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Family Life 1st started almost by happenstance, but then developed a structure and process. For those who are interested in the details of our history, here it is. Your own community will follow its own path, not ours, although we have a number of recommendations to guide your process. See "How to Start of Family Life 1st Movement in Your Community."

In April, 1998, at the invitation of Barbara Carlson, director of the Communities in Collaboration Council (representing the communities of the Wayzata, Minnesota Public Schools), Bill Doherty gave a keynote talk to a large conference for parents on the topic of family time and family rituals. Bill Doherty is a professor in the department of family social science at the University of Minnesota, and had authored a book on family time and family rituals: The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties. Barbara had read the book and believed its message was important for her community.

In his talk, Bill raised up the problem of the loss of family time to outside activities for children, and the importance of taking back family life from overscheduled family hyperactivity and the consumer culture of childhood. Parents responded enthusiastically to the message, but seemed at a loss about how to turn back the tide of over-busyness. Several school and community officials reflected privately to Bill that their organizations unintentionally contribute to this problem by offering more and more activities for children and youth, without alerting parents to the inevitable toll on family time that these activities take.

Later in 1998, Barbara Carlson invited Bill to return the next spring to give a similar talk as part of a lecture series on parenting. Bill declined, saying that he only give the same talk once in a community, but that if Wayzata wanted to organize to take action on the problem, he would return to help with that process. Barbara readily agreed. In subsequent discussions with Barbara, Bill suggested a model of civic engagement (the "public work" model) that he was learning from colleagues Harry Boyte and Nancy Kari at the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the University of Minnesota (publicwork.org). Bill Doherty's adaptation of the public work model to families is called the Families and Democracy Project. (See "Theoretical Model.")

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In April, 1999, Bill gave a talk and facilitated a town meeting for which Barbara Carlson and her colleagues had extensively advertised and recruited parents and community leaders to attend. About 300 parents attended the talk, and afterwards about 65 people went to a smaller room for the town meeting. There was a consensus that the problem of declining family time was a community problem, not just an individual family problem. One (unnamed) participant suggested an idea that became the basis for an important project the next year: our own version of the (Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval) for organizations that do a good job of supporting family time. At the end of the town meeting, parents and community leaders signed up for a community activation team to provide leadership for a grass roots movement to make family life a higher priority in this community.

A group of about 15 members met monthly throughout the next year, with Bill Doherty providing the civic action model and facilitating the process. The group gave a name to the movement (Family Life 1st) and thereafter called itself the Family Life 1st steering group. It went through the process of generating vision and mission statements, and described a desired future for the community. Using the public work model, members then conducted "stakeholder interviews" throughout the community, to learn about how others perceive the problem and the ideas and resources these people could bring to the solutions. Members wrote up their interview notes and reported back to the whole group. Some community members joined the Family Life 1st group after being interviewed. The interviews convinced the group that we were on the right track in identifying an important community concern.

We then focused our energies on developing the Family Life 1st Seal of Approval for organizations that do a good job of balancing family time with a particular outside activity. After three drafts of the Seal, we did more stakeholder interviews, this time concentrating on coaches and other activity leaders whose input and support we needed. We held a special meeting with leaders of several sports leagues to get their input, which was very supportive. These interviews and discussions, which helped us understand both the positive motives and the frustrations of sports leaders, led us to add a section to the Seal about the responsibilities of families to the organizations they enroll their children in.

We were then ready for another public meeting, this time in April, 2000, one year after the initial public meeting. This was held as part of a lecture series on parenting, with Bill Doherty giving a brief lecture, based on his new book Take Back Your Kids: Confident Parenting in Turbulent Times. Then Bill and other members of the Family Life 1st group gave an overview of the initiative and the Family Life 1st Seal of Approval. The response from the parents attending was intense and enthusiastic.
At the end of the meeting, Bill said that the movement would succeed only if the number of citizens involved grew beyond the steering group. Otherwise, it would become the work of a small group who would become tired and drift away. He asked parents to keep the movement going by joining one of five community action groups, each of which would be chaired by two members of the original planning group): a family to family group, a sports/activity leaders group, a clergy/faith community leaders group, a child and family professionals group, and a publicity/outreach group. A business man in the audience objected that there was no business group being formed, so one added. Over 30 parents signed up for these community action groups, some of which began meeting within two weeks.

In the spring and fall of 2000, we developed the application form and procedure for the Family Life 1st Seal of Approval. We awarded the first Seal of Approval in January, 2001 to the Youth Football Program, and other community organizations have expressed interest in the Seal. We have engaged in conversations with local civic leaders about the Family Life 1st movement. We are speaking to all of the PTA groups in the community, we held a luncheon for PTA leaders, and we have attracted intense interest among national media outlets, including the major television networks, news magazines, women's magazines, and most of our local media outlets.

In winter, 2001, we were entering phase two of our work, in which we will be working on expanding the Seal of Approval process to a variety of organizations and working in the action groups. We held a community partnership event with representatives of other communities who were interested in launching Family Life 1st initiatives. We launched a series of Internet discussion groups for parents to share struggles, strategies, and successes in balancing their family lives. We have signed a book contract with a major publisher. Other ideas will emerge from citizen groups as we work together to make family life an honored and celebrated priority in our community.

 


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