How scheduling saves our super-busy, polyamorous, multi-household family

February 10 | Guest post by Andrea
Scheduling before and after
Scheduling before and after

I've always been a day-planner type of person. In the current iteration of my life, scheduling has taken on a whole new meaning — it's not only relationship maintenance, it's been providing a rubric for compromise and communication in a super-busy, polyamorous, multi-household family. The idea first struck me after reading The Offbeat Home & Life post about Family Meetings.

We do ours a little differently, and it has proven invaluable. Here's how it works:

The cast of characters

Me: Full-time dayjob with occasional freelancing.
P: Husband, full-time dayjob, doesn’t drive. We live together.
J: Partner, full-time dayjob and working on starting a business. Lives about one mile away.
Also often involved: my platonic wife, her husband, their two kids, my brother, his wife, their two kids. All live in the same(ish) city as me, P and J. Finally, there’s P’s dad and stepmom that live in a camp trailer on our property during the cold months and share our kitchen and bathrooms when they're here.

How the meeting developed

Long before we had additional partners, micro-farms, or businesses, P and I developed a scheduling system after we moved in together. Between trying to combine social schedules, bill paying, and general household chores for two young adults, a few big things got missed and dealing with those consequences wasn't exactly pleasant. To try and fix it, we bought a giant whiteboard, made a 35-box grid on the top ⅔ and gave it a prominent place in our main living space.

Once a week, we made it a point to sit down together to make sure that the whiteboard calendar included everything that had come up the last week from bill due dates to social engagements. There’s also a space on the board for shopping lists and random notes and, because it’s magnetic, we can attach letters or pieces of paper to it. Everything on that calendar then got copied over to my Google Calendar, because I prefer to work in digital.

When we brought new partners into our little poly "pod," the scheduling meeting gained additional importance because including those partners in the meeting became an expression of their importance in our lives. It is both practical — a chance to check in, make plans, make sure everyone was on the same page; and a sign of respect for those partnerships — showing in action the fact that everyone is equally respected.

What the meeting looks like now

About seven years in, this is what our once-a-week Scheduling Meeting looks like:

Those of us with heavily intersecting schedules, usually P and J and I, all get together over dinner on Sunday nights — on the occasional evening when we can't get together, we put a call in on speakerphone or get together on Gchat. We come armed with our smartphones, the giant whiteboard calendar, and our own notes about any scheduling items that have come up over the week.

We each start with an "opening statement" of our wants, needs, and desires for the upcoming week and anything big upcoming in the next few weeks. This would be something like "I want to make sure to have a date night with J this week. An overnight would be nice in the next couple of weeks, and there are requests to watch kids on Tuesday and Saturday. I have a late night at work on Wednesday, so J, if you could drive P to his meet-up, that would be awesome. The cherry trees are crazy full of fruit, so I would also like to set aside a day or two to pick and process what we can."

Once everyone's put their statements out there, we work our way through the week. The things that match up are easy. When things don’t match up, we try to talk things out and work out a solution that meets everyone’s desires as best as possible. We try to plan ahead for commuting together as often as possible, date nights, big projects, and especially things as mundane as “I seriously need a night to catch up on laundry.”

During the week, if things change, we each address things individually as they come up with the people affected. Generally, the scheduling meeting takes 20-30 minutes at most. Everything goes on the big house calendar and shared Google calendars. Then it’s back to eating dinner, playing video games, or otherwise relaxing.

The big calendar on the wall serves well when P’s dad and stepmom come in to the house, as they can tell at a glance what’s going on and who’s probably where that day. Everyone’s got access to at least most of the digital calendars as well for planning ahead, which cuts down on the “are you available on X day” questions; the conversations are instead usually things like “I see you’re free Friday evening, want to grab drinks?”

The philosophies behind The meeting

If this sounds all-too-Utopia, there's a lot of communication challenges and philosophy that go into each one of these meetings that we’re still figuring out (and probably always will be).

First and foremost, it's about holding everyone responsible for their own schedules and lives. The idea of “your schedule, your business” sounds simple, but seriously, it’s a challenge. It’s easy to unthinkingly obligate a partner to do something with you, or to off-hand say “sure, we will try to make it.” It can also easily feel like you’re being evasive when you’re saying to someone used to scheduling off-the-cuff “I’d like to make it, let me bring it up in the scheduling meeting and I’ll get back to you.”

Second, a functional scheduling meeting means respecting each other enough to actually communicate and then follow through with what we say we will do. The scheduling meeting isn’t set in stone — life happens. When life happens, telling the people it has an effect on is important. Date nights can and do get cancelled or moved. Sometimes friends are having a rough night and need some company. Work goes late. Whatever happens, we try to see communicating that as a sign of respect — and knowing what’s on your calendar for that week helps a LOT in figuring out who you should tell first.

There’s also the additional layer that scheduling off the cuff after work drinks or hanging out is a lot easier if you actually know your calendar is clear for that day, instead of having to call everyone to ask if you had anything planned (or worse, accidentally stand someone up).

Third, when it comes to relationship maintenance, there is almost nothing better than a quick business check-in. Sharing lives can get messy, emotional, complicated, and exhilarating (and sometimes all in 20 minutes). It’s extraordinarily nice to, once a week, have a time set aside for the exclusive purpose of figuring out the logistics. It’s easier to sit down, relax and enjoy an evening on the couch together, or a long bike ride, or coffee out with a friend, if you’re not stressing out about if you missed the mortgage payment or wondering if your husband/wife/partner/friend remembers that work dinner tomorrow.

Finally, a quick word on boundaries

One of the more surprising things we’ve discovered over the years is that there can be quite a bit of pushback from people about these meetings. I’ve encountered responses ranging from “seriously, you schedule sex?!?” (to which the answer is, yes, sometimes, and that’s not a bad thing) to “well, if you want a week’s notice, I guess we just shouldn’t hang out.” Most of the time it’s just seen as quirky and a bit odd.

There are a not-insignificant number of people that will try to pull the passive aggressive “but if you caaaareeeedddd you would say yes RIGHT NOW” or “It’s disrespectful of your autonomy to have to check in with five other people just to go out to drinks!” That’s usually a sign to me that that person may not be a great fit for our group, or at least doesn’t understand the moving pieces.

It’s gotten significantly easier to learn that asking someone to respect the scheduling meeting isn’t imposing on them, it’s asking them to respect the things that I find important. If nothing else, setting that boundary enforces priorities and self-care, and those two things make everyday life a heck of a lot easier.

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  1. Our poly household does this too! We learned fairly early on that sitting down on Sunday nights and scheduling the week out made everything run so much more smoothly. My husband, my partner and I all live together (and my partner's husband will be moving in from across the country this summer). On Sunday nights, we sit down and plan our menu for the week while discussing who will be where on which nights, when our date nights will be (we try to make sure each couple has a date night once a week, as well as having a "family date" night), etc. The menu gets written on our white board, illustrated by my partner, photographed by me so we have a reference for when we're stuck on meal ideas, and then hung in the kitchen so everyone knows what to expect for the week. It makes a world of difference!

    I love seeing poly-related articles on here. Since its not mainstream, sometimes its easy to feel like we are the only ones doing this – I adore seeing how other poly families make it work for them!

    18 agree
  2. I wish we did this, but I'm having trouble even thinking of a weekly time where we would a) all be available, b) not be constantly distracted by managing children, and c) aren't playing host to a bunch of other people. With so many people to inform of upcoming events, there is frequently someone who doesn't find out until the last minute.

    2 agree
    • Something we've done in the past when there wasn't a time we were all available at the same time was set up a private Facebook group and/or group chat on Google Hangouts — that way you can leave a message there, and people can respond to it whenever there is time to do so.

      4 agree
      • Yeah, our polycule is split 2 hours apart, so for us it isn't the weekly meetings that matter so much, it's the weekend planning, usually for about 2 months out at a time. We have a party line with the 4 parents in our superfamily, and another with the 6 key parents of our 'village' and do a lot of scheduling remotely. When we can, doing it in person as a group is faster, but I think the wonderful point of all this is Doing It, and also recognizing that it's a statement of a kind of commitment to do so.

  3. This is good for any relationship, I think! My partner and I do something similar on a much more informal basis (which is possible when there are only two people in the mix). It helps a lot to think through the schedule and what your needs are.

    This is OT, so obviously ignore if you feel this isn't the space for this discussion, but I'm curious about your 'platonic wife' and what sort of relationship that describes. Do you consider her part of your poly relationship, or is it more of a term for a close community tie? If I'd heard the term out of context I think I would have assumed it was a partner you lived with and shared a life with but didn't have romantic/ sexual attachments to. But from context it seems not. I am fascinated by the different ways people arrange their relationships so would be interested if you care to expand.

    3 agree
    • Agreed that it's great for any relationship — it definitely started before we had additional partners in our group for that very reason.

      As far as "platonic wife" — always happy to answer questions! Yes, she (and her husband and kids) are definitely a part of our poly relationship pod! In some contexts when we don't feel like answering questions, we've used the phrase "best friend," but definitely feel it's more than that. We are very, very close, yes. We've been there for one another through a hell of a lot. I acted as one of the doulas when her daughter was born, I was the officiant that married her and her husband, we share about everything… there are lots of examples of "how close we are" but really it comes down to the fact that I consider her as important and as "legitimate" of a relationship as my relationships with my husband and partner. Her kids are incredibly important to me, and I would without a question do everything I could to help raise them. That said, she and her husband are very completely sexually (and mostly emotionally) monogamous. A part of honoring their commitment to one another while being honest about the depth and closeness of our relationship is, in my mind, a big part of why it's "platonic wife" instead of "partner" or "girlfriend" or "effective wife" or any of the other thousands of possible terms.

      9 agree
      • "I consider her as important and as "legitimate" of a relationship as my relationships with my husband and partner."

        I love this way of thinking! It sounds like you have an extensive support system and really value your relationships. And I'd love to read a whole post about the "platonic spouse" concept if you'd like to write it!

        5 agree
      • I love that idea. It seems as though your poly relationship has made you look more closely at other close ties and give them more recognition than people often do. Your relationship with your 'platonic wife' sounds really special.

        Thanks for answering!

        4 agree
      • Why platonic wife and not sister? Is it because of sexual attraction not acted on?

        1 agrees
    • So Andrea already replied but I figured I'd add my two cents (as the platonic wife in question.) My current husband and I realized very early on in our relationship that we cannot handle multiple sexual relationships and that is a firm part of our relationship rules. We do not cohabitate with Andrea, but I consider our relationship to have all the trappings of most relationships minus the sexual component. I wouldn't say it necessarily lacks the romantic component, as we get each other flowers and such on occasion, but no sex, no kissing, etc.

      9 agree
  4. I love the term platonic wife. Is that basically a name for your best female friend, or do you have a different kind of relationship?

    2 agree
  5. We do this informally through a Google calendar and just keep it synced at all times. After being involved with non-poly people who aren't as diligent about their scheduling, I was beginning to feel like we were the only ones who were as calendar-happy as possible. Glad to see we aren't the only ones! I love the whiteboard usage too.

    2 agree
  6. Scheduling is the. Best. While there's just my partner and I in our relationship/household, we are currently in the process of planning our wedding AND trying to buy a house. Why we decided doing both at the same time was a good idea, I do not know, but that is just how things sort of worked out. Juggling both of those huge processes, as well as work and social obligations, has been an enormous task, and nothing would ever get done on time if it weren't for our synced up Google calendars!

    3 agree
  7. It boggles my mind that an adult would not understand why you would need to schedule a get together and you would need to check with your family ( regardless of how you define that ) before you do so. I would tell those people that I am asking for a weeks notice because I like them so much and I don't want the chance of seeing them left to happenstance.

    8 agree
    • Right? It's just a courteous to check with other people who are influenced by your schedule so you can all use your free time more efficiently. When Mr. JASN wants to hang out with friends, he checks in with me so I have the chance to make my own plans that don't involve him, and I check in with him before I make plans, too. But we do have leeway in this, like if one of us is unavailable to ask because of work, etc.

      2 agree
  8. We have a shared google calendar as well, because we live our marriage in two cities, and are separated most of the time. It's good to know what's up on the weekend, and how it will affect the other partner, and whether there's something big at work which means I can't just call him if the mood strikes me.

    I really dig the idea of the structured meetings, I'll try and get us in that direction. Because I feel like we don't talk about what we want for the week so much, and that might help us as well.

    3 agree
  9. We finally had to start using shared calendars when he snapped at me for never letting him go to car shows. I kept planning other things on top of the car shows. He'd tell me about them, but since they were his thing, they wouldn't stick in my mind or make it to my personal calendar. We talked about it and decided shared google calendars were the best solution for us. I can add things to his calendar and see what he's up to/if he's free. He can see what I'm up to/if I'm free or add things if he needs to. We have more flexibility than the OP in our calendars though (since it's just the two of us). We're able to be a bit more spontaneous, which I like. I seriously don't understand how people get along without shared calendars or weekly meetings.

    2 agree
  10. That is such an epically cool idea!!
    Though presently my household consists of just hubby, me and hubby's Dad (who's pretty ill but still mobile); we may become a multi-family household someday and having a weekly meeting along with a universal to-do board that's more than just "you do this" and "you do that" will likely make life happier and easier for all involved.

    Right now there's just a small hubby-do board on the fridge since hubby works from home and keeps strange hours. Hubby's Dad more or less takes care of himself (apart from driving). My schedule is a typical 9-5 job and my extracurricular activities are pretty set in stone, plus I have no problem remembering to do my chores. The Hubby-do board though has three columns:
    1) Things that he needs to do (like take out the compost because he never looks and I may be too busy)
    2) Things we can only do together (like renewing our passports because that type of paperwork can overwhelm me)
    3) And fun things to do together (like watch that movie we've been putting off forevar)

    We also have a shared grocery list app on our phones so he can add things even while I'm at the store. That's pretty darned handy too 🙂

    3 agree
  11. My ex and I shared iCal (or whatever Apple is calling the calendar app these days) feeds to easily update each other on our schedules. I'm not sure how it's done in the latest versions, but there's a way to privately "publish" a calendar which creates a long URL which the other person/people add into their app as a "subscribed calendar." (Side note : I have the local weather as a subscribed calendar which makes my life so much easier.)

    If we had added in meetings, that might have significantly helped our relationship. Among two sets of classes and two or three jobs, too many things slipped by — not just bills and laundry, but the total lack of together time.

    1 agrees
  12. We do the same thing for our five-person core household which includes myself, my husband, our adult kid and two teenagers. We started when our oldest started working full time, my husband was working two jobs, I was working a full time job with variable hours, and we only had one vehicle. So challenging! Now we have the family meeting every Sunday morning and between multiple adults with multiple jobs and commitments each, teens with sports and band commitments, long-term houseguests… I honestly don't know what we'd do without it.

    2 agree
  13. I love the way your family works! Our poly life is scheduled using the Cozi calendar, and we have biweekly budget meetings where we discuss how our family will be spending money and what we'll be prioritizing in the coming weeks. Yay, structure!!

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