In this article, I give you a step-by-step approach to initiating and maintaining family meetings. The goals of family meetings are to increase closeness, communication and problem solving while strengthening your influence over your children's values and behavior. Family meetings are a tool that can make the transition from your role at work to your leadership role at home easier.
If your family has two parents and/or grandparents and/or other adults in the home, you will want to invite them to join the meeting. Have a "let's take this offline" cue that let's the family know that you and the other adults might have to discuss a topic further before a decision can be made. Avoid aggressive conflict with any member of the family but especially other adults. This is an important time to model responsible communication. When you say, "Mom and I need to talk more about this first," you send a message that you and Mom are on the same page.
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Choose a Time That Works for Your Family
Family meetings can range from 15 to 45 minutes in length depending on topics to be discussed. Incorporate everyone's schedule into your planning of family meeting times. This might be the largest obstacle to getting and keeping the ball rolling. Think about a time when family members are most likely to be home (dinner time; Sunday mornings; etc.).
Make this the time when important family decisions are made. This will encourage participation from those who might want to abstain. Once you have participation, you have a FAMILY MASTERMIND. The combined strength of the family's creative brainstorming and ability to help each other resolve issues might blow you away.
Keep it simple. Family meetings don't have to be complex. They only have to be as long as it takes to acknowledge all members recent successes, challenges and identified needs for support. Try not to take on more than one big problem each meeting. Avoid talking more than needed to keep the meeting moving and positive while also not shutting down any member.
Have a standard agenda for each meeting that begins with identifying successes and includes a summary of the previous meeting. Then, move into current challenges. As a family, select a problem for discussion. This can be a family challenge or an individual one. Make announcements. Then, end by planning the next meeting, choosing roles, and engaging in a fun activity. Expand this agenda to meet the needs of your family.
Before you commit to family meetings, evaluate how often you can commit to them. As a family leader, this meeting should be as sacred as a mandatory work meeting. Reschedule it if you have to but try to avoid rescheduling it twice in a row. Once the meeting is announced and discussed as a reoccurring event, failure to honor it will impact your relationships. Remember:
Family meetings are about simplifying and leveraging your leadership role at home.
They increase the closeness of your family, clarify family values and vision, and help you solve problems as a family team.
You may find it helpful to share the meeting leadership role with younger children and relinquish it completely to older, responsible children. You can make this a right of passage based on your clearly articulated values. Or, initiate a rotating schedule. The important thing is to involve everyone in the process. Notice when members are stepping back or dominating the meeting. A gentle invitation to the less engaged person will help.
A wiser person than me said this about consensus building:
"Autocratic decision-making allows one person to decide. Democratic decision-making allows the majority to decide. Neither works well in familiesDecision-making by consensus incorporates the major needs and wants of all. It allows for effective communication, problem solving, anger and conflict management. The decisionneed[s] to be something that all family members can live with"
-R. J. Fetsch, et. al.
Not every family decision will be made by consensus. You and your partner may need to take decisions offline. Articulate this clearly and state the reasons why this is not a family decision. Though allow for contribution and discussion prior to making these kind of decisions. For all other family topics agree to make the decision by consensus.
Consensus takes longer but increases family cohesion and belonging. It builds a team. Be willing to give it the time it takes. A decision is final when all members can willingly agree to follow the decision even if they do not agree with the decision. Allowing the opposition a fare chance to be heard will increase trust and comfort with this process.
Communication is easier when everyone feels good. Make sure to incorporate a fun activity at the end and maybe at the beginning of each meeting. This is another place to increase contribution. Take turns choosing the post-meeting activity. You may find it useful to give some guidelines on location, price, etc. Or, to offer suggestions such as bowling, movies, or board games. Remind grumbling members that their turn to choose will come soon and they will want their choice supported.
Be creative about location if that helps keep the meeting fun. Use visual aids and games to illustrate new skills and values. Get people up and moving to prevent boredom. Use a respectful tone that engages your children and commits you to being upbeat.
You have two important functions as a parent: teach your child to be a great adult and to teach them how to live beyond you.
At times you will teach your children values or skills such as problem solving or conflict management. Avoid talking over their heads. Teach one skill or value per meeting. Reinforce the skill at the next meeting and the next. Teach by doing more than with words. Be creative and find activities that allow your family to engage in what you want them to learn.
Allow yourself to be transparent and vulnerable. Show what you don't know just as much as you show what you do know. This will make you an authentic leader as well as model this behavior for your children. Feel free to talk about your difficult life experiences. Though try not to overshare or make your children responsible for you and your life's stress.
A good way to do this is to identify how events outside the home have impacted your behavior in the home. Use this time to model personal responsibility and apologize for how you have affected the family. Then, overtime watch how your children start to follow your lead.
Have a vision of where you want your family to go from here. Articulate this vision and associated goals and values at each meeting. State problems within the context of the family and the family vision. Separate problems from individuals and identify ways that the family environment/ culture maintains the problem. Then, as a family, brainstorm solutions for each of these factors and create a plan to resolve them.
Train leadership at all levels of your family. Make leadership a value and practice by modeling and emphasizing it's importance. And above all else, model within yourself what you want to see within your children.
Engage and enroll your children in your family vision and in each other's dreams and aspirations.
If you find yourself stuck or your family is not yet ready for productive family meetings, seek help.
"Consult a therapist when necessary[if your family is] having trouble navigating some of the deeper issues Therapy isn't just for families that are breaking up or having problems with conductGetting some advice when needed will make your life a whole lot easier."
-Dr. Barton Goldsmith
Your Human Resources, Employee Assistance Program, or business coach may also be able to help you resolve some of your challenges with building a family team. You might want someone to join your family initially as you're getting started. Someone from your extended community or your spiritual leader might be a good resource as well. Or, give me a call!
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