Our family just started weekly meetings in the last month. I’ve heard about them, thought about them, and finally decided to take action. I was hesitant at first because I wanted to make sure we were doing it “right.” I also wanted everyone to get excited, or at least be willing to participate. Leaning on my favorite mantra “done is better than perfect” we had our first family meeting a month ago.
While there’s not actually a right or wrong way to hold a family meeting, you want to consider a few things before you jump in: when, where, and what.
When: Choose a time when everybody is available and can give their full attention during the meeting. In our family, Sunday afternoon directly after lunch is perfect: everyone is at the table, no one has pressing activities, and for the most part we can all focus for just a few more minutes.
Where: Choose a place where everyone is comfortable and you don’t have to do any extra preparation. The kitchen table works perfectly for us: we clear the dishes from lunch and we’re ready to go.
What: This is where you and your family have total control over how the meeting goes. You can decide what topics to include, what ground rules to establish, and what roles each person will have. We keep it very simple with a basic agenda, a stuffed animal that one person gets to hold when it’s their turn to speak (to remind everyone to listen without interrupting), and one leader per meeting (we rotate each week so everybody gets a turn).
Each family is different, especially when it comes to the ages of your children. We have a seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son, so we carefully set expectations that allow them to be independent and successful in their roles during the meetings. Older children can be more involved with the planning and agenda, while younger children benefit from gentle guidance and simple expectations. Here’s what the agenda looks like for our family meetings, in no particular order.
What went well last week?
This is a chance for everyone to reflect on the good things that happened over the course of the week. It could be as small as a fun game on the playground or as big as a huge win at work. Our family values celebration, so this is an ideal time to pick out the highlights to share with the whole family. For younger kids it can be hard to pinpoint anything exact, so we do a little prompting if they need it. Did your class do an experiment? What happened in your swim lesson? Sometimes the grownups need prompting too, and that’s alright! Knowing that you’ll be sharing something positive at the family meeting also helps train your brain to be on the lookout for joyful moments. (If you need more practice to focus on the positive you can get insight into all your emotions through my Stress Buster Series mini course.)
What’s happening next week?
This is a very practical check-in with daily schedules so there are fewer surprises. I take ownership of listing any activities or appointments that the kids have, and my husband and I look over our calendars to see if there are any meetings or events to be aware of. If we’re in the mood we might even do some meal planning at this stage, but it’s not critical. In the future I would LOVE to get more input from the kids on meal planning and preparation. It’s good to have long term goals!
What do you need help with?
This topic is very revealing. It’s amazing how much each person assumes they have to figure problems out on their own, and this question opens the door to understanding what we need and how we can request support - such an important life skill! Creating a safe place to be vulnerable and ask for help is what brings everyone closer together. After years of regular family meetings I envision this space to be available for some really big challenges; ones that our kids know they won’t have to face alone. I want our family to be the safe place where everyone can share their struggles, and be seen and heard.
So far the requests are usually on the practical side (I need help with everyone putting their things away, I need help with morning routines), but my daughter surprised us with her request to get “help with her attitude.” Obviously we have mentioned certain behaviors that we find undesirable, and her awareness of the goal and her progress toward it blew me away. It opened the door to a truly empathetic conversation about what she’s feeling when she is showing “attitude” and how she can talk about or show those feelings in a different way. These are the results of empowered parenting that you don’t expect but you cherish when they come up.
Who do you appreciate?
I love this topic because it fills us up with gratitude. We extend appreciation to anyone that did something kind, was helpful, made us laugh, or just showed up for us. Again, we do some prompting if the youngest one isn’t sure what to say, just mentioning people he has interacted with and letting him decide whatever appreciation he can think of. Similar to focusing on the positive, tuning into gratitude is so uplifting for all of us. Daily life can get us down, but with a regular practice of gratitude we won’t stay down for long.
There are many other topics that you could include in your family meetings, and you can change the agenda any time that your family desires something different. Family meetings don’t follow a formula, and no one is grading you. All that’s required is your intention to bring the family together, to listen with open ears and open hearts, and to let everyone have a voice. The rest will fall into place.
Have you already started a ritual of regular family meetings? What topics does your family include? I’d love to hear how it’s going.
Feeling doubtful about how your family would respond? Let’s chat to make a plan for getting started - you don’t have to do it on your own.
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