Newsflash: families, like all relationships, take work to make really awesome. Just because you carried these little people inside your body and you love them more than anything doesn’t mean you will navigate the roads of life together without some bumps. That’s where the family meeting comes in.
Wait, what? Family meeting? Isn’t that like when the Brady Bunch came together to diffuse the tension created by deciding how to spend the trading stamps they saved? (spoiler: after a tense house-of-cards build-off, the boys and girls decided to give up their opposing ideas — rowboat! sewing machine! — and instead buy something the whole family could enjoy — a 13-inch color TV, w00t!)
Yeah, well, no. Family meetings are like the rainbow sprinkles of the donut world. They make everything sparklier. Tastier. More fun. Okay, maybe a food analogy doesn’t work here. But these are things you can have from holding effective family meetings:
- Getting things done
- More love
1. Make meetings regular.
Decide to make your family a priority. Set aside regular time (45-60 minutes) that every family member can count on and make space for. Meetings once a week are highly effective — items up for discussion can be saved between meetings and addressed all in one fell swoop, rather than chasing after everyone piecemeal through the week. You’ll make your meetings brief enough, fun enough, and effective enough that everyone will want to forego other activities so you can be together.
2. Have a structure.
I like the sandwich technique: the “bread” is something that feels good, and the “filling” is the meat of your meeting. This technique works best when every member participates equally. Sample beginning “bread” ideas:
- one thing you feel grateful for
- one thing you appreciate about other family members
- recount a family highlight from the past week
End your meeting in a similar way. Ending “bread” ideas:
- something you learned about another family member in the meeting
- an action you will take the next week
- something you look forward to in the next week
3. Offer an agenda.
Pick one major or 2-3 minor items that will be the focus of the meeting. With kids about 5 or older, you can let everyone know beforehand what’s on the table and solicit ideas. For younger kids, be inviting but set boundaries about what you find important to talk about.
4. Talk nice.
No blaming, name-calling, or shaming. Everyone is respectful. Allow feelings to come up — after all, you’re human — and take time to cool off if necessary. There are tons of resources for effective and kind communication, like Non-Violent Communication
, a method of talking about feelings and treating people with kindness and respect.
5. Democratize. Or not.
I love the idea of an equal vote for all. But sometimes it doesn’t make sense to let your 4-year-old decide what to do with your end-of-year bonus, for example. Be mindful of how you want to divvy up the vote when you are making decisions that affect the whole family. Let everyone know how it’s going to roll — don’t let kids think they have an equal vote of they really don’t. Be up front and consistent about your choices, and try to leave room for change when it feels right. (Note to my Mom & Dad: would this have been so hard?)
6. End with dessert.
One way to get everyone on board with the whole family meeting thing and to help give it momentum is to plan a fun family activity after every meeting. Business first, then play! You’re already all together, so why not play a board game together or head outside for a round of Tag?