The day before our 12th anniversary was a glorious "pure Michigan" day; a cool, crisp blue-sky morning, the leaves of the white spruce and oak trees rustling in a slow breeze, the red-winged blackbirds flitting around our deck. Our celebration would appear to be an odd one to an outsider: two people sitting indoors, Starbucks lattes in hand, hunched over spreadsheets and laptops.
Yes, this was our first formal "marriage retreat" and while retreats can come in all shapes and sizes, this was the perfect fit for us, and one I wish we had done sooner. This past winter, over tapas in Ann Arbor, some close friends of ours had explained their process of quarterly marriage retreats; yes, there was built in R&R to this time away from their kids and schedules, but the bulk of the time was used to plan ahead, to take a close look on how one uses the days and times of their lives, as individuals, and corporally as a family. Without being intentional about pockets of "free" time, it's easier to be reactive, versus proactive, about what goals you want to accomplish (again for oneself, and as a family) from what activities to get involved in, to the people (friends, mentors) that you would like to invest in. My husband and I were both intrigued by this idea, by nature we are both organized, detail-oriented and thrive on structure but we could see some gaps in our current system, especially with growing our family from 2 to 3 children this past year and the increasing demands from work, school schedules and extracurricular activities. While our kids enjoyed time with their grandparents, we used the rare gift of time to discuss goals, dreams while also putting into place some practical rhythms and realities for the 2015-2016 year. August is that rare gift of a month, one where you are able to savor the last vestiges of summer but where there is still the emotional bandwidth to plan ahead for the next year. As someone who runs her own business, has one child entering full day school this year, one who will be homeschooled and one who will be celebrating major milestones (i.e.: talking), it dawned on me how imperative it will be to use our time wisely, not to overschedule or attempt to do it all, but to identify ways to avoid that. To build in the time to dream, to invest in our children, each other and our community.
A few things that I learned from our retreat:
1) Give yourselves time: we used an entire day and probably could have used another!
2) Don't try to tackle every detail in minutiae but do take a a micro-approach of daily life, then branch out to weekly routines/commitments and then the macro "monthly" view.
3) Use electronic calendars and shared docs: as our commitments begin to include more of our kids' activities (and since we are the ones responsible for getting them to/from said activity) it's essential for the right hand to know what the left one is doing!
4) Build in FUN. Not only during the retreat (we treated ourselves to dinner out) but as you plan ahead: date nights, family fun evenings, hosting friends & family. At times this goes against my desire to be spontaneous, but building in the "white space" on a calendar and not scheduling every day allows for that; putting in placeholders for date nights actually protects time, precious moments that you will use to make some amazing memories.
5) Don't lose sight of Everest goals! Three kids ages 6 and under means that we have some natural built-in constraints but we are cognizant that this season will not last forever; my husband and I each have our own "Everest" goals, dreams and goals that we want to continue to move towards and encourage each other in the process.
Our hope is to repeat this experience again this December and in May; sometimes the best way to advance is to pull back, to resist the temptation to move, to act, but instead, retreat to retreat.