With six people in our family, it sometimes feels like a war zone to be fully heard. We share what we can at family dinner, we touch base with one another through out the week, but it takes effort and energy to really get to the bottom of things that might be going on with one another. My husband’s family grew up doing family meetings. When he first introduced me to the idea, I have to be honest, I thought it sounded a little Mr. Rogers-like. Too good to be true. How would we get our little boys to sit still long enough to actually talk through bullet points on an agenda that my husband wanted to put together? And say what? An agenda?
I let him run with it and it has been one of the most life-giving times together as a family that we’ve had over the years. We schedule them ahead of time, on a night when we know it’s free, and we have the time to actually get through what we need to. What we discuss is not just stuff in our heads, it’s the deep seeded stuff in our hearts. It is a safe space where everyone has time to share, space to truly listen, work to make stuff “right” with each other, and time for laughter and silliness, too.
With fall right around the corner, and new family routines being established, I wanted to share my top tips for a successful family meeting if you want to give it a try:
- Ahead of the meeting date, have a piece of paper placed somewhere obvious that is the gathering place for agenda items. As each child has something they’d like to discuss, they simply write it down (or if they are younger, they tell you!). Before the meeting, put an agenda together that each family member gets a copy of. If there are items you don’t want your kids to see (like a surprise trip or something you’ll announce there!) then keep a master for yourself.
- Pick a spot in your home that’s comfortable and has physical space for everyone. If you can be productive in your living room, with cozy blankets and comfortable lounging spots, do it. If you’re more apt to get things accomplished around the dining room table, choose that. Try different spots until you see where your kids are most receptive to communication in that space! If you have an age range gap, have crayons or something less distracting around for the little ones to keep themselves entertained so the bigs can listen.
- Always have FOOD! Popcorn, trail mix, licorice, something that can be passed, shared, and eaten together (if food is an issue in your home because it creates a distraction, make the bowls of food ahead of time for each member in your family. When that bowl of food is gone, it’s gone, no questions asked!).
- Start the family meeting the same way every time. Some ideas to consider: ask a question for everyone to go around and answer, have someone lead you in prayer, share a high/low from the day…there are lots of ways to start your meeting off on the right foot before diving into your list!
- Try to focus on communication skills during this time. When it is each child’s turn to talk, take that opportunity to remind them to look the person in the eyes, face up, and address them individually. If there is interrupting, intentional distractions, or other rude things that happen, take the time to point them out and address how they can make it better. We often say “lets try that again” and see how the second round goes!
- If a particular item on the agenda is taking too long, set a timer. Each person then has the same amount of time to argue their case, and be heard, but within reason. This might be very helpful for those with teenagers in the house! In the same scope, if an item hasn’t reached a resolution, let it be for a bit, move on, and circle back to it at the end of the meeting for closure.
- It can be easy to focus on the negative issues in the home you’d like to get resolved (ie: too much fighting, chores not being completed, issues with friends, etc.) and those should absolutely be addressed in this space! But for every couple of negatives, throw in a positive or two to fill your kids’ buckets. You want them to feel safe to be completely honest in this process and that’s sometimes hard to do when they feel on the defensive.
- If siblings have issues to discuss with each other, it can be easy for them to place blame and do some major finger pointing. This is okay in some instances, as they are working through it on their own, but use your best parenting judgement, and see if an apology and asking for forgiveness also needs to happen in that conversation. These can often go hand-in-hand but isn’t always super obvious. Try to let them get to that conclusion on their own (age appropriately, of course!) but step in if necessary.
- We end the family meeting time with each family member saying something nice about each sibling and us as parents (we do the same for the kids!). Wrap it up with a family hug, a dance party to get the wiggles out, a prayer of thankfulness, whatever you need to complete the evening.
Family meetings aren’t always fun or super organized. Depending on how best your kids learn, express love, share, etc. it can push people out of their comfort zone a bit. Take the opportunity to explain to everyone that each person has something to gain from this family experience. Being a part of a family isn’t always about fun. Most times, it’s more about the other person than yourself. You are teaching your children, and sometimes reminding yourselves as parents, to overcome challenges together! You’re setting goals together, reflecting on feelings together, and inspiring one another in the process. It has been a beautiful tradition for our family and I hope you’ll give it a try!