Kids are headed back to school next week, if they are not already there. This brings all kinds of emotions — excitement for new things, some relief that kids are out of the house more (or is that just me?), sadness that they are growing up too fast, and all the rest. The fall also, at least sometimes, brings more logistical challenges. School is more hours than camp, fall sports are more intense. Weekends that over the summer involved going to the beach and watching Barbie are now spent ferrying children between violin lessons, soccer practice, and 14 birthday parties before we finally collapse in a heap.

Even if your child isn’t yet school-age, so your schedule isn’t changing, the fall can still be an obvious time to take stock of how things are going.

One of the core ideas in The Family Firm is that of thinking deliberately about the structure of your family life. The book encourages you to actually write down what you want your days to look like, talk through your core values, and align with your family on key priorities.

I believe there is enormous value in this, and that this time of year is a good time for it. But it’s also daunting. So around this time last year, I proposed that people consider a smaller, related change, which I called “One Thing.”

Here’s the idea. Thinking back over the past week or month, or ahead to the next week or month: What is the biggest source of stress/conflict/difficulty in your household day-to-day? What’s one thing you wish you could wave a magic wand and change? This might be a big thing, like whether a stay-at-home parent should return to work. But more often, it’s a small thing — every day, you fight with your kid about breakfast. Or every day we argue about whose job drop-off is.

What is your one thing?

The challenge then: fix it deliberately. That means sitting down with all the decision-makers in your household (maybe even the kids) and talking about the solutions.

Sometimes these things are small. I was on a podcast recently and one of the hosts explained that she had been driven crazy by her family leaving shoes everywhere. They met to discuss the problem, and one child recommended a shoe tree; $25 later on Amazon, it wasn’t perfect, but it was a big improvement. Yes, that’s a small thing. But if you enter the house every day being annoyed by the shoes, that sets a tone.

When the one thing is big, this is harder. You will not necessarily be able to fix the problem if it is constant disagreements about money, or career uncertainty. However: you rarely make things worse by discussing them, and acknowledging that something needs to be addressed can often lead to some progress.

Last year, when I presented this idea, I invited people to submit their one thing and we worked on solving some of them. So, to get your juices flowing, here are the three questions we addressed last year, and links to the newsletters where we worked through them.

Here’s to a happier, more relaxed household, one thing at a time!

One Thing: Homework and dinner

How do we manage homework support for my two school-age kids (rising first and second graders) after school while I am trying to make dinner (we both work, and my husband is commuting) and we have an almost-2-year-old who also wants my attention? I’m having anxiety about school starting in a few weeks mainly for this reason!


Read the details and follow-up here.

One Thing: Getting kids to eat

Mealtime with my twin almost-3-year-old girls. They are fairly picky. Always want the same simple kids’-food-type thing (though never the same as their twin sister). Their preferences constantly change, so if they eat all the strawberries in one day and I buy more strawberries, they magically don’t like them the next day. They also want to play with their food or constantly get up from the table. I have a bit of a “Well, they are toddlers and we’re doing our best” mindset, but my husband gets extremely annoyed that they will not sit and eat a meal. It causes a lot of stress in our household and would be the one thing I feel I need to improve/fix first! 

—Savannah M.

Read the details and follow-up here.

One Thing: Toddler sleep

The most common one thing last year was toddler sleep. There were many questions:

My 2.5-year-old fights sleep, and specifically bedtime, for hours every night. It makes for lots of stress and tension between my husband and me. If she naps for even 20 minutes during the day, she will be up past 10 at night. On top of this, I have a six-month-old who also does not allow for much sleep. Our one thing: Fix sleep! Make it easy.

Getting our 3- (almost 4-) year-old to stay in his bed at bedtime and fall asleep. It’s relentless. He used to suck his thumb as a baby, and when he gave it up (on his own), he didn’t know how to self-soothe any longer. He’s like a bunny rabbit up and down for hours every night! This is a problem both for him getting enough sleep but also for having any adult evening time to get everything else done. We’ve tried everything, and nothing seems to work for more than a few days. My husband and I have conflict over whether we can lie with him until he falls asleep.

I doubt we fully fixed this one, but here’s the post on trying to make progress.