Good idea #2: Weekly family meetings
This is what a family meeting looks like. There is always popcorn. Sometimes there is a baby bib masquerading as a napkin. Also, some people just can’t give up the last baby bib. Sniff.
The Family Meeting
If you happen to be my mother, and you happen to be sitting in on one of our weekly family meetings, and you happen to hear Rosie announce her agenda item, sighingly, as: “I want Col to stop leaving his dirty clothes all over our floor,” and it reminds you of an old married couple and you erupt into laughter that you try, unsuccessfully, to conceal behind your hand, well, welcome to our family meeting.
We hold a weekly Family Meeting to build connection, create a forum for airing grievances, to work on the skills of problem-solving and collaboration, and so our children know that they always have a voice in family dynamics.
Agenda list on fridge
We start with the immutable ritual of popcorn. Everyone gets to customize their toppings and munch as we meet.
Compliments: each family member takes a turn giving a compliment to every other family member.
Agenda items: we keep a list on the fridge which each family member can add to throughout the week. Agenda items are problems that require everyone’s brainstorming and participation to solve. Sometimes the kids have genuine grievances, like when Col announced that he wants a place where he can do legos without Rosie burning him with her watchful gaze, other times the kids announce that they would like to have more macaroni and cheese in their lives.
Sometimes agenda items are not problems, but something we want to discuss as a family, like: creating a plan for holiday gift-giving, prepping the kids for a busy upcoming week, or planning a full scale de-cluttering.
Often when a difficult issue arises, there isn’t time to process it in the moment, and emotions are too raw for meaningful solutions. By putting the agenda item on our list, we know it will get dealt with when tempers have cooled and time is cleared for focusing. Problem solving is done by consensus. Every agenda item is taken seriously and everyone gets to offer a potential solution. Often we decide to try a solution for a week and check back in the following week.
Closing: we close the meeting by thanking everyone for their participation and moving into a a fun family game or reading the next chapter in whatever book we’re reading.
* Keep the meetings short. Ours last 20-40 minutes, and even if no one has written down an agenda item, we still hold a meeting for the ritual of it. Sometimes agenda items come up that weren’t written down.
* Take notes in a family meeting notebook. It’s helpful to look back and remember what you decided last month about kids wanting to earn money. And perhaps, in another 5 years the things that felt like “problems” (pee on toilet seat) will seem really quaint and funny.
* Go easy on listing “problems.” Children can feel overly chastized if parents have a lot of agenda items that involve them. Some weeks our only agenda items are to express our specific gratitude and acknowledgment for how flexible and helpful the kids were on a recent family adventure.
* Establish a day and time and stick to it. Ours are currently Sunday afternoons, which may need to change during summer.