When I announced to my husband that I thought we needed to have a family meeting, I began to experience a strange phenomenon. He started loading and unloading the dishwasher without me asking, I’d come home and the kitchen would be cleaned and straightened, my car started to be cleaned out mysteriously of the family “junk” following baseball games, swim meets, and so on. While I so very much appreciated the gestures and welcomed the changes, I was curious. “I just don’t want to be thrown under the bus at the family meeting, so I’m covering my bases.” (Anyone that knows him personally can attest that his statement was much more colorful than that.) “I just think we need a meeting to check in with everyone”, I said. So, after much teasing and provoking by my husband and the kids, we successfully held our first family meeting today. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, but for some reason, I could never get it off the ground. Below are my thoughts for a good one:
1. Start talking to your significant other about it well in advance. Once you have an idea or plan in place for any change you want to make in your family, you need to lay the groundwork. That includes letting your partner in on your plan so he or she can support you (even if he or she might think you are crazy:). The more comfortable he or she is with the plan, the more easily it can be carried through.
2. Don’t try to cover too much at one time. My only agenda today was to address the activities and schedules everyone was interested in keeping for the fall. I, like many of you, am constantly inundated with frantic emails for activity sign ups…”deadline this date”, “if you don’t register by midnight on this day, there will be a late fee”, “sign up now or we will come and take your first-born from your home”. Ok, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea. I’m looking to get ahead of it all and ditch the pressure. Looking around at my family, that’s about all they could handle for the first meeting. My kids were watching the clock like the classroom kids in the first scene of High School Musical. I wanted them to walk away thinking…”ok, that wasn’t too bad”. Pssst…I’m planning on holding more than one.
3. Come up with a plan for letting everyone be heard. Nobody wants to continually be a part of a meeting where he or she doesn’t feel heard or validated. Today, everyone just started raising their hands when he wanted to speak, as I was running the meeting. I’m not optimistic that it will always run as smoothly in the future. Some object to pass around and hold might be a great idea. You could also let everyone come with a list of things he or she wants to address. Another thought would be to have a “Family Meeting Agenda Jar”, where each person could write down a topic or issue he or she would like to discuss at the next meeting.
4. Create a set of rules for the meeting. I am convinced that most of the time, families work better within a defined structure. Meeting rules give each family member a parameter within which to function. The rules can be decided on together or by the parents. Either way, it helps provide a level of safety and security for speaking your mind. Your child might not feel comfortable sharing with you that he doesn’t really want to play lacrosse anymore as you’re running out the door to a game, but if he may be more likely to do that when he feels supported and reinforced by the family meeting structure.
4. Stick with it. I am planning on making our family meeting a regular occurrence. Maybe we’ll hold it every week, or every month. That could be something we tweak as we go. Right now, I’m feeling more often is better until we get used to it and start to incorporate it into our lives. We definitely need a system for checking in with one another that is consistent and sacred. That way, if we decide to implement a change, we have a mechanism for evaluating it together down the road. Most importantly, I am hoping to create an environment where we begin to more effectively make decisions and choices as a family.
I am crossing my fingers that the dishwasher continues to be loaded and unloaded by someone other than myself. In the meantime, I am basking in the victory of all that was accomplished during our first family meeting attempt, feeling grateful for the support of my husband, and knowing I am much less crazed as we move on into the fall:0)