The family meeting gets a bad rap. We see it as something we do because there’s a problem. With that reputation, it’s no wonder that nobody wants to be part of it.
When you say the words ‘family meeting’, what goes through everyone’s mind?
- Somebody’s in trouble… and I hope it’s not me.
- Uh-oh. What’s up now?
- Punishments and consequences are on the way.
- Do I really have to sit through this?
- There are other things I could be doing.
- I didn’t do anything wrong. Why do I need to be here?
With family time so precious and difficult to coordinate, coming together only for crisis management seems counterproductive. It’s more a recipe for resentment than for connection.
How about a family ‘check-in’ instead? What if it’s more about sharing, growing and love?
At Hyde School, the Family Meeting (which I will now refer to as the check-in) is part of a three-pronged approach to creating a character culture in your home. Here are some excepts about it from their book, The Biggest Job Well Ever Have by Laura and Malcom Gauld.
Weekly meetings keep us away from the trap of pulling together only in times of crisis. What we pay attention to is what we will reinforce. If our children get our full attention only when there is a problem, guess what we are teaching? There should be three parts to the family meeting:
1) Clear the Decks
We need to deal with festering issues within the family in order to prevent anger and resentment from building up. At the start of the meeting, ask if there are any decks to clear. This calls upon each family member to share the issues that have been churning within during the previous week. For example, from a parent:
* To daughter: “I need to clear the decks about myself. Last week, I was really angry about your attitude, and I took it out on the whole family in a way that I didn’t feel good about.”
* To everyone: “I need to clear the decks on the whole family. Lately I’ve been picking up after everyone. I really need your help.”
After someone clears the decks, there should be no response. This can always be talked about later, but for now it is important to listen and think about what the person is saying. Remember, you can’t listen with your mouth open.
Check in at the family meeting by reviewing your week.
2) Review the Week
During this part of the meeting we go around the room and talk about the week just completed. How did it go for us? What were the highs and the lows? What did we learn about ourselves? What did we get excited about? The following are some samples from our family meetings.
* Mom: “This week was good for me. I was so nervous about the workshop that we had in New York that I didn’t think I had anything to say at the beginning. I couldn’t remember anything. Once I started to talk, though, it all came back and I felt great at the end. I also enjoyed working with Harrison on his room on Thursday. I also feel good about the early-morning workouts that I committed to. At work, I learned that I need to share more of what I’m thinking with my coworkers because sometimes I get going full-speed and they have no idea where my thoughts are heading.”
* Dad: “I really enjoyed going to your soccer games this week. It’s exciting to see the progress you’re making on the field. I think I’m still having difficulty balancing work with home life. (I know I say that every week!) I pledge to keep working on that.
* Daughter (age 7): “I had a good week. I worked harder on my schoolwork. I also made a new friend.”
Again, when we are talking about our weeks, there does not need to be any response from family members unless someone wants to comment.
3) Set Goals
Here we look ahead to the coming weeks and think about what we would like to improve upon. By setting one specific action step, we give ourselves something to take forward from the meeting. This also sets up next week’s “Review Week.” Here are some examples of weekly commitments:
* “I will commit to a one-on-one activity with each of my children.”
* “I will speak up more at work.”
* “I will make my bed every day next week.”
* “I will cook one dinner next week with my dad.”
As you begin the tradition, weekly meetings may feel flat, fake and dry. They may only last five or ten minutes. Nevertheless, commit to doing it. Pass around the responsibility of running the meeting so that it’s not always the same person dragging everyone together. Even when the meetings seem uneventful, we find that we have more meaningful conversations during the week: in the car, while cooking dinner, at night before bed. We are convinced that the reflection muscles we develop every time we meet make impromptu sharing easier. In any case, think of deep family discussion as a habit.
Before you react, remember that this is a guideline. Use these steps as a jumping-off point to create your own version of a weekly or bi-weekly check-in. Loosen up so family members are more receptive to participating.
Changing the family meeting to a check-in builds strong ties. It allows you to handle a more serious matter separately with the individual connected to it, and the whole family does not have to be involved.