No matter how much you love them, family can be a source of tremendous conflict. It can be difficult to coordinate the changing needs and schedules of every family member, and it can be downright impossible to make everyone happy. If you're struggling to keep your family organized and the lines of communication open, regular family meetings might be the key.
What Is a Family Meeting?
A family meeting can be whatever you want to make of it. In general, regular family meetings provide a time when all members of the family come together to share, discuss, problem-solve, and, most importantly, communicate. Some families choose to hold structured and formal meetings with very specific rules, while others are far more flexible and relaxed. What your family meetings look like will depend largely on your family, and what works for you and your lifestyle.
Why Hold a Family Meeting?
There are many benefits to holding regular family meetings. For example, family meetings can serve to:
▪ keep the lines of communication open
▪ foster a greater sense of responsibility within children
▪ diffuse sibling rivalry
▪ encourage discussion and cooperation
▪ build family unity
▪ develop listening and positive communication skills
By holding regular family meetings, you create space in your lives where you will be able to discuss any issue that confronts your family. Whether it's something as small as a squabble over who will do the dishes or as large as a death or divorce, you know you will have time to address it as a family. In addition, parents will routinely be able to touch base with their children and listen to their concerns, and children will have the opportunity to have their voice heard by their parents and siblings.
Tips For Getting Started
Once you've decided to start holding family meetings, there are a few things you should think about.
1. Set rules
If you have young children, mom and dad will probably set the rules. But if you have older children, you might consider giving them some input into how the meeting will go. Some families choose a round-robin style, where every family member gets a turn to talk about their week, express their grievances, and offer their opinions. Other families prefer to make a list of pressing family issues and concerns, and talk about them openly as they proceed down the list.
You'll also want to consider who will lead the meetings. It can be fun, particularly for younger children, to take turns and give each family member an opportunity to be in charge.
2. Decide your goals
Why are you holding family meetings? Is it just a way to check in and let everybody share details of their week? Will your meetings be primarily for coordinating schedules? Are there lots of arguments in your home that will require conflict resolution? Once you know what you're hoping to accomplish, it will be easier to frame your family meetings accordingly.
3. Set a regular time and place
In the beginning, it's a good idea to have weekly family meetings. This way, the meetings become a familiar part of your family's routine. Maybe Friday night in the family room after dinner works best for your family, or maybe you have teens who cringe at the thought of spending Friday night with their parents. Try to accomodate everybody if you can. If nothing else, consider having a family meeting in the car. Hey, you've got them all in the same place!
4. Determine your decision-making process
How you choose to make decisions will probably depend on the way your household generally runs. If you're comfortable with democracy, family meetings can be a great place for kids to learn first-hand how it works. But many parents find that they prefer to make decisions by consensus rather than by simple majority vote. This way, the children can't outnumber the adults, and mom and dad maintain their right to the final say.
5. Make it fun
Family meetings shouldn't be boring or something for anyone to dread. Make them special by popping popcorn or serving some special treats. Encourage a positive atmosphere where no yelling is allowed and every person and every idea and suggestion is treated with respect.
What To Talk About
Once you've determined the logistics, you'll want to start thinking about the issues that need to be addressed at your family meetings. You'll probably want to include time to discuss many or all of the following:
▪ positive recogition
▪ complaints and conflict resolution
▪ the family budget/allowance
▪ rules and chores
▪ plans for upcoming events (vacations, birthdays, etc.)
▪ scheduling and logistics
One of the best ways to plan your family meetings is by taping a piece of paper marked "agenda" to your refrigerator or family work space at the beginning of the week. As the week progresses, any family member can add any issue or complaint that they think of to the agenda.
When it's time for the family meeting, use your agenda to get discussion started. You can also draw from the categories above. Some families even include discussions of hot topics at their family meetings. (I'm thinking politics or current events here, not Lindsay Lohan.)
In order to ensure that your family meetings are a success, there are a few things you should remember. It's important to eliminate distractions, so turn off the TV and don't allow phone calls or texting. Keep the meetings short (20-30 minutes is long enough), and make attendance by all family members a priority. Most importantly, be flexible. If you find that your family meetings are unproductive, try a new approach. Every family is different, so every family meeting will be unique. It may take some time to figure out what style works best for you.