use the envelope system. By making saving to pay off my student loans a non-negotiable and setting it to auto pay we never have to think about it.
What I can’t automate, I parcel into daily habits. For example, one of our long-term parenting goals is to encourage Bean to be an avid reader, just like us. So reading at least three books at bedtime is a daily habit we are working to establish this quarter.
As I cautioned before, make this process your own. I call them quarterly goals but in actuality my husband and I let his work schedule dictate our goal setting habit. Dividing up the year into traditional quarters just doesn’t make sense for us at the moment. So the week before he leaves we sit down and goal set together. If our big picture goal is to pay off my student loans, how much money should we set aside during this next two months? This way doesn’t always work perfectly either. Sometimes our goal setting gets lost in the disorganization of departure and we end up having a Skype date to discuss our plan. Not ideal. But we make do, the same as every other parenting team out there.
Like anything worth doing in life, goal setting takes purposeful planning and sometimes a little on-the-fly flexibility. Now go forth and goal set!
How will you tailor this approach to meet your specific needs?
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Ariel and Brianna are friends who met while working in a library. Now they collaborate to develop life-enhancing book club experiences.
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