I was first introduced to the idea of weekly family meetings when I read Bruce Feiler’s book The Secrets of Happy Families. I highly recommend this book for all kinds of insight and useful suggestions for raising and running a family unit; the chapter on the family meeting, however, has stuck with us the most firmly of all the concepts. It has become an invaluable part of our week, integral in keeping the machine running smoothly and efficiently.
Originally it took some trial and error to figure things out. It cannot be denied that many of our crew were skeptical and dragging their feet and finding the ideal timing and location eluded us for quite a while. Still we started, with meetings planned for Sunday mornings, with hot breakfast added in to entice the skeptics. We soon realized, however, that mornings are challenging. The times that people were starting their days was widely varied (we do have teenagers after all…), and while some people were sleeping late into the morning, others were left feeling antsy to get on with things. So we tried moving the time around each week, pre-scheduling it the week before when the calendar showed availability. And we started adding in fieldtrips, like “family meeting on a hike” or “family meeting on a picnic” thinking this would make it fun and exciting. But there is really nothing like a teenager, already stressed about having enough time in the day to get her work done, to make a family meeting fieldtrip anything but fun and exciting. Needless to say, we hadn’t yet figured out our approach.
After a while… longer than it should have been, really… it became clear that Sunday evenings were a time that we naturally gathered together. Rarely did activities get scheduled for a Sunday night. Most of the weekend’s work was all done by then. And it was an ideal time to look ahead to the next week’s tasks. Two years later we are still managing to make Sunday evenings work.
The structure of the first part of the meeting is pretty similar to that described in The Secrets of Happy Families. We run through two questions: “What went well?” and “What wasn’t well?” regarding the previous week. It is tempting to look at the questions in relation to one’s self, but the real goal is how did things go for the family system as a whole. Sometimes it is that one person’s actions do affect the family, like a child picking fights or Mum not getting enough sleep and losing her patience. Other times it is the whole family needing to make a change, like when we are trying to start off a new school year or trying out a different organizational pattern around the house. Regardless, the two questions allow each person in the family voice their feelings about how things are working, good or bad.
After noting the answers in our family meeting journal, we ask the final question: “What are we going to work on this week?” This is the point where the meeting becomes more than just a place to vent, but allows us to take action to improve our daily lives together. For example, if a “wasn’t well” is that people aren’t putting their shoes away and they are piling up by the door, preventing easy movement in and out of the house, then the family brainstorms possible solutions for improvement: changing the location of the shoe storage, creating a set time that all shoes are put away, reminding each other to put away shoes with a special code word… you get the picture… Then together we’d settle on the first solution to try out that week; sometimes the solution clicks and other times we are back to the drawing board the next week.
The next part of the meeting is more individual. Each person makes an individual goal for the week with the understanding that they can have the family’s help in making it happen. They are often related to health and life balance, for example, like getting to bed on time for enough sleep each night, or taking two bike rides over the course of the week, or getting a new personal best in the next swim meet. What I like best about this activity is that it allows me to better understand where my kids stand that week. How they are feeling about themselves, what might be bothering them, and what is important in their lives at that moment. One more little clue is always helpful. J
The final part of the meeting is running through the week’s schedule, Monday to Monday. This has made a huge difference in showing discrepancies in the calendar versus peoples’ thinking, as well as helps us see and workout the carpooling difficulties before they are upon us. It also allows us to discuss how we want to spend the periods of open time, scheduling in both fun activities and the work that is home maintenance. Needless to say, this part of the meeting is an absolute must.
At this point the meeting is almost over, and many of the crew are testily shifting in their seats or even pacing the room, but we take a few minutes for asking the following: anything else we didn’t cover that people want to bring up?, any technology issues (need for a new charging cable, an app wanted/needed, lost headphones…) people want help resolving?, how do grades and school work look?… and that’s a wrap.
If you were to ask the individual members of our family unit for their thoughts on the weekly meetings, I feel confident that you would get a mixed bag of responses. Even still after two and a half years, the start of each meeting can bring attitudes that range from excited to apathetic to irritated. Just the same, however, I notice that as the meeting progresses people’s emotions shift. By the end our family unit is focused and prepared to take on the week. I love how the meeting solidifies one of our family’s strongest commandments; that we are here to support each other. We work together as a unit, so we can succeed as individuals.