“Family Meeting Time!”
This announcement is usually met with eyerolls and groans from the majority of the Pyfrom clan. The only one even mildly excited about the gathering is our Golden Retriever, because it means there will be people on the couch on whose lap she can take a snooze. The family meeting has become a staple in our household. Typically our family is always moving at what seems like the speed of light and in about 35 different directions. This is the time when we settle. It has been said, “family is like branches on a tree, we all grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one.” The family meeting is what allows us to return to our roots and to our most-cherished people.
In this blog, I walk through some aspects of the family meeting and how to prepare for and manage a family meeting.
Time and Attendance:
This will depend on the age of your family members as well as your family schedule. The meeting, itself, should not last longer than 15 minutes, unless there is a certain task that requires additional time.
Inasmuch as possible, hold your meeting at the same day/time. You may find a weekly meeting is too much, but at the very least, a monthly meeting could be fruitful. Family meetings are, in essence, check-ins. A monthly meeting may be all that is required to keep your unit on track.
Attendance may be mandatory. Little ones are usually pretty jazzed to go to a meeting. They feel “very official” about the whole process. Make it fun for them! Ask them to show up with a notepad and pencil to take notes, even if that just means scribbles on a notepad. Tweens and teens may be a tad more resistant. I do ask our girls to attend the meeting, but I do not require it of them. It is their chance to have a inout in our family’s direction, plan, and activities. If they choose not to participate, these decisions will be made without them. Lack of attendance translates to lack of voice and voting power.
Every family meeting is as different as every family dynamic. My fellow Pyfrom-ers know I am a planner, so when a Google Slideshow appears on-screen, no one is terribly shocked. This is a method that I find benefits us all. I am able to put my thoughts down into a cohesive and efficient manner to keep me on topic. I also ensure there is some cute clip art and animation thrown in to keep attention and levity.
Be it a slideshow or any other “pre-work”, family meetings should have an agenda. This may be distributed beforehand (handout), especially if it is something that may require some additional consideration by the other family members. This allows them to ponder the issue at hand, and come prepared to discuss.
Have some staple activities that are present at every meeting. For instance, members can expect to reflect on things that “we did right this past month” and “things we need to work on,” or “things that have been on our mind.” These are all touchstones of our family meeting. Truth be told, some of the observations my girls have come up with have been rather revelatory and have contributed to changes in our family’s operations
A suggestion box is always a useful tool, allowing family members to submit ideas of what they would like to add to the meeting. Ensure this box is checked in advance of the meeting and set time aside on the agenda to address these suggestions.
The family meeting is a space where everyone is free to express themselves. Honesty is to be regarded as a valued pillar. Any criticism should be constructive. It is a place of non-judgment. If it helps, have a sheet of paper with the rules of decorum – no interrupting, yelling, or name-calling. If folks have a tendency to speak out of turn, institute a “talking object” the speaker holds when he/she has the floor. If need be, remind the group of the rules and the intention of it being a safe space, at the outset of the meeting. Some family meetings (sadly, not mine) even begin with a quick meditation to center all members before diving in.
Rotate meeting leadership. Parents should not always be in charge of family meetings. They may assist younger family members with preparation and meeting management, but let the little ones take the reins sometimes. Maybe the meeting concludes with a little drawing session or playing a game. Let them know what it is like to have that sense of responsibility. If it concludes with a family Nerf battle, so be it. (I may be instituting that at our next one!)
Family meetings do not always have to be held at home. I tend to do so as I feel it better keeps us on task, but when it is my daughters’ turn, I am sure we will end up at the nearby Starbucks. Again, this is their call. We do not want this meeting to be a drudgery. Let them have fun with it. Simply making sure it is a conducive meeting environment (not loud or distracting) may be all that is required. Give it a chance at least once to see how it works out.
Make time in the schedule for an “open forum.” This is a free time wherein the members may bring a topic to the table for discussion. This could range from a later bedtime to possibilities for a family vacation. At this point, the requesting family member has the floor and can present their request, along with any substantiating evidence that may sweeten the pot in their favor. Other members may then ask questions and the family may be called to vote.
Sometimes, things may get a little heated and folks may start to forget the rules of decorum. If things are escalating, it is ok to take a time out to let tempers settle. Set a timer for 20 minutes and temporarily dismiss the meeting until the 20 minutes have elapsed.
Like most corporate meetings, there are always takeaways to be handled. If members do not volunteer to handle one of these, the meeting leader may appoint someone. I try to keep these to a minimum as much as possible. Meetings should begin with a check in on the progress of these takeaways before delving into any new items.
Sample Meeting Agenda:
- Call the meeting to order with some ceremony or silliness – maybe you play kazoos or a certain song to summon everyone.
- Introduction (reminder of meeting purpose, ground rules, etc.)
- Last Meeting Takeaways
- Points of Discussion (generated by the leader)
- Counterpoints/Alternatives (raised by other members)
- (Repeat the earlier two bullets until all leader-generated discussion points have been addressed)
- Open the floor to concerns from other family members. Again, continue with the point/counterpoint situation. (Voting if necessary)
- Calendar Review – upcoming important dates, engagements
- Meal plan – sometimes it is nice for members to have an input on dinner options
- Assign takeaways from this meeting
- Gratitude and hugs
For additional family meeting suggestions, consult the link below.
Family meetings are not intended to only family together for a time of reflection and discussion, but it is intended for all members to be able to have a voice. While it may seem insignificant and that the realm of decision making for the family should be left to the parents, it builds the confidence of the little ones when they know they have a say. As a life coach, I often hear from my clients that they don’t feel as if they are listened to, much less respected. An environment that nourishes their voice and the space to express it, is priceless.