Once a week, at the same time every week, Sunday is ideal for our household, we have a family meeting. We take this time seriously, so our children do, too. We are firm about our expectation that everyone attend and there are to be no interruptions. It happens after we have all cleaned up from dinner so the table is clear but before we have dessert. We do not always have dessert, but after our meetings we make a point of keeping everyone gathered and have something sweet. Family meetings teach family values and life skills such as cooperation, community, connection, and communication.
Most of the challenges that we have are handled by putting them on the agenda. As mom my concerns usually revolve around messes left here and there, but I prefer going over this every several weeks now, rather than many times a day. The children write all sorts of challenges on the list. They used to be gripes: Who’s taking the hairbrushes?; There’s not more strawberry jam. Now the solutions are in the complaint: put hairbrushes back in bathroom drawer, if you finish something put it on the grocery list. “Put it on the agenda” is a great solution in the moment until we have everyone together to work on it. Obviously, some things like hitting must be handled in the moment, as well. For easy access our agenda is posted on the side of the refrigerator, but out of view so visitors, especially of my self-conscious teens, don’t notice it.
We open with a prayer. Previously we have started with a reading of our family mission, before that we did themed scripture readings, prior to that we have done gratitude prayers, compliments and a variety of other skill developments taught in classroom meetings.
The designated leader/chairperson and secretary rotate between everyone each week. The leader reads the notes from last week and then reads the agenda, kept in a high traffic area of our home – the kitchen, specifically on the side of the refrigerator. The agenda is discussed in the order it is listed. We brainstorm, solution solve and come to unanimous agreements not majority rules. The children ‘buy in’ and cooperate because they contribute to the process, they have agreed to the solution and participate, when necessary, in the re-evaluation process. If we cannot come to an agreement we table the concern until next week. This provides that precious, albeit extended, ‘feel better time’ from which new ideas will arise.
We have been through many agreements as to how to keep our family room organized: Mom will put post-its on all items; everything left will go in a pile; in a box; to the garage; we can’t have it back until next meeting. Ideas are reworked, lessons are learned, the kids help each other, we all bond – the benefits go on…and my living room is in better shape without daily nags…more like every several weeks it’s back on the agenda. I’ll take it!
Then there is the skill of letting children work out their own challenges. My favorite story to tell, happened when our daughter (J) was 4 and her older brother (A) was 14. Through imitation, striving to fit in with the older household members and probably a whole lot of inherited emotional IQ – our four year old already had a year of family meeting experience under her belt when she came to this:
Chairperson: “Next on the agenda is – Tickling”
J: A, I don’t like it when you tickle me.
A: But you’re so cute and I love to tickle you.
J: Well you don’t like pickles, so if you tickle you have to eat a pickle.
Precious and effective. It worked! And let’s be clear, as an adult I would have never come up with that solution. So, building on a foundation of skills from these meetings my kids had independently managed, cooperatively coordinated, and creatively solved an issue between them. It was checked off during the review the following week. I told the story at a lecture then a couple years later when I returned to that same lecture hall someone asked me to retell the story. I asked her to remind me through telling the audience herself because my daughter’s upset had been expressed, handled, respected and I, too, had moved on.
We don’t need to do family meetings weekly anymore, though anyone can call one, anytime. Our skills are simply and remarkably intact such that we are living it. Below are some books to support your navigation through this process.
Our Family Meeting Book: Fun and Easy Ways to Manage Time, Build Communication, and Share Responsibility Week by Week by Elaine Hightower and Betsy Riley
How To Hold Successful Family Meetings by Katherine Gordy Levine
The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve your Mornings, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play and Much More by Bruce Feller. Listed here, in particular, for its information on family mission statements.
The Morning Meeting Book by Roxann Kriete. This is for classroom meetings, but recommended here, for it’s ideas on skills to develop when opening a meeting.
This is a wonderful read for all households and especially, please consider it if the Family Meeting is too big of a task for you and your family at this time: The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time by Laurie David.
Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker